Rankine, Rhetoric, Culture

from Canvas homework responses…

Rankine uses the Marxist perspective in her essay to represent a group that is disempowered. This perspective gives her essay an angry tone as she explains the injustice of the racial discrimination against Serena Williams. Rankine uses powerful metaphors in her essay such as “graphite against a sharp white background” (26) to emphasize her point. Rankine seeks to justify Serena’s outbursts against the bad calls made by the referee by saying “it is difficult not to applaud her for reacting immediately to being thrown against a sharp white background” (29) causing the reader to reconsider how to view Serena’s angry outbursts. This urges the audience to see Serena as more of a hero rather than an immature tennis player.


Rankine furthers the predominant forms of contemporary rhetoric by discussing racial bias with respect to historically significant and controversial athletes of color. When writing about Serena Williams’ outbursts at the 2009 Women’s US Open final, Rankine illustrates the perspective a viewer – one who doesn’t understand the racial injustices that Williams is subjected to – has during the match. “…witnessing the expression of this more ordinary and daily anger might make the witness believe that a person is ‘insane’…Nothing, not even the repetition of negations she employed in a similar situation years before as a younger player at the 2004 US Open, prepares you for this. Oh my God, she’s gone crazy, you say to no one” (Rankine, 24-25). By contrasting such a statement with Williams’ own belief that she “feels most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background,” Rankine effectively illustrates the error in judgement from the majority when Williams freely expresses her disappointment and frustration, effectively placing the audience in Williams’ position.

As for the relation to contemporary culture, rhetoric takes on many forms depending upon the person who employs its usage. These inherent differences in individuals across cultures is reflected in how we interpret one’s message – often negatively. For example, Williams partook in a celebratory dance at the 2012 Olympics after winning two gold medals in tennis; the American media portrayed Serena as “Crip-walking all over the most lily-white place in the world…You couldn’t help but shake your head…What Serena did was akin to cracking a tasteless, X-rated joke inside a church…What she did was immature and classless” (Rankine, 33). This occurrence highlights the flawed mechanism of self-interpretation with respect to another’s actions; most often demonized are minorities such as Williams, whose every little expression of emotion, no matter how innocent, is negatively exaggerated. Whereas another individual of another race or color would have most likely expressed the same emotion in another action or form, it needs to stated and emphasized that differences in rhetoric appeal result in different interpretations.


Rankine is a good example of an author who demonstrates rhetoric in her essay writing,
while persuading her audience of the influence media has over its audience, especially in regardto race. Within Rankine’s piece on Hurricane Katrina, within “Citizen: An American Lyric,”Rankine uses repetition of the rhetorical question “Have you seen their faces?” Not only doesthis evoke a sense of emotional appeal (“pathos”), it also provides a sort of rhythm and makes her essay more song like, almost like the repeated refrain found in a song. Another strategy Rankine uses is within her piece on Serena Williams–imagery. Rankine repeats an idea she introduced in a quote from Zora Neale Hurston, that says, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” (25). This quote provides the image of how big the contrast is between white and black and is meant to represent the contrast between African Americans and white people; Serena Williams and the “white game” of Tennis. It can be said that this quotation adds an emotional aspect to Rankine’s essay, because Rankine repeats the idea of black versus white throughout her essay, and the imagery of this quote demonstrates how distinct the difference is between African Americans and white people, and also shows how singled out Serena Williams feels. Among many other strategies, Rankine uses quotations from Williams and others (adding to the logos and the credibility of her argument), generalization (Hurricane
Katrina essay), and also demonstrates a bias toward media and how they portrayed Serena
Williams in Tennis and African Americans during Hurricane Katrina.
As defined in “What is Popular Culture and Why Study It?,” popular culture is “everyday
objects, actions, and events that influence people to believe and behave in certain ways”
(Anonymous 2). Rankine’s essay on Serena Williams demonstrates how the media portrays Serena Williams. Rankine said, “Interviewed by the Brit Piers Morgan after her 2012 Olympic victory, Serena is informed by Morgan that he was planning on calling her victory dance “the Serena Shuffle”; however, he has learned from the American press that it is a Crip Walk, a gangster dance” (34). I don’t think Williams intentionally meant for her victory dance to be called a “gangster dance”; however, the media portrayed it to be so. Within “What is Popular Culture and Why Study It?,” the author discusses that the media “may at times compromise ethical standards in quest for higher profits” (Anonymous 2).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s