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Before the 1960s, few studies in either composition or communication addressed issues of race either directly or indirectly. In the 1960s, researchers began to focus their research efforts on the relationship between rhetoric and race, and by the 1970s, scholars began to question the efficacy of rhetoric for addressing racial issues, and theorized the need to reconceptualize and redefine rhetoric’s traditional preoccupation with persuasion and argumentation.
In the US in the 1980s studies of rhetoric and race began to evolve toward descriptive studies of the language of oppression as well as more theoretically complex explorations of the language of white racism. The focus on white identity and privilege continued to increase in the 1990s, as research began to attend to issues of power, ideology, and domination in areas such as critical legal studies, critical race studies, and media studies. In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers continued to offer theoretically driven examinations of the social and symbolic construction of whiteness and racial privilege, and a rethinking of rhetoric informed by emerging ideological and epistemological concerns invigorated thinking about rhetoric and race as the twenty-first century began.
Since 2000, studies of Native American conquest and disenfranchisement, black nationalism and identity, the aesthetics of whiteness and antiracism, visual rhetoric, racial reconciliation, and explorations of race in composition and pedagogy have defined current research on rhetoric and race. The election of Barack Obama to the White House has had a predictably strong impact on rhetorical considerations of race.
Rethinking the relationship between rhetoric and race has returned researchers to one of the earliest questions raised by scholars: whether or not racial conflict and division are, in fact, problems that can be remedied by rhetoric. In addition to studies of reparations and reconciliation, research on the rhetorical dimensions of the African-American public sphere also raise the question of whether or not America’s white majority can ‘hear the hurt’ that has consistently been expressed in the rhetoric, aesthetics, and politics of black voices.
- Daniel, G. R. & Williams, H. (2014). Race and the Obama phenomenon: The vision of a more perfect multiracial union. Jackson, MI: University of Mississippi Press.
- Lacy, M. & Ono, K. (2011). Critical rhetorics of race. New York: New York University Press.
- Watts, E. (2012). Hearing the hurt: Rhetoric, aesthetics, and politics of the new negro movement. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.