The reading that produced this week’s discussion was Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening, a book that asks its readers to consider the rhetorical value of listening consciously to the beliefs and experiences of others. Ratcliffe calls this practice rhetorical listening, which “signifies a stance of openness that a person may choose to assume in relation to any person, text, or culture” (17). In order to explore how this happens, Ratcliffe delves into the history of rhetoric, theories of identity, and strategies for listening to others rhetorically.
As a class, some issues we focused on were those of identity vs. identification, non-identification, invisible whiteness, and Ratcliffe’s overall message for the field of Rhetoric and Composition.
Identity vs. Identification
Ratcliffe spends ample time discussing identity vs. identification. In class wondered if there was much of a difference between the two, and, if so, what was the significance? We came up with a few thoughts, but what resonated with me the most is the idea that all of our individual identifications are part of what makes up our identity. The significance of this lies in the fact that if we try to read someone based on one identification, we can easily lead ourselves to stereotyping. Because of this, Ratcliffe urges us to focus on non-identification as a tool for rhetorical listening.
Because one can (even inadvertently) use identification to objectify people, non-identification asks us to see the whole person and to “admit that gaps exist” (73) in what we know about those we are listening to.
With a need to clarify non-identification further, we wondered, does a place of non-identification mean that one does not claim their marginalized identity? We considered how one goes about non-identifying. Through discussion we determined that maybe non-identification means you’re not putting up barriers as the listener. It’s, as one classmate said, “disidentifying yourself, not for the sake of yourself, but for the sake of what they’re saying” because learning happens when we use “the capacity to hear” and feel the “obligation to listen.”
We also wondered whether one can really be in a space of non-identification, especially if identification is not just how you see yourself, but how society sees you. After all, we’re constantly being shaped by the concepts and tropes around us, and we also reproduce them.
Despite this, Ratcliffe seems to emphasize that all people need to search for understanding and connection with others. To develop understanding, those in spaces of power need to recognize unearned privilege, while also engaging in discourses other than their own. Rhetorical listening requires us to, as another classmate put it, “understand the context, but still make the choice to not let that context inform the relationship, the listening.” By being accountable for our social positions, we can practice non-identification and aim to listen without objectifying others.
Ratcliffe’s work makes it clear that not having to acknowledge race is a privilege. Often times in America, race may be invisible to white people, but it remains visible to non-whites. This invisibility of whiteness is something many don’t want to discuss, but Ratcliffe argues that choosing to not discuss race isn’t the answer. She makes it clear that avoiding racial discussions perpetuates the privilege of not having to talk or think about racial issues in our society. While some white people may feel uncomfortable discussing race, non-white people have to deal with the day-to-day realities of not being white, putting them in a position that forces the issue of race into their lives.
One classmate pointed out that “White people might not think of white in terms of a race category,” whereas other races are seen as categories, “in silos, so to speak.” One key idea that stood out to me is that Americans in the dominant culture often see their culture as “that’s what America is,” but it’s only one view of the country. However, this isn’t the case because, even if they think their life is the norm, Rachel reminded us, “everyone else has a qualifier in front of them.” This racial qualifier is an identification often pushed upon people, one that often gets falsely equated with identity, rather than a single identification.
Implications for Rhetoric and Composition Studies
With this knowledge, Ratcliffe hopes that, first and foremost, we practice listening rhetorically, and discussing the gender and race issues that makes us uncomfortable. One person reminded the class that, “So often, when these issues are addressed, it’s in a non-productive, narcissist way.” The focus is on the self, not on society and others. By utilizing rhetorical listening strategies, we can work to avoid this self-centered trap.
Some strategies that stood out to the class included:
Rhetorical listening asks us to listen in spaces and ways we are not used to. We must spend time thinking through how we can responsibly and respectfully hear the words around us in order to move past dysfunctional silences and into a place of productive listening.
**Content Warning: some discussion of violence, sexual violence, and murder**
UWM’s Women’s and Gender Studies department invited Melissa W. Wright to speak at the annual Vilas Trust Lecture series this past February. Wright is a feminist geographer and the current chair of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department at Pennsylvania State University. She presented her work titled “Against the Evils of Democracy: Fighting Drug Wars and Femicide in Mexico and the Americas,” about the formation and strategies of social movements spurred by the increased disappearance of Mexican citizens. Graduate students were invited to a bagel hour discussion with Wright before the lecture series where she was able to discuss the intimacies of her research. With Latinx rhetorics on my mind, there were a few interesting highlights about the relationship between rhetorical power and activist discourse.
