November 26, 2012

Genre According to Race

Reading Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s "Writing 'Race' and the Difference It Makes" made me think about Carol Miller's brief but important introduction to the importance of genres. She claimed that genres could shape an entire interpretation of a reading, and made the argument that for rhetorical theory, genre according to action is most effective. This is because rhetoric is designed to move the will, so we must read according to how the will is being moved/attempted to be moved. When applying this notion to the topic of reading and classifying genre according to race, it may seem to make sense. Epistemological critical thinking tells us that the history and time period is important, and so the race of the writer is obviously important as well. To know the race of a writer seems to aid in understanding the purpose behind a particular text.

 However, there is a careful distinction that needs to be made. Reading according to race is reading according to a judgment, a generalization on a race. Gates Jr. makes the point that, "Race, as a meaningful criterion within the biological sciences, has long been recognized to be a fiction. When we speak of 'the white race' or 'the black race'...we speak in biological misnomers and, more generally, in metaphors" (4). When a text is read according to action, the text is interpreted and examined, and an argument is made. However, when a text is read according to race, the author is interpreted and examined. Worse yet, the author is interpreted and examined not as a human being on a blank slate. The author is subject to presupposition and reduced to stereotypes. While a text truly is a thing to be examined and classified. There is real danger, and little to no benefit, to examining and classifying a being. When there is benefit to classifying someone, it is not according to race, because race is uncontrollable. Race is fictitious. It is something we see that exists in the material world but is of no importance in the natural. Classifying according to class is at least based on something real that has real affect on the life and lifestyle of the being. Still, this is dangerous and leads to stereotypes.

However, at least it has benefits because it is grounded in something real. Race is grounded in emptiness. As a result, man can fill this empty fictional space with whatever qualities they so choose. Gates Jr. explains the harm of reading according to race, "the shared assumption among intellectuals that race was a 'thing,' an ineffaceble quantity, which irresistibly determined the shape and contour of thought and feeling as surely as it did the shape and contour of human anatomy" (3). The difference between reading genre according to race is we operate through metaphors which are based on nothing factual. We take the exterior qualities of a being, give them interior qualities, and then classify all beings of said 'type' according to these exterior-made-interior qualities. We make an explicit implicit, and then make it explicit again. That is to say, we take something based on skin and make it a true quality of a being, and then make that quality applicable to all members of that race. Reading, thinking, and acting on any feelings according to race limits the only true race that matters- the race of mankind, of all human beings.

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