Third Essay


Third Essay:  Learning to Write about Difference




Rereading America, from chapter five:

Parrillo, “Causes of Prejudice”

Fredrickson, “Models of American Ethnic relations: A Historical Perspective”

Harris and Carbado, “Loot or Find:  Fact or Frame?”

Kaplan, “Barack Obama:  “Miles Traveled, Miles to Go”





Making arguments in our lives usually means persuading an audience; often it means, if it is a real argument, addressing a group that is not completely open to hearing and understanding our point of view.  This assignment will address two issues:


·       Building an argument using convincing textual evidence

·       Writing in order to persuade an unsympathetic argument




Chapter 5 in Rereading America addresses the history and present realities of the tensions that have surrounded, and still surround, racial and ethnic differences in the United States.  We can broaden the range of this topic to include areas of class, sexual orientation, religion, gender, and political affiliation, at the least.  Each of these categories, including race, are populated by groups we could call “others”—groups that both are seen by the majority culture as being somehow “outside” and are viewed by the majority culture with a degree of suspicion.



In a four-and-a-half to five page, double-spaced, 12-point typeface essay, argue for how some of the ideas in TWO of the essays in chapter 5 of Rereading America apply to ONE of these groups of “others” of your choosing. Define the group carefully.  Write to an audience who would doubt the validity of your topic, the book’s texts, and your argument.  If you choose to write about an “other” that is defined by race or ethnicity, be specific in naming this group (e.g., Korean, or mixed-race, or Persian).


For example, I might take the arguments in Harris and Carbado’s essay and apply them to similar thought patterns I see in Orange County about people whom the majority culture in the OC might consider “others”—those out of the cultural mainstream.  Perhaps I would select French people as my group of others.  I could talk about how Orange Countians see French speaking people suspiciously—people who spend too much time thinking about food.  This would be a fairly silly paper, but I could nonetheless choose this topic.


IMPORTANT ADVICE:  Read all four essays and the discussion board entries on the essays.  Try choosing the focus of your essay by writing about ideas from the essays that strongly affect you; don’t start out with a particular group in mind.  Once you have identified interesting ideas, then think about a group of “others.”


AUDIENCE:  Each of the assigned essays from Rereading America for this assignment are written for audiences that likely will not agree with the respective writer’s ideas.  Note the following areas in both the essays you read, and in constructing your own essays:


·       Tone—how does the writer decide to present these issues to a potentially unsympathetic audience?  Often times a level tone (remember Devor’s essay) is used to dampen the emotions an audience may feel.


·       Introductory content—oftentimes, when a writer believes an audience may be unsympathetic, the introductory section of an essay may be used to build bridges of understanding and shared experience.  Perhaps I could choose an anecdote from my own experience that would echo the prejudiced behavior that the group of Others I have selected has experienced.  This is a way to help people to understand what it feels like to be a recipient of prejudiced thinking and behavior.


·       Thesis—in your thesis statement, make it clear as to what you specifically want to argue.  Clearly identify your group of Others and the prejudiced thinking and/or behavior you want to discuss.



Making arguments in our lives usually means persuading an audience; often it means, if it is a real argument, addressing a group that is not completely open to hearing and understanding our point of view.  This assignment will address two issues:


·       Building an argument using convincing textual evidence

·       Writing in order to persuade an unsympathetic argument


What this means:  Argument is something with which we struggle in our personal, work, and public lives.  American culture does not “do” argument well.  Typically, we either argue by yelling and diminishing those who disagree with us, we avoid arguing altogether, or we “argue” a point to an audience who already agrees with us.  “Talking heads” on political television obfuscate the issues at hand by giving us only one side of an argument, pretending that the other side does not have a point.  Simply put, we have lost the art of arguing as a way of better understanding a topic.


In your academic lives, you will write to argue a point of view, but that point of view is reasoned:  it understands other points of view, conceding points that are legitimate, and it does not try to antagonize its audience.  The goal is to increase a broad understanding of a problem and to argue for a particular way of thinking that will help others to better address the problem.


Here are a few examples of “bad argument” vs. academic argument (or arguing to understand): 


(1)    The downing of the Malaysian passenger plane over the Ukraine:


“Bad argument” focuses on emotional charges of blame that tend to make the facts of the case murky.


“Academic argument” might focus on the circumstances that put the plane in peril in the first place.  Or, it might focus on evidence for what actually happened to the plane.


(2)   Part of the “social safety net” in the United States, such as unemployment benefits:



COntext (continued)

“Bad argument” might try to caricaturize the recipients of unemployment benefits as “lazy” or those who propose to reduce them as “misers.”


“Academic argument” would focus on the facts of the issue itself to help the audience understand more:  How long are people typically on unemployment?  How much are the benefits, and can people live on them?  Why do people go on unemployment?  (That is, have their jobs been eliminated?  Were they injured at work?  Can they simply not find work?)  “Academic argument: would then make a proposal about how to address part of the problem, or about what the problem really  is.                                                                                                                       






Despite the fact that the United States is an immigrant culture, our society has trouble discussing (or arguing about) subjects that pertain to cultural or racial differences.  Chapter five in Rereading America looks at one aspect of difference:  race.  It looks at the history of racial prejudice in the United States, the psychological underpinnings of racial prejudice, and ways in which racial prejudice is still with us today.


We can take some of the historical, psychological, and contemporary factors of racism, however, and apply them to prejudiced thinking and behavior more generally.  In racism, the object of the prejudice—that is, the group that is on the receiving end of prejudiced thinking and behavior—is defined by its race.  The group is referred to as “the other”—that is, those who are racially different from the person engaging in the racist thinking or action.  When we consider prejudice more generally, we understand that the “other” can be any sort of group—young people, old people, Democrats, Republicans, women, men, Christians, Muslims, Engineers, English majors, artists, dancers, construction workers…anyone who can be categorized and defined by generalizations.





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