Through the process of composing a rhetorical analysis of Jennifer Harvey’s post “For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids,” I gained a better understanding of not only how to identify, analyze, and critique the rhetorical situations and appeals of other writers, but also those of my own. Consequently, I acquired a more sophisticated mindset as a both a reader and writer, as I am now more cognizant of the significant impact of one’s rhetorical choices on the overall effect of his paper. This idea was made extremely clear to me upon first reading Harvey’s post and taking immediate notice of her blatantly critical tone. Although her post does serve as a critique of the manner in which parents discuss racism with their white children, her use of words such as “abstract” and “meaningless” to describe their teachings made apparent that her choice to employ an accusatory tone had been taken too far. From seeing the negative influence of this single rhetorical technique on her overall post, I further realized that within my own writing, I must carefully consider each stylistic aspect I employ, as each could potentially skew my message or my audience’s feelings toward my argument, no matter how minute. Further regarding Harvey’s tone, I chose her post to serve as the basis of my rhetorical analysis because I felt I could best relate to her intended audience while still able to present an unbiased perspective of her writing. My role as a white child allowed me to take this position, as I fully understand her logic behind her reasoning and feel the sting of the accusatory tone, but not to the extent in which my emotions cloud my argument. Despite the aforementioned weakness in her post, Harvey’s “For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids,” did successfully exemplify how to show an argument to an audience instead of simply telling them. Throughout her post, Harvey made it exceptionally clear to her readers that they should strike against hollow phrases such as “everybody is equal” and “we’re all the same underneath our skin” by constantly repeating these statements. However, she didn’t stop at merely telling them to take action, instead, she strengthened her argument by showing them, through use of real-life examples and statistics revealing their negative effects on white children, why protesting against these platitudes is necessary. While composing this rhetorical analysis paper, I was able to apply this technique to my own writing through citing portions of Harvey’s text which illustrated her strong appeal to the emotions of her audience. In doing so, I successfully showed my readers Harvey’s use of this rhetorical appeal instead of plainly telling them she used pathos as a persuasive technique.
Nevertheless, I did face some obstacles during the drafting, and revision processes of this paper. Upon first sitting down to begin writing, I knew I would have to analyze Harvey’s text closely in order to determine the rhetorical appeal best represented in her work, as this assignment only permitted me to focus on one. Due to this restriction, I was immediately removed from my comfort zone seeing that in high school, ethos, logos, and pathos were always presented as a “package” – never leaving me to analyze the use of one without the support of the other two. However, once overcoming this reality, I was able to better appreciate each one as a separate entity, capable of both standing alone and complementing its counterparts. Furthermore, the activity in class in which we defined these concepts as nouns, adjectives, and labels also helped me to understand their role more clearly. For me, this activity emphasized that the writer does not simply use ethos, pathos, and logos in his writing per say, but appeals to them in order to persuade his readers. Moreover, concerning the revision process of this paper, I struggled to find a way to seamlessly incorporate my critiques of Harvey’s post into my writing while still emphasizing the positive aspects of her writing I had already referenced. However, through much rearranging and rewriting I was able to successfully do so, further reinforcing the importance of revising. Regarding these important lessons learned through this assignment, I believe Inquiry Two has helped me to significantly grow as a writer.
From the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the passage of the Employment Non Discrimination Act in 2013, equality among our nation’s people has always been a top priority. However, despite the past 237 years’ worth of efforts toward creating a more equitable state, discrimination based on gender, sexuality, and physical ability is still a major concern, with prejudicial treatment due to skin color heading the top of this list. In her essay, “For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids,” Drake University’s Associate Professor of Religion, Jennifer Harvey, presents her argument as to why racism remains such a prominent issue in a society where the teachings that “everybody is equal” and “we’re all the same underneath our skin” are passed from generation to generation like precious family heirlooms. Unlike the many other writings and speeches focusing upon this touchy subject, Harvey looks toward the group most conspicuously exempt from racial injustices for the answer to this troubling problem – the parents of white children. Through a controversial, yet encouraging 1361 word blog post for the Huffington Post, Harvey targets the love and concern these parents feel for their children in an effort to convince them to change their approach to discussing race with their children and ultimately change the view of racism for America.
From the mere first few lines of her post, “Dear Parents of White Children, I vote that we strike … stand-ins for … actual conversations about race, racial difference and racism … with our kids,” Harvey instantly appeals to the emotions of her readers, stirring up feelings of disbelief, bewilderment, and even outrage. For any audience, not simply the parents of white children, the subject of racism is a delicate one, sure to strike an emotional chord with whomever it involves. However, by proposing to protest against the age-old adages that “everybody is equal” and “we’re all the same underneath our skin,” Harvey elevates the sensitivity of this subject to the next level, arousing a particular sense discomfort in her target audience. With little introduction to soften the blow, she immediately delves into her main message, claiming that the parents of white children are the ones most responsible for making casual use of these phrases in an attempt to skirt around the topic of racism with their children. Although Harvey’s controversial assumption successfully captures the full attention of her readers, the accusatory and callous tone she employs significantly detracts from her argument. By referring to their racial teachings as “abstract” and “meaningless,” she inadvertently questions the capabilities of these parents to communicate effectively with their children, and as a result, risks losing their respect or driving them away altogether. In order to compensate for the feelings of resentment and anger her statement ignites, Harvey could more successfully appeal to the emotions of her audience by providing an example from her life in which she resorted to using these “filler” expressions with her own children. By admitting that she too is guilty of intentionally avoiding deep racial discussion, Harvey could further emphasize to her audience her role as a fellow parent of white children, thus strengthening her credibility as a writer and that of her argument.
