In the first chapter, Banks lays out his overarching argument about how he will be looking at "...African American history as reflected through its rhetorical production shows a group of people who consistently refused to settle for the limiting parameters set by either/or binaries" (2). An even better explanation Banks offers is this: "...the Digital Divide, and the larger history of African American is, essentially a rhetorical problem" (12). What a great way to phrase so much of what happens within exclusion. To put this in my own words, I found Banks's arguments within his book to be compelling because he's looking at African American's rhetorical tradition as rooted in oratory and the ways in which it informs, sustains, complicates, and differentiates people from white English. Before I move on, I need to unpack a few of the adjective I used. Complicates: I'm not suggesting that coming from an oral tradition complicates issues for the speaker/writer/consumer (although that is valid, and something Banks does bring up, but not what I want to discuss here), but rather how it complicates white English. Banks explores the ways that anyone who doesn't speak white isn't speaking correctly. Banks is pointing out something before Vershawn Young did with Young's article "Should Writers Use They Own English?" which is it's folk's assumptions about how people who don't use white English that really needs to change rather than the speakers themselves (Young 62). Banks points out "assumptions about the supposed inferiority by African American varieties of English that have dismantled consistently by Black and White linguists alike..." (13). This is what I feel Banks is trying to break down; the presuppositions people have about what is right (white) and what isn't acceptable. Banks is calling for a different look at for whom technology serves---and doesn't. Banks traces the history of how Black Americans don't have the same access to computers and how that is the first step in creating so-called Digital Divide. Banks is extenuation the conversation the Selfes; brought up about how computer icons were developed based on a very specific demographic, while others are excluded from participating. Banks writes about how it's not so much that Black Americans aren't "able" to do science, but rather how it's been mostly in English departments where African American studies lay, and how sciences and technological communication could do a better job of looking at issues of marginalized groups rather than relying on old narratives that aren't true (14). What I wanted from Banks, and something that Young does in his article, is to argue in the manner that he is defending. To illuminate: Young writes in Black dialect throughout his paper, which makes his point all that more compelling and striking. Young is demonstrating how we all can still understand one another, even if we don't all use the same dialect. If Young hadn't used the dialect he did, it would have felt like a cheat- something that I feel Banks kind of does. Banks argues for a oratory method, yet he's writing a book. He's calling for people to reassess their assumptions about dialects, but uses standard American academic writing to do so.
It's kinda funny how one of the technical and professional communication journals Banks mentioned is Journal of Technical Writing and Communication because it's one journal that I have read extensively for another class. I totally missed how the journal elides any concerns for race and gender; the only "international" concerns they brought up was how Canadian and British folks teach technical communication in the classroom. So, not at all diverse whatsoever.
Another idea Banks puts forth is "that even now, with all of our technologies, oratory is still the genre of public engagement--the genre where the work of any group of people commit to begins" (29). I feel like this nicely ties-in to some of the other books we've read, the Castelles's book for example. I'm rather inclined to agree: there's no better rhetorical call to action than that from the skilled rhetor. Of course, Banks goes into the oratory skills of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as example of Black Americans and use of strong oratory skills. So, on the one hand I was intrigued with Banks's ideas of oratory, I also wonder if he's trapping himself in the "single story."
Today I had a chance to watch a TED Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi (whose TED Talk I have included below), where she spoke about the perils of sticking to a "single story." Ngozi gave the example of being from Nigeria and being faced with presuppositions about how she must have grown up. Yes, she admits, food became scarcer as prices rose, but she also had enough to eat and wasn't starving. Ngozi's example is what she is warning against, that there's only one story to any group of people. She challenges us to write a different narrative, and gives the example of rather than starting a story with South Africa after colonization, start with the fall of its government and, as Ngozi points out, you'll have a very different narrative. So, that what I wonder about with Banks's book, that he's kind of falling into that single story of Black Americans primarily using oratory to express ideas. It seems to me like he forgetting about whole other swathes of stories.
The last issue that Banks brings up that I want to include in today's blog is found within chapter 3, and the Mike Wallace report on the Nation of Islam. Banks close reads how Wallace continually cast the Nation of Islam into suspicious lighting, drawing unfair conclusions about what the group was doing, in order to persuade (white) people to be afraid of them. Banks points out that what might have happened if "Lomax were the series' producer, had access to African American camera crews and research staff, and the freedom to present his results to an African American audience unfettered by the restraints of overbearing White public opinion that was already formed and unwilling to be persuaded?" (53). Yeah, what if? It's so important for as many different voices as there can be to add to the conversation; conversation that happens anywhere and under any circumstance. Banks points out that at the time the Nation of Islam news report was broadcast, it was during the days of objective reporting. Snort. As if. And to think of how many (white) people Wallace et al, had believing that the group was up to no good and to fear them, yikes.
I found Banks's book to be super interesting. It helps me think about technology through a critical race lens, and offers more than what the Selfes' article did. Banks is making the call for us to change the narrative surround the rhetoric of technology. Are you in or are you out?
Link to video: