ENGL 493/631 African American Rhetoric

English 493/631: African American Rhetoric

Thursday 4:30-7:00 p.m.

Instructor: Earl H. Brooks 

Location: Webex virtual class meetings

Contact: earlb@umbc.edu

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 1:00-3:00 p.m. and by appointment. All meetings must be scheduled at least a day in advance and will be held online.

Course Goals

This course explores some of the central debates within African American history and culture. Issues such as segregation vs. integration, race and technology, or black feminism and black masculinity will be examined in conjunction with traditional African-American rhetorical themes (such as racial uplift and the African-American Jeremiad) and specific rhetorical practices (call and response, signifying, African-American Vernacular English, etc.) Considering both the past and the future of African American rhetoric, this course will also discuss current social movements, online networking activity (Black Twitter), and Black popular culture (TV, Film, Music).

Course Objectives

  1. Acculturate students to the field of African-American Rhetoric.
  2. Investigate important intellectual and political questions through the field of rhetoric and composition studies.
  3. Grow facility with reading, writing, and analyzing academic arguments

Assigned Course Readings:

Banks, Adam and Gilyard, Keith. On African American Rhetoric.

Forman Jr., James. Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

Warnock, Raphael G. The Divided Mind of the Black Church

Benjamin, Ruha. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Crow

Ore, Ursula. Lynching: Violence, Rhetoric, and American Identity

Cooper, Brittany. Eloquent Rage

Howard-Pitney, David. The African American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Brooks, Kinitra and Kameelah Martin. The Lemonade Reader

Baker-Bell, April. Linguistic Justice.

Glaude, Eddie. Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

Anderson, Reynaldo and Charles E. Jones, et al. Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness

Tucker, Terrence. Furiously Funny

Pritchard, Eric. Fashioning Lives


Just Mercy (2019). Director: Destin Daniel Cretton. Location: Amazon Prime

King in The Wilderness (2018). Director: Peter Kunhardt. Location: UMBC Library, Infobase Films on Demand. https://lib.guides.umbc.edu/ancs/art

The E-Word: Ebonics, Race, and Language Politics (2015). Producer:Jonathan Gayles

Location: UMBC Library, Infobase Films on Demand. https://lib.guides.umbc.edu/ancs/art

Eyes on The Prize (Part 1): Awakenings 1954-1956 Americas Civil Rights Movement. Location: UMBC Library, Infobase Films on Demand. https://lib.guides.umbc.edu/ancs/art

Mississippi Burning (1988). Director: Alan Parker. Location: Amazon Prime

Moonlight (2016). Director: Barry Jenkins. Location: Amazon Prime, Netflix

I Am Not Your Negro (2017). Director: Raoul Peck. Location: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PaAbmRJ9bQ

The Color Purple(1986). Director: Steven Spielberg. Location: Hulu, Amazon Prime

Lemonade (2016). Directors: Kahlil Joseph, Beyoncé. Location: https://vimeo.com/260674272

Cosmic Slop, “The Space Traders” (1994). Directors: Reginald Hudlin, Warrington Hudlin

  Location: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfBpjkgn5pY

Analyzing White America. Paul Mooney. (2002). Location: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl_YXYbtksk

Technology: Access, Requirements, Resources, Support

To help ensure that UMBC students are equipped for academic success, the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) provides a wealth of resources and support, including tips for getting online and minimum specifications to consider when purchasing a computer (doit.umbc.edu/students). UMBC does require all students to be technologically self-sufficient, which entails having a reliable personal computer (preferably a laptop with webcam) and Internet access. Since UMBC requires all students to have a computer and Internet access, financial aid may be used to meet this requirement. To learn more, students should contact their financial aid counselor at financialaid.umbc.edu/contact.

Virtual Class Meetings

  1. Please remember to check your microphone buttons in the session. When participants do not need to talk, they should turn their microphones OFF.
  2. Be patient during a live session. Please use the “raise your hand” function if you have a question or use chat. Some instructors have students use private chat to ask a moderator a question directly.
  3. Remember that your peers and instructor are also working from home and may have children in the same space. Please give warnings before sharing any material that may not be suitable for minors.
  4. Anyone who decides to share video should check the background area to avoid inappropriate content within view.
  5. Please be aware of ambient noise (televisions, barking dogs, flushing toilets, doorbells). If someone is speaking, make sure people in the space around know not to interrupt.

Resources to Help you Succeed in Online Courses

Many students need additional support to succeed in online courses. Click on the following links for helpful resources: 

UMBC’s Academic Success Center (ASC) provides a range of resources to support students as they progress toward degree completion. They will continue to offer all of their services online. 

The ASC has created a specialized set of Online Learning Resources, including videos and guides to help students succeed while learning online.

In addition, check out the following resources:

  • Academic Success Center Resources include: Online tutoring and writing support, supplemental instruction/peer-assisted study sessions (SI PASS), placement testing, FYI academic alerts, success courses, academic advocacy, academic policy and academic success meetings.
  • Tutoring and Writing Center Appointmentswill be online; students can make appointments using this link
  • SI PASS Supplemental Instruction (SI)/ Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS). The SI PASS program targets traditionally difficult academic courses, providing regularly scheduled, out-of-class review sessions, happening in Blackboard Collaborate inside your existing Blackboard course.
  • Academic Advocates: Advocates work one-on-one with students who need support navigating academic and institutional challenges, no matter how complex the concerns (i.e., personal, academic, or financial).
  • Academic Success Meetings – Schedule a one-to-one virtual meeting with an Academic Success Center Professional who can help you with time management, study skills, and accessing campus resources. 

If you have a question, please contact the ASC at academicsuccess@umbc.edu

Accessibility and Disability Accommodations, Guidance and Resources  

Support services for students with disabilities are provided for all students qualified under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA & ADAAA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act who request and are eligible for accommodations. The Office of Student Disability Services (SDS) is the UMBC department designated to coordinate accommodations that would create equal access for students when barriers to participation exist in University courses, programs, or activities.

If you have a documented disability and need to request academic accommodations in your courses, please refer to the SDS website at sds.umbc.edu for registration information and office procedures.

SDS email: disAbility@umbc.edu

SDS phone: (410) 455-2459

If you will be using SDS approved accommodations in this class, please contact me to discuss implementation of the accommodations. During remote instruction requirements due to COVID, communication and flexibility will be essential for success

Course Requirements

To pass this course you must complete all the major assignments, fulfill all the weekly assignments, and submit all the writing assignments on time. You are expected to attend all virtual class meetings and to participate in class exercises and discussions.

Grading Structure

Participation/ Reading Responses: 40%

Exams: 30%

Final Exam Essay: 30%

Final grade/percentage breakdown:

90-100% A

80-89% B

70-79% C

60-69% D


Simply put, I expect you to log in for our virtual class meetings. For simplicity’s sake (and in airness to others enrolled in the course), I DO NOT distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. (Do not approach me with doctor’s notes.) Each person is allotted 2 absences with no penalty. For every additional class session, you miss or are unprepared for, your final grade for the course will be reduced one full letter grade per extra absence. Please see me personally if you have a mitigating medical circumstance or COVID 19 related issue consistent with UMBC policies.

Office Conferences

I am happy to meet with you in advance of a deadline to offer advice. I will hold office hours online at a designated time each week. Please keep in mind that my job is not to proofread your work. When we meet, you should have some specific questions or concerns ready to discuss.

Listening/Viewing Assignments and Listening Responses

Sometimes I will assign listening or viewing assignments that will accompany the reading. I will give you plenty of advance waring so that you have time to prepare. While some material may only be viewed on platforms such as Amazon Prime or Netflix, if you do not already have a subscription, I encourage you to use the designated free trials to watch the films when possible. Some films may be viewable by renting them individually.

