unit 1: Anti-Racism analysis + Rhetoric

In this unit, we will focus on Analysis writing by exploring the racial stories told by different books. We'll also focus on Rhetoric, learning how the rhetorical situation, mode, appeals, and devices give us different entry points for our analysis.

Essential Questions we'll tackle this unit:

  • What is systemic racism?
  • Is systemic racism present in the classic literature that most schools read?
  • In what ways do schools perpetuate or combat systemic racism?
  • What does it mean to be anti-racist? How does one become anti-racist?

During our reading time, everyone will compile a Reading Notebook that has some deep dives and analysis practice. We'll also choose a book project from one of the following 4 pathways. Take some time to explore each, then to explore the books within the pathway you choose. The goal is to have a book in hand as soon as possible in January.

Pathway 1: non-fiction best sellers

The current non-fiction best sellers lists have been dominated by works about race and anti-racism throughout 2020 in response to national discussions on police shootings, systemic racism, confederate statues, etc. Some of these books were born in different time periods that confronted similar issues and have become popular again. Some were born in response to very similar events that have persisted into 2020. Your goal will be to read the book, then analyze why it is relevant right now. What issues and concerns is it speaking to? Does it do a good job of conveying anti-racist ideas? It’s a chance to evaluate the content and the argument the book makes. The books range from personal stories to historical accounts to arguments to sociological studies.

Pathway 2: The 1619 Project controversy

The 1619 Project was built by The New York Times in August 2019 to explore how slavery shaped American instituions. It consists of a collection of essays by different authors. It garnered millions of readers and was initially seen as an important historical analysis. It became controversial though, when some scholars disputed the project’s interpretation of historical events and politicians like President Trump called it “toxic propaganda.” The NYT has sought to defend the project from these claims, but it’s still controversial right now because it exposes the two views represented in these questions: “Was America founded as a slavocracy, and are current racial inequities the natural outgrowth of that? Or was America conceived in liberty, a nation haltingly redeeming itself through its founding principles?”

The goal of this pathway is to explore The 1619 Project and the controversy surrounding it. You will analyze the text and the responses to it in order to determine which critiques and interpretations of it are most valid. Should schools use it in their curriculum? Is it anti-American? Does it combat or perpetuate systemic racism and racist ideas?

Pathway 3: challenged classics

Most schools read the same books each year. Some have argued that this is one of the challenges of systemic racism--that certain experiences, perspectives, and representations become ingrained that are at times harmful. These four classic authors have been widely studied for decades (your parents probably read them) and the authors are staples in most high school literature classrooms. They each have different challenges when it comes to race (like Huck Finn, which uses the n-word 219 times) and have been frequently banned or challenged in school districts like this one in California. The goal of this project is to explore whether or not the book challenges or perpetuates racist ideas, like this author does with Dr Seuss. Should schools do what Disney Plus is doing with its content (like Spider-Man) and have content warning labels about racial depictions and stereotypes? You are using a racial lens to explore the depictions of characters, the language, and the themes of the book.

Pathway 4: YA novels

Some high school English teachers have started a movement called “Disrupt Texts” that seeks to bring more representative young adult fiction into classrooms. Among those new texts are titles that represent a “growing body of YA books exploring racial injustice and police brutality”. Some of the more recognized titles are included below. The goal of this project is to read and explore whether or not the books combat or reinforce racist ideas. Are the racial representations realistic or caricatures? Do they address more than just the pain of the culture or do they celebrate its successes? What does each add to the bigger national discussion about social justice? Some are rooted in specific historical events, some are meant to emulate the type of situations that the summer of 2020 brought to the forefront.

Next Steps

  1. Explore the pathways and the related readings. You can use any of those readings in your Reading Notebook.
  2. Choose a pathway.
  3. Explore the books within that pathway--read the beginnings to see if it's a book you can live with for a few weeks.
  4. Choose a book and complete the google form to give Coates a clue.
  5. Bring a hard copy of the book to class as soons as possible (ideally January 11).