This week we proceed with our review of America and what is means to be an American from the context of identifying and being identified as a minority.
To begin, read â€œHeritageâ€ from Walter Benn Michaelâ€™s Our America. It grounds the notion that America is not simply the United States of America; it is a space and place defined by â€œNatives and Newcomers,â€ and traditional history is not necessarily an accurate record of how and why minorities are subjected in those time-periods and now. Thus, as my notes from last week indicated, we need to move passed the idea that â€œtextbookâ€ history is correct. Instead, we turn to literature, policies, politics, government, etc. to discover and examine how and why minority oppression exists. Discussion Board Question: analyze the arguments put forth in â€œTheme for English B,â€ â€œLet America be America Again,â€ â€œAdvertisement for the Waldorf Astoria,â€ and â€œSalvationâ€ by Langston Hughes within the context of Benn Michaelâ€™s overarching claims. Do not forget to support your claims with an additional scholarly source.
In â€œHeritage,â€ Benn Michaelâ€™s picks up on the above theme within the context of African American art, life, and literature, but remember that for white nativism, all minorities must suffer the same fate: domination or complete acculturation. Now, the stark difference here is the influx of Africans via slavery, rather than traditional immigration. This fact works in two different fashions against the African Americans of the time period and today: First, the land, itself, is not their geographical birthrightâ€”i.e. they are not indigenous to it. Therefore, their transplant status serves as an excuse for the dominant to proclaim that they have no claim to it. Second, slavery by nature is psychically, mentally, and emotionally oppressive and enforced. Thus, the trauma of the circumstance must also be addressed because coping mechanisms include denial, repression, projection, and displacement (Freud 1894 and 1896). The modern African American then has a different set of constraints in which they must create and conduct their own â€œceremoniesâ€ of healing via communal catharsis. For example, when Benn Michaelâ€™s points out that studying American history encompasses the African American past, it automatically concludes that African Americans are â€œAmericans,â€ and the dominantâ€™s greatest fear is that the minority is not so different from themselves. With the exceptions of pigment, culture, and values, the human race is statically similar on all counts. However, this is a simplification that one cannot responsibly make within the scope of reality. The past of the African American shows externally. They are then readily categorized by the dominant in an inferior fashion. The discourse of Humanities then must recognize that such a sub-group is unrepresented in the narration of the nation, and that narrative is defined by the historical and present circumstance. In other words, acculturation can never be truly accomplished because of the reality of social injustice and inequality. Instead, this America (the African-American America) is something new yet everchanging, as with most other minority groups. For instance, when Langston Hughes states, â€œSo will my page be colored that I write? / Being me, it will not be white. / But it will be / a part of you, instructor. / You are whiteâ€” / yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. / Thatâ€™s Americanâ€ in â€œTheme for English B,â€ he rightly asserts that the dominant and the subjected have to learn to cope and live with each other because neither one is going away or can be avoided (1951). Benn Michaelâ€™s is careful to acknowledge this actually when he addresses how and why the dominant appropriates â€œblack cultureâ€ for its own needs or desires. Thus, cultural influence oscillates back-and-forth, but the power of each position is uneven. Race is then not a social construct or â€œphenomenonâ€; it is a fact of life, and one that must be addressed in art, since it is discounted by history.
â€œAdvertisement for the Waldorf Astoriaâ€ (1931) and â€œSalvationâ€ (1940) address both social injustice and religionâ€™s role in minority oppression. Yet, Hughes uses satire to deliver his message, instead of a direct message. This is done for two different reasons: one, it maximizes his audience. You have to remember that a majority of his readers are white, and his use of humor and reference to the poverty stricken identifies with and appeals to both intellectuals and socio-economically suppressed readers. Second, satire, humor, and irony are often used to â€œcodeâ€ messages. For lack of a kinder explanation, it circumvents traditional cultural and social boundaries and constraints in much the same fashion as the trickster characterâ€”the argument either becomes more palatable to the audience or they are not intelligent enough to understand the underlying meaning. Thus, at its core, Hughes is a master of rhetorical ploys or exponents.
Now, the difference is slight and can oscillate between contradictory meanings, but it useful for us to understand the nuances of the terms here because minority art often couches its contentions in such formats for the two reasons outlined above. Rhetorical Ploys are usually defined fallacies or false arguments that seem like an argument on the surface but are in reality not logical. However, they can also be used in the reverse with great affect: if a portion of the audience does not comprehend the claims set forth, they would conclude that only a fallacious or false argument exists, but the party of the audience that does understand the â€œcodedâ€ messages is then privy to the real contentions at hand. Thus, this audience understands that the referencesâ€”Rhetorical Exponentsâ€”within the text point to a sound and more significant argument. Hughes does both in much of his work to not only challenge the majority/minority status quo both champion for social, cultural, economic, and political change. Note his last two stanzas. Both tackle religion and government from a form of immediate and active activism on the part of his audience. Think about these ideas when formulating your final essays for the course.