Class Citizenship

The class citizenship grade is based on your role as a student and colleague irrespective of any specific homework/exam grades. This portion of your grade will take into account your preparation for class, your completion of any homework assignments, your participation in class discussion and writing assignments, your adherence to the rules for class etiquette, and your presence at conferences with me.

Class Etiquette

During this course we will discuss a wide range of topics, some of which may be sensitive or even alienating for you; I urge you to keep in mind that we all have different personal experiences, diverse beliefs, and opinions about such topics. This class is a safe place where we will debate ideas. We will learn a great deal through discussing various views and perspectives if we make a commitment to listening to each other and to honoring each other’s backgrounds, values, and feelings. We will always treat one another with respect and dignity.

Graded Exams

When I return your work to you, I ask that you wait 24 hours to contact me about the grade. Please use those 24 hours to review your work and read my comments carefully. Once you’ve done that and 24 hours have passed, I will be happy to meet with you to offer further comments or answer questions. Please keep all graded material until the end of the semester.


By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult UMBC policies, or the Faculty Handbook (Section 14.3).

Statement on Nondiscrimination

The University of Maryland Baltimore County is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. UMBC prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated.

Note: UMBC encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell me as soon as possible.


WARNING: I have high expectations for you. When this semester ends, you will not be given your grade—you will have earned it. This syllabus shows you how it is possible to earn a competitive grade in this course. Turning that possibility into a probability will entail a lot of reading, writing, listening, and speaking; above all, it will involve a lot of thinking. You will have to possess (or quickly develop) intellectual curiosity and a capacity to engage enthusiastically with complex material. You will also have to work hard. However, as I hope you have already discovered, hard work can be satisfying, not only when it is rewarded but also when it is directed toward a worthwhile goal. If you make an active intellectual commitment to the class, if you are eager to learn, and if you persistently hone your abilities, you will do well. To attain your learning goals, you must recognize that your university education constitutes your full-time job.

According to NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) guidelines, for every hour spent in class, you need to devote another two to three hours to academic work outside class. To do well, you will thus need to augment your almost six and a half hours a week of work in the classroom with an average of 10 to 12 hours a week of related work outside the classroom. Your goal, however, should not solely be to achieve a good grade for the course but to make significant progress in your own career of lifelong learning and writing.

Now, you know something about what I expect from you. What can you expect from me? I am here to help you learn to think critically. If you ask me something that I don’t know, I will work with you to discover the answer. I will show you why learning to think and write critically is important. By challenging you to reach high standards, I shall help you to educate yourself. The workload will be demanding, but I shall never give you busywork: everything I ask of you will be aimed at making you a more accomplished writer, a more discerning reader, a more effective speaker, a more perceptive listener, and a more astute thinker.

Class Discussions and Reading Assignments

Our class discussions have three important purposes:

  1. They facilitate the examination of ideas for their merits and applicability which supports learning processes
  2. They prepare students for careers that require strong communication and critical thinking skills
  3. They provide students the opportunity to ask questions about the material explored within the course

Reading Response Assignments

Class discussions will be supported by the assigned readings. To ensure the quality of our discussions, each student will be required to complete the following questions:

1. Head Scratcher- Identify a quote that you find challenging and hard to understand. State the quote and one or two questions you have about the quote that would expand your understanding of the text.

2. Double Take- Identify a quote that you find to be provocative, controversial, or attention grabbing. Describe why you found this quote so thought provoking.

3. Words to Live By- Identify a quote that you feel speaks to your daily life, personal goals, or career ambitions. The idea here is to make it personal. Describe why this quote stands out to you and how you understand its application beyond the scope of the text.

Think of this assignment as a small journal entry where you can note things about each text that really stand out to you. I know it’s a bit corny at first, but if you trust me, I’ll show you how to use this simple method to approach digesting rigorous academic texts. Additionally, these short responses will be useful for composing answers to the exams.

