CCCC: African American Rhetorical Tradition

Who Left the Gate Open? African American Rhetorical Tradition as an Effective Gateway for Written and Oral Communication

Many of the sessions have been predominantly women, but this one appears to have a single male in the audience, with an audience of dozens.

Kedra James, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, “African American English Among First-Year Writing Students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities”
Bachelor’s in 2005
Master’s in 2007
Currently a doctoral candidate
Research interests: African American English, composition

Looking at writing programs in HBCUs.
What led me to this topic?
I entered an HBCU, declared English with a journalism emphasis.
Went on to Kansas State University. Began to teach fyc.
Differences in the way I learned to write and KSU’s use of the Toulmin model.
What are the differences at HBCUs and predominantly white colleges? (6 years later, I found time to look at this. Is part of my dissertation)

Have talked with professors and students, have collected essays, need more essays and interviews

As I began researching, looking through articles and books, could not find as much as I expected to find. Nothing about writing programs at HBCUs. Foundational texts mention there is not much discussion about composition and writing programs at HBCUs.

Are predominantly white institutions and HBCUs teaching comp the same way?

What is an HBCU?
HBCU provide access to higher ed during 1800s and early 1900s. Goal was to educate African American students.
Many begun by church groups. African Missionary Church and the Methodist group…
Land-grant colleges were given equal access.
Most originally focused on industrial education.
Now they are mostly liberal arts.

AAE (African American English) poses a problem for AA students. 8 students. Case study. Ballister found these students shift from Black English vernacular in speaking to standard English in writing.
Instructors need to re-think what is standard English.
AA adult female students… Fluent speakers of AAE. Students said they knew they spoke incorrectly and could not write regular English.
How can we be change this negative response?
Author/researcher began to show students the grammatical rules for AAE. Showing how they can use AAE in Academic writing. (Can they?)
AA graduate students “has stripped away much of her much-valued blackness” and felt like she had “become a generic scholar.”
Instructors making students feel neutralized. Identity issues.
How does the voice (and my identity) change in scholastic English?

Stigma is still attached to AAE.

Want to reflect on mission statements of HBCUs and the pedagogy in composition.
Are the mission statements being implemented?

I believe that HBCUs should support students in understanding the significance of AAE. HBCUs are more likely to focus on standard English. Teachers want to help students compensate for the lack of preparedness by teaching standard English.

“asking students to give up… identity… for employment”
What are we asking students to give up? What are we asking students to hide?

Primary research questions:
What should the role of HBCUs in writing be?
What does the writing curriculum look like?
Is the mission statement reflected in fyc?

Students are male and female, enrolled in three HBCUs.
Stillman, 1876, private, 1000 UG
1869 940 students, Mississippi
Tuskegee University, 2194 students

Mission statements should be connected to the pedagogies.
“most effective … are those tied to the mission statements”
Writing instruction should mirror the goals of the institution.
“culturally relevant pedagogy”

Mission statements, syllabi, essays… but will talk more about mission statements.

Key words: leadership; idea of service; ethics-integrity, moral, values; social commitment; problem solving; life-long learning

Tuskegee “to deepen students knowledge of history and their cultural heritage”

What did the instructors have to say about AAE?
We live by the syllabus. Check the syllabus. I am checking the syllabus.
Choose words, grammatical constructions, and writing conventions according to appropriate standard English.
Use standard English, both written and spoken.
Demonstrate proficiency in class, written and spoken.
102- better command of standard English.

Final exam: Will cover grammar, punctuation, and diction problems that have occurred frequently in the student papers.

Assignments, essays:
Common trend is the students are writing about literature.
Have essays from Tuskegee and Stillman. Both first covered fiction, writing about literature.
Does that effect whether AAE is appropriate?
Can they connect with literature?

Trends: family, race, color

Did not find as much AAE in the essays, which takes me back to the syllabi’s statements about standard English. Omission of comma, misuse of semi-colon, lack of apostrophes for possessives… (Those are things that I also find my students missing.)

We should think about these statements on our syllabi.
What should our syllabi say about AAE? Standard English?
As we think about using literature, are our students able to be comfortable with the literature? Can they relate to it?
Looking for ties between mission statements, pedagogies, and assignments.

Bonnie Williams, Michigan State University, East Lansing, “Cross Cultural Composition: Can the African American Verbal Traditional Enhance Academic Writing?” changed to “From Comparative to Contrastive: African American Verbal Tradition Enhances Academic Writing”
Facilitates workshops for TAs and faculty
MLK Endowed Scholarship
Chapter in Listening to Our Elders

Handout (but not enough for everyone)
-perhaps multiple pages

examined 5 features
AVT Comparative Tool:
Sounding—speaker addresses extreme displeasure at an outcome
Signifying/indirection—read between lines using culture for
(looked at with sounding)
often extreme displeasure
Narrative format, arrangement
Call response—audience participates by responding to the speaker
Seeks to involve speakers and audience.
Rhetorical questions, delivery
Narrativizing—everyday topic rendered as a story
African tribal culture, plantation tales, then move on to sermons
Introduction/anecdotal lead
Conclusion/exploratory essay
Revision, invention, delivery
Repetition—key words and sounds repeated
Compared to delivery, style, arrangement

Introduce these historically both in Greek/Roman and in African tradition

African verbal tradition is recursive.
They use black language practices.

