Studying the African American Narrative in English Composition Classes

Studying the African American Narrative in English Composition Classes

Paula Fender (Iowa State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2906-4.ch013
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This piece explores the history of rhetoric that can be placed in the context of contemporary college classrooms. Though US colleges explore and teach the fundamentals of rhetoric from a Greek perspective, this piece explains the oratory heritage of Africa, where rhetoric began (Diop, 2008; Hilliard, Williams, & Damali, 1987; Jackson II & Richardson, 2003; Semmes, 1992). Contemporary college classrooms can remediate their practices of teaching rhetoric by exploring it through the lens of Egyptian's ancient rhetorical traditions. African American (AA) students maintain their oral traditions through storytelling and contemporary religious rhetoric. Scholars presented in this piece will show that the oral rhetorical traditions of ancient Africa, African American spirituality, and AA linguistic patterns can help teachers of AA students in the contemporary classroom. It will also examine the narratives of critical race theory, social justice, and opportunity as they relate to students in educational settings.
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The Classical Heritage

Ancient rhetoric has its beginnings in Kmt (pronounced Kimit), now called Egypt. Life lessons, universal truths, and ways of being were part of the ancient mysteries Kmt offered. Egypt housed the world’s first universities with disciplines in Arts and Sciences as well as religion (considered as rhetoric, told in Mysteries) (Hilliard, Williams, and Damali 2001; James 2001; Jackson II and Richardson 2003). The rule the ancient Egyptians had, a code, if you will, was the Mysteries, or truths taught in the Universities were not to be inscribed in anyway. They were to be shared orally.

Egyptian rhetoric provided the seeds for the Greek rhetorical tradition, though that influence occurred over many years because Egypt restricted access to its ideas. George G.M. James (2001) gives the history of the Greek influences in rhetoric. It can now, as was always the case, be considered that the influences the Greeks provided were outpourings of Kmt. “The Egyptian Mystery System was also a Secret Order, and membership was gained by initiation and a pledge to secrecy…after nearly five thousand years of prohibition against the Greeks, they were permitted to enter Egypt for the purpose of their education” (James 1). Kemetic tradition ascribed to universal truths about everyday life, practical matters, spirituality, and the pursuit of moral fortitude. Aristotle borrowed ideas on religion and science from the Egyptians. He canonized his findings by introducing, “the concept of the ‘Unmoved Mover’ in order to prove the existence of God. But the ‘Unmoved Mover’ is none other than the Atum of the Memphite Theology of the Egyptians… (James 118). Aristotle also used terms, “actuality and potentiality in the problem of the existence of God as a new method of interpretation” (James 119).

The classical heritage of rhetoric can be placed in the context of the diaspora of African people, particularly, African Americans (AAs), whose history in the US has been quilted with patches of slavery, “freedom,” poverty, desire and pursuit of treatment as men and women, dehumanized but not defeated. African American students have a heritage of learning and understanding the English language and AA dialects, maintaining spiritual and religious connectivity, and progressing by use of phenomenal socialization skills, all of which are a result of the fabric of AA DNA, of the oral traditions of rhetoric and religion. African American students have found ways to re-identify with their ancient roots through writing, speaking, visualizing, and using technology in contemporary times (Wilson 2014; Rickford and Rickford 2000; Gunn and McPhail 2015).

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