November 26, 2012

Gates and Race

In many ways, Gates' essay on race reads like an extension on Burke's concept of terministic screens as race can be a perception-shaping factor within a text. Although its social implications are no doubt very real and prevalent, I am of the view that race itself is an amorphous social concept which is simply an amalgamation of historically relative social and cultural norms. Although essentially every individual is categorized by their culture, there is no such thing as an objectively "raced" person without a social context to predicate a racial framework. The same individual may be classed as a variety of "races" depending on the geographical area and time period in which they are categorized. This isn't strictly problematic from the standpoint of rhetoric, as rhetoric is also an inherently social action whose formulation is also contingent upon relative social and cultural factors. However, this caused me to reflect upon the historiographic potential of particular terministic screens.

Even if a particular terministic screen such as "race" is in a constant state of flux with no consistently overarching basis, observations individual writers make through the lens of "race" can nonetheless lend insight to the way this concept. The fact that Wheatley's writings were called into such serious question shows that the conception of race in her time period was significantly different from ours as it made much more stringent demarcations on the basis of intelligence. The idea that there couldn't be any black writers is very unlikely to gain footing today because it is too easily refuted by observation, yet the underlying social and political circumstances of Wheatley's time period stifled the ability of enslaved people to create works. The idea of race was very much an ad-hoc social fiction which explicitly suited the purposes of justifying the sociopolitical status quo, and as such it required the dynamic of inherent superiority and inferiority to be firmly rooted at every possible opportunity, which in turn led to a collective awareness of "race" which is in many ways fundamentally different from our own.

1 comment:

Adam Schwartz said...

I agree with you completely on the fact that Gates' essay is an extension on Burke's termanistic screens. Your points on race being ambiguous to others and having a social aspects is exactly what I got from his essay as well. I wrote about the same ways we designate the label of race in my post. I mentioned the fact that religion plays a part in people's minds today. One example that I thought of is people's idea of labeling people are Jewish as a race. This is in someways a terministic screen brought on by social and historical norms that have been prevalent throughout my life and most likely before it.

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