November 26, 2012


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 the idea is conceptualized by any one time period, individual, or even within a particular context. Terminstic screens such as "race" must be in constant discourse with current events if they are to have any (even imagined) explanatory power. When Phillis' Wheatley's writings were called into question, we can see that the social formulation of race was in fact qualitatively different than a contemporary one. A social myth that there couldn't be any black writers would be unlikely to flourish today because it is too easily refuted by observation. Yet the social conditions of Wheatley's time period meant that the difficulty of members of her "race" to create texts stemmed from other social and political factors. The conception of race and of blackness and in particular was very much an ad-hoc social fiction explicitly tailored to preserve the sociopolitical status quo. Now that the conditions of Wheatley's times are no longer the status quo, our society still continues to adopt the concept of race but in significantly different terms.

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