Wright’s scholarship explores the strategies of social movements in Mexico that address the alarming number of disappeared Mexican students and women. Many of these movements are led by Mexicanas who actively oppose the misogynistic language that discourages their involvement in the public sphere. Wright focuses on how rhetoric shapes public participation and democracy when women are excluded by social norms that dictate their submissive docility. Wright’s primary example was the difference between la mujer publica (whore) and el hombre publico (citizen), which attaches a stigma to women who participate in the public spheres of politics and activism. This misogynistic discourse punishes women who seek change within their communities by aligning them with sex work, and obfuscating their message. Movements like Ni Una Mas are primarily organized and supported by women, meaning that their activism is necessary particularly for addressing the problem of the disappeared.
One rhetorical strategy of these social movements is the use of the term ‘disappeared’ as opposed to dead or missing. This distinction is supposed to draw attention to the political power of the disappeared in addition to the responsibility of the government for their status. Normalistas have been at the forefront of Mexican activism throughout history and are named for the Normal schools started during the Revolutionary Era. These Normal schools continue in indigenous and rural areas of Mexico today, training high school graduates to become teachers for their communities. Wright discussed Normalistas as transforming from students to activists, creating a body of protestors for the disenfranchised students who are so often the victims of these disappearances. Normalistas use several rhetorical strategies to draw attention to the disappeared, who they believe have political presence even when lacking a physical one. Disappeared represents an action that is done to the students rather than something they do, and it is in opposition to the government-sanctioned term ‘missing,’ since the Normalistas believe the Mexican government is directly involved in these disappearances. They use other rhetorical strategies like staging classes of instructors teaching to empty chairs with the picture of a disappeared person taped to its back. These activists really focus on the rhetorical power of absence for these issues.
Similar to the rhetorical power of the disappeared, Wright discusses the cultural and linguistic nuances of the term feminicidio. The disappearance and murder of Mexican women has been an issue since the mid-twentieth century. Ni Una Mas, the organization mentioned above, began in Mexico in the 1990s as an anti-femicide organization in response to the thousands of tortured and abused women’s bodies found in the border region between Texas and Mexico. The women were discussed in public discourse by the government and the media as las muertas, or the dead, erasing their personhood and the context of their murder. Wright credits Mexican feminist activists for coining the term feminicidio in response to las muertas. Feminicido marks the murders as a national trend and human rights violation, and directly connects the Mexican government to state sponsored violence and murder. This activist language changes the meaning of the Anglo word femicide to encompass the consequences of political impunity. This rhetorical strategy emphasizes the necropolitics of the disappeared, and their political power in instigating change.
Wright's presentation provided several interesting examples of the connection between rhetorical power and activist language. By changing popular discourse, Mexican activists have drawn attention to the institutional connections and lacking government action concerning the disappeared. These rhetorical strategies have brought feminicidio and student disappearance into the global spotlight.
This week we discussed activism, language, and pedagogy in relation to Gloria Anzaldúa’s and Cherríe Moraga’s feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writing by Radical Women of Color and Candace Zepeda’s chapter “Chicana Feminism” from Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies. These works both discuss identity politics and intersectionality, while also tackling concepts like racism, sexism, and homophobia in academia and larger society. The readings focus specifically on Chicana identities/feminisms, marking them as distinct from Latina, Mexicana, or American identities/feminisms. Chicana/o identity formation began with the rise of the United Farm Workers and other civil rights protests in the 1960s and 1970s. This identity marker delineated not only heritage and ethnicity, as it is typically used to describe those living in the United States with Mexican heritage, but also a political identity that is aligned with civil disobedience and social justice. Towards the end of the Second Wave of US feminism in the early 1980s, Chicana feminists began forming coalitions that addressed the racist and homophobic policies and actions of more mainstream, white feminists. This Chicana identity, one that is uniquely ethnic and political, is what bound Moraga and Anzaldúa together to begin compiling the anthology that would drastically change the course of feminist theory.
Many class members commented on the importance of Moraga and Anzaldúa’s anthology, not only for academic discourse, but for pedagogy. We discussed the chapters that are typically used in classroom settings, and began to explore what it means that particular literature, like This Bridge Called My Back, usually finds itself stuck in disciplinary silos. We brainstormed solutions to this issue, offering effort and awareness as two important first steps to integrating more texts by women of color and spreading them beyond the ‘ethnic/women studies section’ (this is the terminology used on the back of the book by the publisher for organizational purposes, not how we as a class decided to classify the book). Classmates also contemplated the boundaries of allyship in this situation, asserting that white scholars must take responsibility for lacking diversity in professional institutions and take informed steps to expand what scholarship is accepted as canonical. We discussed what Zepeda calls the “Third Space,” for Chicanx students, emphasizing the importance of pedagogies of the home, Moraga’s theory of the flesh, and Chicana feminisms ideology of ‘the personal as political.' These three theories focus on the importance and value of student knowledge, grounding pedagogical practice in an ethics that promotes success for groups traditionally punished in hegemonic educational institutions, like Chicanx students. Class discussion dove into the complications of a Third Space, debating the merits of plural Third Spaces in order to expand post-colonial, flexible pedagogical forms.
