Villanueva, “On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism”

Villanueva, Victor. “On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism.” CCC 50.4 (1999): 645-661. (17 pages)

Villanueva considers the impact of multiculturalism in American society generally, Composition and Rhetoric specifically. Similar to Ritchie and Boardman with gender and feminism, Villanueva alludes to the absence-presence of race in composition discourse (citing Prendergast). As such, multiculturalism has not been fully interrogated within our work, practices, and epistemology. Distinguishing between race and ethnicity, Villanueva expands from referring to ethnicity as biological heritage as compared to the treatment or regard for a people with a particular characteristic. As he claims, “racism doesn’t always effect those who are visibly different from the majority” thus the inclusion of a discussion of ethnicity. As he writes, ethnic ties include culture and language, but can also include ties of interest: “A man is connected to his group by ties of family and friendship. But he is also connected to ties of interest” (Glazer & Moynihan, in Villanueva 649). In this way, bootstraps mentality is given wider ubiquity: it “reifies the conception that people of color don’t do better because they don’t try harder, that most are content to feed off the state” (651); they, in other words, have different interest that contribute to their plight.

In a series of narratives or fragments, Villanueva also considers acts of “silencing”: the difference between speaking and being heard. “Speaking of ethnic studies or multiculturalism is less the issue than how racism seems always to be an appendage to a classroom curriculum, something loosely attached to a course but not quite integral, even when race is the issue” (653). It appears, then, that multiculturalism is a subject of a discussion, compartmentalized within a classroom and within a field, but thus marginalized and not incorporated into the mainstream. An awareness of culture wit the instantiation of hierarchies of discourses or cultures. In other words, “we are steeped in a colonial discourse, one which continues to operate from a developmental rather than dialectical model” (658). A developmental model, put simply, is one that sees the goal of ethnic/interest groups as developing toward Western epistemologies.

Villanueva also discusses the caution of essentialism as a tool of erasure. In other words, in attempting to temper between discourses and people without essentializing prevents the consciousness-raising that often emphasizes difference. Villanueva remains “tied to the belief that we must break from colonial discourse that binds us. What I mean is that there are attitudes form those we have revered over the centuries which we inherit, that are woven into the discourse that we inherent” (565).


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