Furthermore, in her writing Harvey capitalizes upon the idea that “[w]e all make decisions – even important ones – based upon our feelings” (Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz 38). Keeping this idea close in mind, she incorporates into her post a statistic from a study comparing white and black families, finding “that on average, African-American parents start talking about race with their African-American children by age 3,” and “[w]hite parents with white kids” at “[a]ge 13.” Through juxtaposing the depth of racial discussion between blacks and whites, she appeals to the conscience of her audience, forcing them to realize that their effort toward educating their children on racial issues is glaringly meek in comparison to that of other races. However, Harvey truly emphasizes this point through providing real-life examples from her experiences as a professor that showcase the negative effects of using these “abstract” and “meaningless” expressions as a substitute for “painful” and “authentic” conversations about racism. She instills a sense of guilt in these parents for employing these platitudes by recounting classroom discussions where “students of color describe their experiences of racism, and their white peers stare at them numbly, repeating: ‘everybody is equal,’ ‘we’re all the same underneath our skin.’” Through Harvey’s use of this example, she causes her audience to envision their own white children in this situation, with a “deer in headlights” look stamped across their faces and their mouths desperately repeating these hollow expressions of equality. By intentionally causing these parents to picture such a sad situation, she appeals to their feelings of remorse and ineptitude, therefore persuading them to reconsider their means of discussing racism with their white children.
Likewise, the brutally honest, yet personal tone Harvey applies throughout the piece influences the emotional decision-making process of the audience, as well. She remains upfront and truthful, stating that by “insulat[ing]” white children “from the negative effects of racism,” parents are only doing them a disservice, limiting their “developing aptitude about race and anti-racism.” Further, she questions the credibility behind these parental teachings of “everybody is equal” and “we’re all the same underneath our skin” by blatantly inquiring of her audience, “[H]ave you ever actually met a ‘generic’ human? Someone without a race or a gender? Well, guess what? Neither has your child.” Although she is a parent of white children, struggling with this same issue herself, Harvey’s honest tone never falters in order to sugarcoat the truth, leaving no room for the audience to deny the arguments which she presents them. As a result, the discomfort and guilt these parents feel after reading Harvey’s reasoning to strike against these platitudes propels them to conclude that their inability to discuss racism in greater depth with their children is no longer acceptable. Upon reading this post, they feel a strong need to right what they have wronged in their children’s lives and gather the confidence to do so from Harvey’s reminder to them that they “are able and willing to develop facility and work through discomfort in so many areas parenting springs on” them and that “[r]ace is no different.”
Moreover, considering the fact that Jennifer Harvey is a parent with white children herself, she effectively establishes an emotional connection with her audience through this post by making clear to them that she understands the moral dilemma they are facing, as she too is dealing with the same issue. This idea is further emphasized through the personal letter format of her post in which she opens with “Dear Parents of White Children” and closes with “Yours in search of substance over sugar, A Fellow Parent with White Kids.” Harvey’s word choices of “dear” “yours” and “fellow” in this salutation and closing pair emphasize the great extent to which she feels a familiar and emotional connection with her audience. However, Harvey could have strengthened this connection by simply adding the word “fellow” to her letter’s greeting, “Dear Parents of White Children.” In doing so, her audience would recognize in the first line of her post, instead of its last, that she is in their same shoes and thus genuinely understands the difficulty of meaningfully discussing racism with one’s child. Moreover, upon taking note of the great effort Harvey did go to in order to make her post more personable and relatable, her audience is more likely to trust and agree with her arguments and therefore reciprocate this emotional connection by discussing in greater depth the issue of racism with their white children. Additionally, Harvey appeals to the emotions of her audience by proving through the use of metaphor that she truly knows and understands who they are. In her piece, she explains to her audience that statements such as “everybody is equal” and “we’re all the same underneath our skin” are only “sugar when our kids need protein.” As parents of white children, or all parents for that matter, often worry about the health and wellbeing of their kids, this clever comparison between racial discussion and nutrition is one which resonates emotionally with Harvey’s intended audience, therefore contributing to the overall effectiveness of her piece.
Through predominantly appealing to the raw emotion of the parents of white children, Harvey successfully presents a credible and effective argument toward striking against the filler conversations of how “everybody is equal” and “we’re all the same underneath our skin” and instead choosing to delve into “real, thick, painful, resilient, strategic and authentic” conversations about racism. Despite her initial condescending tone, Harvey’s “For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids” serves as an exceptional example of an argument developed and put forth in a clear, persuasive manner without bombarding the reader with unnecessary facts or references to the her own credentials as a writer. Instead, Harvey devotes her full attention to developing the subject of her piece and appealing emotionally to her audience in an effort to improve the white child’s understanding of racism and possibly that of the world’s.
Lunsford, Andrea A. & Ruszkiewicz, John J. Everything’s an Argument. 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print.