Methods and Procedures;
Tier 1 fyc: base theme race and ethnicity
Comparative approach
4 class sessions (1 hr and 15 min)
Students coded and analyzed their own and author’s works with AVT
Students brought back examples from twitter, Facebook, music videos, etc, with AVT
Student interviews (15-minute small focus groups)—interviews were conducted by students

Ladson-Billings “culturally relevant pedagogy”

Smitherman, 1993 “The Blacker the Berry, The Sweeter the Juice: African American Student Writers and the National Assessment of Educational Progress”
–essays with AVT were given higher rating scores
–rhetorically effective

Titled from Contrastive to comparative, because contrastive limits and points up negatives
Translation in only one direction examines AAE in negative light.
Comparative leads to a more positive examination.

Positive AVT was often seen as showing intelligence.
Had transcriptions.
Students made direct associations of AVT with intelligence and academic writing.
“Students who used it had more engaging paper”
“I liked learning about Call Response in writing”
“if we could master this, imagine how much better our papers could be”
“When I used sounding, she was like, ‘Good job!’”

AVT tool to achieve academic success.
AVT seen as better.
“better to listen to”
“more exciting”
“more interactive reading and listening”
“Made me think, like, wow, I’ve been writing like an author.”
“I did my analysis paper on AVT and it’s like this really complicated thing.”

AA students discussing experiences with AVT
2 use signifying/indirection “I was saying slick stuff. I was all about indirection. I used it on Facebook. We’re smart and don’t even know it. Someone said, Why sarcastic? And I said no, it is signifying. I know how to say it.”

Potential implications:
College readiness
Pedagogical tool for teachers
Positively alters traditional views about academia
African American retention

Identification of AVT can help all students use these abilities.
Writing is not just presenting facts but it has style.
Helps AA students feel as if they belong in the university.

Erica Britt, University of Michigan- Flint, “Black Style in the Public Sphere: An Investigation of Black Modes of Communication in Public Speech”
From Florida

BA, MA from ?
UI at Urbana-Champaign, second master’s
Developing an oral history database of Flint, Michigan

What are Black modes of communication?

Going to continue with some of these themes…
How the tradition is embraced by our students

2008 study
*to explore how Black modes of communication can serve as critical and effective components of public speech

Theoretical framework:
Sociocultural linguistics: Bucholts and Hall 2005
Quantitative sociolinguistic methods (Labov 1972 a and b; Labov 1974)
Research on the indexical and lexical processes that contribute to identity performance (Silverstein 1975; Irvine 2001; Myeters Scotton 1984…_)

Speakers can index broader identities such as ethnicity (AA) or gender (male or female) through linguistic choices. However, linguistic behavior is not fixed to “obvious” or pre-assigned social categories.
Identities also emerge based on the momentary needs of an interaction (such as whether the seaker is acting as an interviewer, teacher, etc)
Linguistic cues have not only the power to signal a particular identity, but to both redefine speaker and hearer

Research questions:
How do rhetorical strategies like Black preaching style contribute to ethnic, professional, and political self-presentations?
How does Black preaching fit in with the structuring of a formal event and the broader act of speaking in public between a relatively homogenous group of hearers and a potentially ethnically mixed group of over hearers?
What are the costs and benefits?

Research data:
DVD recordings of the 2008 State of the Black Union
Yearly forum, initiated in 2000
Moderated by Tavis Smiley
New Orleans, LA
Broadcast on CSpan
Guests include black political figures, academicians, entertainers, college and high school students, and clergy members
2008 theme: “Reclaiming our Democracy, Deciding Our Future”

State of the Black Union: Structure
Panelists sit on stage facing the audience.
Smiley stands at a podium facing both the audience and the guests.

Cleo Fields, born 1962, lawyer
Sheila Jackson Lee (born 1950), lawyer, current member of Congressional Black Caucus
Eddie Glaude Jr (b. 1968), professor of African American studies and religion at Princeton
Chose these, because they don’t match the main group focus of academicians.

The black church:
AA most likely of all ethnic and racial groups in the US to declare a formal religious affiliation
85% of AA identified themselves as Christian
59% of black adults were associated with black Protestant congregations

Black church:
Center of education
Social services
Refuge from external sources of racism and inequality
Hub for political activism
Historically one of the highest and most visible leadership positions in the black community
Served dual spiritual and social leadership roles
Participate in the sacred-secular continuum of black life where “those closes to the spiritual realm assume priority in social relationships”
“only those blacks who can perform stunning feats of oral gymnastics become culture heroes and leaders in the community” (Smitherman, 1977, p. 76)

Preachers and congregants:
Preachers’ linguistic performances become tools for engaging the congregation in a highly interactive religious event
Congregants rely on preaching cues in order to make their churchgoing experience meaningful and memorable
Preaching is connected in specific rhetorical style