This statement will be due before class on Blackboard, and, during each class, we will make an attempt to collectively address “head scratchers” and share other interesting quotes.

Class Exams

There will be three major exams in this course and an essay. All three exams will take the form of a series of short-answer questions that will ask you to briefly (2-3 short paragraphs) discuss important themes, argumentative points, and other discursive features of the texts. You will have five days to complete the exam before it is due, and each exam is open-book. While I will be enthusiastically encouraging you to connect with your peers to prepare for exams, each exam must be completed individually.

Course Essay Assignment


Compose an essay on a topic related to themes and/or ideas from course readings and class discussions. This essay presents the opportunity to pull together everything you have learned in the course and then mold it into a sharp, analytical essay. I will work with you to select a topic that serves your interests and goals. Your essay may take on the conventions of the following genres:

Position Argument

Purpose: Argue a point. Take a stand. Change a behavior. Correct a misconception. Refute an argument or belief. Launch a manifesto! Identify an interesting problem or issue that merits your taking a stand; translate your stand (or position) into a thesis statement; support the good reasons for your position with specific details and examples; and marshal your reasoning and appeals to persuade others to accept your position by modifying their thinking, behavior, or influence. Whether the issue you choose is serious, light-hearted, or something in between, it must be debatable and lend itself to genuine disagreement.

Directions:Your argument should (1) open by defining the situation or problem that calls for your attention and establishing an audience who is (or should be) invested in this situation or problem; (2) provide a thesis that states your purpose (to express or defend a position, to question or argue against a belief or action, to invite or convince an audience to change an opinion or practice); (3) marshal rhetorical appeals, good reasons, details and examples to enhance your points; (4) acknowledge and respond to opposing viewpoints; and (5) supply a clear, identifiable conclusion that you want your audience to reach or reconsider. As you consider your audience and the possibilities for productive disagreement, be mindful of your tone. You can hold an opinion and advance an idea without being confrontational. In fact, sophisticated arguers concede points to each other and search for common ground. This behavior shows a willingness to engage in genuine dialogue, and it also creates a positive atmosphere for the disagreement.


Purpose: Evaluate an object, phenomenon, policy, or individual that interests you and merits your attention.

Directions: As you introduce the subject, explain why it merits evaluation. Place the topic in a precise category, and then create and defend the criteria by which you will make your key evaluative judgments, negative and/or positive. Throughout the body of your paper, you should use concrete evidence and examples that illustrate the ways in which the object/phenomenon does or does not meet each evaluative criterion.

Rhetorical Analysis

Purpose: A rhetorical analysis examines and explains how an author attempts to influence an audience. That is, rhetorical analyses use specific evidence from the text to establish a generalization (thesis) about the text’s rhetoric (in short, how it persuades its readers by employing the rhetorical appeals, using good reasons, constituting a fitting response, and using the available means to reach an audience).

Directions: Find a visual, a traditional printed argument, a website, or some other type of text that you deem to be interesting and that has a persuasive aim. By “interesting,” I mean that the text in question must have some sophistication about it: it should be tantalizing and effective at reaching its audience. (There is no point in analyzing the obvious; pick something that makes an interesting argument that readers might be resistant to.) Your analysis should not simply paraphrase or summarize what the author/creators assert. Assume your audience has already read the text you are analyzing and is aware of what it contains. Your purpose is to provide a way of understanding how the text persuades its audience. Throughout the body of your paper, use specific examples from your chosen text to support your claims. Conclude by making a judgment about the text’s rhetorical effectiveness.

Assignment Goals:

  1. Increase the clarity, depth, and acumen of student writing
  2. Highlight mastery of themes and concepts presented in the course
  3.  Produce a document that may aid future opportunities (graduate applications, fellowships, scholarships, publications, etc.)

Formatting and Length:

Please use 12-point, Times New Roman font with double spaced paragraphs.

Undergraduates: At least 6 pages

Graduates: At least 10 pages