|"Unbossed and Unbought": Black Women's Rhetorics (Undergraduate Course)|
Imagine that it is 1968 and you could be the first black woman who has ever been elected to congress. What would your campaign entail? What would you promise? How would you convince people to believe in your capacity to make changes in their lives? In 1968, the Brooklyn-native and daughter of Barbadian parents, Shirley Chisholm, did indeed become the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Her campaign was organized around her now famous slogan: “Fighting Shirley Chisholm--- Unbought and Unbossed.” That slogan will be used as kind of map for our seminar that will guide our study of how Black women have used rhetorical means in their unique struggle to encounter, re-imagine, and transform their worlds. In other words, what has it looked like, sounded like, and felt like to be “Unbought and Unbossed” for black female poets, essayists, orators, comedians, activists, MCs, b-girls, DJs, musicians, designers, and artists?
The course examines the multiple rhetorics--- written, oral, and visual--- of women in the United States who define themselves as women of African descent and who self-consciously direct their experiences, claims, and persuasive styles from and/or toward black communities. The course will specifically draw from scholarship on African American rhetoric* that focuses on the ways that African American orators, essayists, and researchers discern across many political and social situations the available means of persuasion for the time and place in which they live. We will begin by looking at the work of the two most prominent scholars (who are themselves black female rhetors) in African American rhetoric: Jacqueline Jones Royster and Shirley Wilson Logan. We will then look at the rhetorics of black women in many different arenas: anti-slavery speeches of women like Sojourner Truth and Jarena Lee; the anti-lynching campaign of Ida B. Wells; the public works of black female congresswomen like Maxine Waters and Barbara Jordan; education activism of teachers like Anna Julia Cooper and Gloria Ladson-Billings; “Blueswomen”---from Bessie Smith to Erykah Badu; folklorists like Zora Neale Hurston and Rebecca Cox Jackson; Civil Right activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker; Black Power/Black Nationalist activists like Angela Davis and Queen Mother Moore; contemporary Black female ministers, gospel music ministers, and “empowerment specialists”---spanning Mary Mary and Reverend Prathia Hall to Iyanla Vanzant; spoken word artists from Sonia Sanchez to Sunni Patterson; comedians from Moms Mabley to Wanda Sykes; and last but not least, the power of Hip Hop as persuasion with rappers like Lil Kim holdin’ the mic. Knowledge of rhetoric or the rhetors listed is NOT required, only a willingness to look deeply at language and share with colleagues. The class itself will be designed like a multimedia, inquiry-based seminar where we will continually work to trace, understand, and reflect on the multiple sites of activism and battles for equality waged by black female rhetors in the United States. (pre-requisite: ENGL 1000c)
*We define rhetoric as the art of persuasion as used in everyday life and in collective freedom struggles.
There are eight units of study.
Each unit has its own tab on the course website with video, music/audio, weblinks, and textual information.