This week we were also able to host Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the founder and executive director of the activist group Voces de la Frontera, as a class guest. She spoke about the accomplishments and direct action strategies of Voces, but class discussion further revealed the importance of rhetoric in the movement and for the organization. It is interesting to note that Voces has been using the Latinx distinction since 2016 as a measure for inclusivity, which harkens back to our earliest class conversations about the term’s merit within the community. As a class, we explored the use of ‘movement rhetoric,’ and its repeated presence in Voces through protest signs, letters written to government officials, and educational materials circulated in the community. We also considered the use of ‘family rhetoric’ when advocating for immigrant and civil rights issues. Most of the imagery and language adopted to rally support for Voces’ causes centers on kinship ties and the sanctity of family life. This rhetoric is purposefully chosen to reclaim the humanity so often stripped from immigrants and Latinxs in public discourse. Voces de la Frontera will be hosting their second Dia sin Latinxs & Immigrantes on May 1st, 2018, at 10AM in Waukesha, one of the most conservative and anti-immigrant areas in Wisconsin.
This week we attempted to make our way through Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/ La Frontera. It was mostly agreed that Borderlands is an important text and that it’s conceptual and linguistic complexity asks for more time than one week to work through. We still had an interesting and productive conversation about the text and our experiences with it.
Personally I have now read Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera twice and have in both cases found it to be a spiritual experience. Never have I found a text that so closely mirrors my experiences, wounds and internal questions. I felt very lucky when I found this text because it has helped me recognize feelings and thoughts that I have always possessed but lacked the language to articulate. Reading Borderlands is an experience in pain, healing, acceptance and empowerment. I think this speaks to the importance of teaching the text, especially in communities with large Latinx presences.
Many of my classmates spoke of Borderlands from the experience of having taught sections of it in their courses. This experience usually centered around the difficulty students had reading the text as well as to the students’ realization that reading Borderlands created for them an experience similar to that of the Chicano community and immigrant community. How have you reacted to this text?
Because I, a mestiza,
continually walk out of one culture,
and into another,
because I am in all cultures at the same time,
alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,
me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictorio.
Estoy norteada por todas las voces que me hablan
Anzaldúa speaks about the concept of Mestiza consciousness; a description for those torn between two ways. Mestiza consciousness is a dual consciousness that straddles on the borderlands of multiple cultures and in turn multiple frames of reference or ways of seeing the world. These frames of reference do not always coexist in harmony within someone’s mind. La mestiza carries the pain of cultural collisions and copes with the contradiction of them by adopting a lack of rigidity in thought. With this fluidity they develop a tolerance for contradiction and ambiguity. Bearing this plural personality and fluid thought process, la mestiza is able to throw away oppressive traditions in their cultures, reinterpret history and adopt new perspectives.
Being so emotionally attached to Borderlands, I was at first resistant to the texts that we read critiquing the concept of Mestizaje. Gabriela Raquel Rios has a chapter called Mestizaje in the book Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies that brought up some pretty relevant points on the subject though. She describes mestizofilia as a method used to find value in Mexico’s mixed race majority, but only by viewing the mixed race as superior to the indigenous one. She describes that this ideology is what justified putting indigenos into ejidos (reservations). What I found to be undeniable was her description of ethnographic entrapment as what occurs when indigenos are seen as historical objects of knowledge rather than empowered individuals. The indigenos, their culture and customs are referred to in past tense and only the customs that the mestizo has kept are allowed access to the present and future tense. Anzaldua makes reference to this phenomenon when she describes the spirituality of objects. She gives the example of how an indigenous piece of art that had spiritual connotations in it’s community, is dead when on display in a museum. While Anzaldúa’s description of mestizaje lifts up and finds empowerment in lo indigeno, it still does not acknowledge a future to indigenous culture. Indigenous culture is treated as an additive. While Borderlands still is a revolutionary text, it is important to acknowledge it’s shortcomings. What ideas did you glean as empowering or problematic within this text?