Pipe Dreams and Racist Rhetoric


Posted on September 27th, by Joy Brown in Joy Brown. No Comments

old plumbing pipesI know the distinctive sound of my gurgling pipes, and I dread it. My plumbing stopped working several times until I finally spent thousands to remedy the problem. I realized I had been taking first world, water-related tasks for granted, such as showering and brushing my teeth anytime I felt like it.

It was therefore a relief to get back to my former rhetorically provoking self this summer without having to worry so much about things like whether my toilet would flush. In August I wrote a letter to the editor, published in the local newspaper, that labeled as racists those who fly the Confederate flag and venerate Confederate war “hero” monuments. The Charlotteseville debacle disgusted me, and I felt compelled to speak out. One of the expected responses was a defensive letter about “heritage.”

“I have to ask Ms. Brown, has the Confederate flag ever done anything to you? Were you a slave? Did you pick cotton? Of course not,” the writer argued.

To put it diplomatically, we disagreed. But despite our differences, I considered this exchange a rhetorically significant exercise. It was democracy in action.

I relay this particular story because it provides a decent segue to the question: What is rhetoric, anyway, and why study it?

The definition of rhetoric has actually been debated since Plato’s days. Plato was concerned with getting as close to the absolute truth as possible. He hated that persuasive techniques were being used sans ethical considerations, that people were getting their way even when it was of no benefit to humankind. He therefore considered as hacks people like Gorgias, regarded as the original itinerate teacher of rhetoric. Gorgias developed the craft in Sicily via landowning disputes and took it on the proverbial road to Greece, where the powers that be rapidly found value in it.

In contemporary American society, most of us are inclined to think of rhetoric negatively, as a communicative tool that manipulates or misleads. It is often characterized as divisive and hateful. Rhetoric can be violent, and can even be silent – saying and doing nothing, of course, can actually convey quite a lot, as anyone who has been ghosted knows.

My definition is more liberal, and more akin to something called feminist standpoint theory: I contend that rhetoric is simply communication, intentional or unintentional, that uses symbols to convey meaning. Many of my classmates and instructors, think the craft must embody at least a speck of persuasion. I think it often includes persuasive elements, but not always.

We therefore study and practice rhetoric because it’s essential to understanding ourselves and navigating the world. No matter if we’re frustrated parents cussing like sailors or CEO’s examining ways to maximize ROIs, it helps us make informed decisions, which can ultimately have profound personal and communal effects. Rhetoric is at the core of our conscious lives.

Knowing the rhetorical canons such as audience influence and how to best arrange the information we want to convey, along with recognizing today’s concerns such as digital media delivery methods, translates to power. Critical thought encourages richer perspective and agency. If someone shares a political meme, do you consider its source, the motive for its creation and the context of time? If your child says he has a sore throat, is he getting sick or does he just not want to go to school that day? Did your sister’s eulogy at your mother’s funeral move you to tears?

At any given moment we must contemplate, act upon and produce a number of rhetorically charged messages that influence our lives.

I decided to tackle racists. What’s a recent example of particularly powerful rhetoric that has resonated with you?





Leave a Reply

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



From the Blog

Wondering what it's really like to be at The University of Findlay? Follow our bloggers and read—and sometimes listen and watch—their experiences. Real Oilers. Real stories. Real life.

A Day in the Life

During a session I attended a few years ago that offered pointers regarding how to navigate graduate school, one University of Findlay professor said...

Music to my ears?

I’ve been involved in choirs for as long as I can remember, but none of that prepared me for the challenge of coming into...

Practical Magic: How Marathon Petroleum Corporation Fuels Experiential Learning

At this time last year, I stepped outside my comfort zone and accepted an internship with Brand Marketing at Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) for...

Adjustments

When you go to a new place, whether it’s a new city/new school/new country, everyone needs to make some adjustments with the new things...

Pipe Dreams and Racist Rhetoric

I know the distinctive sound of my gurgling pipes, and I dread it. My plumbing stopped working several times until I finally spent thousands...

Gettin’ My Dance On … and Making Miracles Happen!

Miracle Network Dance Marathon. A year ago, those four words didn’t mean much to me at all. Today, those words ignite a fire inside...

What’s So Great About Greek Life?

Before I moved in, you could ask just about anyone I knew, “Do you think Tatum will join Greek life?” and their immediate answer...

Push Yourself to the (Browns) Edge

Is there a day that you can honestly say changed your life? A day that impacted your education, career and social life?

Mine was on...

Let’s make this journey wonderful!

Hi! If you are wondering who I am or why you should even be interested to meet me, here’s my backstory. My full name...

A Major Decision

Senior year of high school is such a fun and nostalgic time filled with lots of firsts and lasts. Even more, it is usually...

Nooks and Books: Places to Study on Campus

If I asked you, “What would you rather be doing than studying right now?,” most of us could probably think of 1,001 ways to...

Not Fade Away

Galvanizing intellectual and emotional events have distinguished my graduate school experience thus far. I couldn’t wait to begin the University of Findlay’s Master of...

“The Greatest Experience on Earth”

College. At one point, it was stereotyped as a four-year party where students took a few classes and had little responsibility. Now, college has...

Back in #OilerNation—Chapter Two!

Coming back to college as a second year is … weird. I didn’t have to stress out about if I got everything checked off...

Why Are You Here?

On my very first day of class here at the University of Findlay, I was asked a question in my Orientation to Psychology class...