21W.742 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Writing About Race


In addition to the regular journal assignments, there are four papers written for the course.

Descriptive essay: 2 pages  Variable
Exploratory essay: 3 pages  Variable
Midterm Analytical essay: 5 pages  11
Final Researched essay: 10 pages  25 & 26

Descriptive Essay and Exploratory Essay

These two essays are revisions/reworkings of journals or expansions of Talking Points of the students’ choosing–a chance for students to reformulate their ideas in light of class discussions and subsequent material covered. The sessions due as designated based on course workload and student interest.

Mid-term Topic: Juxtaposing Texts

Due Session 11

The form of the midterm is that of an analytical essay—specifically, a juxtaposition of texts. While a convenient first way to think of this is as a “compare and contrast” exercise, a truly useful juxtaposition differs from this over-simplified formula in the sense that juxtaposing two texts ideally leads to creative, dynamic readings of both texts that may well differ from reader to reader. Further, the two texts may have little in common other than that they lend themselves to a reading through a specific lens - here, that of racial identity.

Please choose one of the following to write a 5 page analytical essay on:

  1. In Jazz, Morrison sometimes appears to embrace, and at other times to reject, or correct, notions regarding stereotypic representations of African American culture. For example, while her characters do not always speak Standard English, their voices convey the reality of a wide spectrum of degrees of intelligence, wisdom, and know-how not generally associate with African American vernacular speech (which is not to say that they are not equally capable of expressing sentiments from the other end of the spectrum such as foolishness, recklessness, even madness). This same hybrid approach - of both “saying and unsaying” things about a specific culture frequently falls to writers from any non-dominant culture. In Native American letters, this task is at times assumed by Sherman Alexie, notably in the screenplay which became the movie Smoke Signals. What are some of the standard tropes of Native American culture as projected through the dominant gaze that are either present, absent, satirized or embraced in Alexie’s film, and do yo find parallels to any of these representations or different tropes altogether echoed in Morrison’s work?
  2. To different extents, both Jazz and To Kill A Mockingbird employ narrative perspectives of characters from within a small community who are close to, but yet not quite the protagonists of, their respective texts. Paradoxically, this subjective viewpoint is at times more reliable than a presumably more “objective,” disinterested third party narrator might be. Explore the extent to which this holds true in each case. You might take into account the role that the race, age or class of the narrator plays in each case in commanding our sympathies for various characters. Don’t forget that voiceover is one device used in film to convey point of view, and that, as with literature, different moments in the film may shift in narrative perspective.
  3. Juxtapose Toni Morrison’s novel Jazz with any other text or film read / viewed thus far in the class to examine the role that race plays—that is, the extent to which “race matters”—in the overall narrative.

Final Project: Independent Project

Due Sessions 25 and 26

Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.

The final project provides an opportunity to explore in greater depth any concept related to race and ethnicity that has sparked your interest as it relates to course readings, assigned films and class discussions. Ideally, your discussion will encompass at least three texts (written or visual) in some way, although all three do not have to be equally represented in your discussion, but rather can serve as points of reference, or variations on a theme.

At least two of your primary sources should be from the assigned course materials, while you may elect to include as your third text a short story, film or other cultural source of your own choosing. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, depending on what kind of essay you are interested in writing (experiential, text-based analytical, creative non-fiction, or fictional).

You might then explore a central preoccupation of writers who deal with identity issues, or some central construct (such as gender, class, age, power relations) as it pertains to different ethnicities or nationalities. You might also explore a concept as it occurs over a period of time (for example, attitudes about colonialism from Babar to Pocahontas to TGOST).

Realize that this is more of a meditation on a select, limited number of texts, and that you cannot be expected, nor should you set out, to draw broad conclusions.

If you choose to write predominately in fiction, you should also include a three-page discussion that might serve as a type of Preface to your piece that situates your writing in relationship to two of the assigned texts that in some way function as your influences.

Some constructs/concepts you might want to consider: Age as it pertains to voice/POV. Political Sub-text. Racism and/or colonialism. Looks/Desire. Gender Relations. Kinship ties.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments