November 25, 2012

Race as a Filter

While reading Gates, I kept seeing reminders of Burke throughout, especially with the examples of how  white people back in the 1700's and from other European cultures didn't believe that black people could write properly. On page 3 Gates gives an example of how a young black girl, Phillis, was a famous poet and had to be orally examined by 18 orators and men of educated standing in order to give authenticity that she was the one who wrote the literature. This example seemed relatable to Burke's theory that each culture has their own filter because when white people read the material, they couldn't believe that a black girl had actually written poetry.

Later on, on page 12 Gates writes, "...the text of Western letters, in a voice that speaks English through an idiom which contains the incredulous elements of cultural difference that will always separate the white voice from the black." There is certainly a gap in perception of language and the meaning that each word has depending on the background of a person and what meanings those words have for a person. But if there really is such an emphasis on differences due to race, is it still notable today? Was it obvious Gates was black without him using the 'us' blacks reference? I tied these examples and quotes  together because I want to see if his argument has validity. In the example mentioned above, Europeans and white people couldn't believe that a black young girl had written the poetry and were able to understand and enjoy it, so obviously they didn't notice a race gap. However, once people became aware that black writers were becoming popular, they began noticing the differences in language and tonality. So, what is the main factor in placing these filters? Is it the knowledge of an 'other' writing the content, or is it in the language itself?


George Dean said...

I feel like Gates writing was a broad introduction to the idea of "race" as a meaningful category in literature. I think what Gates is trying to accomplish is not so much an equality of “black” and “white” literature, but a degree of opposition of the different ways by which “blackness” and “whiteness” have become understood.

Josh Johnson said...

i like your post. I relate this a lot to a class that i took when we were talking about how the "blues" came about. How white people at first didn't understand the music until it got popular. The black people creating the music explained that only they could understand the music or relate to it because blues music has a certain heart felt pain to it. Even if a white person was to sing the same song it wouldn't be relatable. I definitely feel like that was the case with the black girl creating poetry that at first was seen differently until the realizing that the author was black. Then the demoralizing of the poetry begin. Same was done with blues when it was first brought out. Then like race in music, race in writing has evolved to being just talent. There is no color on a page.

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