Preaching and sermon style
Suprasegmental features
Initial slow rate of deliviery
Sustained intonation
Manipulation of voice quality to produce gravelly tone
Stammer and hesitations, extensive pausing, alliteration
Treatment of words and phrases as motives that are delivered with rhythm
Expanding or contracting words in order to fit them into metrical units
“hitting a lick” or the percussiveness and punctuation of strong consonants
Mitchell 1970
Smitherman 1977

Event framing
Preaching, membership, stance
Dramatic shift

“doing symposium”
speaker is giving a bunch of info, audience is passive, disengaged; no give and take between speaker and audience
“Throughout today’s proceedings, the ushers will be moving throughout the aisles… picu up index cards… write a question… we will try to get to those questions near the end…”

Lexical and semiotic cues
Event describe as a “conference” and “symposium” by the organizer
Panelists are on a raised, lighted platform, while audience members are seated in darkened seats in front of the stage

“dogin conversation”
1: having said that
2: I will be very disappointed and would be ready to fight
3: Because I’m one of those
4: Th-th-there-there goes that kingian commitment

Sitting in cushy, comfortable chairs
Up and away

“doing church”
We want you to vote your conscience. We just want to use the delibratous space every year to prick that consciences, but we gotta do it with a love languages. Can the church say amen?

Lexical and semiotic cues:
Event begins at church. Starts with a prayer.
Invokes church.

Cleo Fields:
Begins with a greeting and comedic narrative
Takes the position that members of legislature should be allowed to support their candidate of choice (as a “right”) and they should not receive negative treatment
Evaluates choices
Shifts to preaching style in climax: alliteration and repetiions, elevated tone
“if I was in the caucus, I would just give them my experiences and I would say you know… WEB DuBois started to teach, Rosa Parks could take her seat
And Rosa Parks took her seat
So we could all take a stand
We took a stand so Martin Luther could march
Martin marched so
(Aud responding)
Jesse Jackson could run
(Aud responding)
Jesse Jeackson could run
(Aud responding)
Obama could win

Sheila Jackson Lee:
Uses preaching style, begins with love for community
“I am at a point having listened to my brothers and sisters of being full and those of you of the church understand what it is when you are full
it means that there is a experiences that you cannot express, it is when you begin to look at your fellow church member and you see love or you begin to feel the realness of God and let me just say I love you my brothers and sisters
Aud: love you
Then a narrative working in New Orleans during the work after Katrina.
“We are on sacred ground and those of you who can in your mind as I speak get a moment of silence because we are on sacred ground…”
“I am the national co-chair for Hilary Rodham Clinton. I did not leave my blackness at the door.”

Eddie Glaude, Jr
Shift to preaching style
Sermon structure
Preaching used as he reinforces his message about race
“Du Bois has made a philosophical claim to let suffering speech…” He’s made a political claim to put catastrophe in the center”
(audience is saying Um and Amen)
which the declaration of independence (aud respond) was signed for these folk to say that race doesn’t matter in this moment is to say they don’t want to deal with the hell that black and brown people are catching

Speakers make limited use of AAE syntax and phonology
Preaching style does an extraordinary amount of interactional work for these speakers.
Preaching emerges as speakers display a range of affective and evaluative stances that signal to the audience members where they stand on key issues

For Bonnie, study by Smitherman—framework of study, are you going to expand it? Are you going to look at it over more students? Two classes?
Bonnie: This was a small part of my dissertation research. This was part of a chapter. I have more data collection to do. I did it as a pilot study with my class.
What I found was the opposite in my class from the class as a guest lecturer. (Loud response from audience. Like a roar.)

Would like to commend all of you. Enjoyed all of your papers. Happy to see you doing that.
When it comes to HBCUs, examining mission statements and pedagogies. Consider the fact that composition and writing at HBCUs is the last frontier for rhetoric and composition. As a rhet comp person with HBCU background, rhet and comp are rare to invisible on HBCU campuses. Therefore you have to work with faculty who have never thought about what they are teaching and how.
One of the things I have been struggling with… is how to write. More AAs in rhet and comp at HBCUs. At 3 HBCUs I have been the only rhet/comp person and the only one who is interested in it. Might want to look at the attitude of teaching of writing. Rhet/comp people are isolated on the HBCU campuses.

As a rhet/comp person at an HBCU, taught at Howard for 30 years, thrilled to see another generation of researchers… loved the direction that you are going… Have a question for you, Bonnie, regarding the writing the students were analyzing and coding. Loved the idea that they were coding and analyzing their own writing, what was the nature of the literature they were analyzing? What was the nature of their writing? You did not give them any direction about the writing?
Bonnie: A month after the class started. … Students had written their first paper. That was the paper we analyzed. Nature of assignment was a narrative. Nature of assignment would have a good chance of using AVT features. Had them practice finding the AVT features in their narrative writing.
As you continue with the research, you might want to look at other genres… Narrative is a good place to start because they were more likely to have used AVT writing. But must be able to transfer it to other modes.
Audience issue—before you were born—when students wrote for an AA audience, then I saw more of these rhetorical devices from the AA devices. In some cases, I only saw them when a black audience had been assigned, even though I was a black teacher.
Modes can make a difference in whether or not the students integrate AA rhetorical devices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge