African American Rhetoric & Image

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This course is designed to help us understand how African Americans have used symbols to construct and reconstruct images of themselves and their communities over time, primarily through music, public address, and media.

We look at a variety of texts and contexts including: slavery and spirituals; civil rights and freedom songs; and Chappelle’s Show sketch comedy, and hip hop. Unit 1 looks at rhetorical constructions of race and community, considering Blackness and Whiteness theoretically. Unit 2 looks at foundations of African American Rhetoric from an American historical-literary perspective. Unit 3 looks at African American Rhetoric in the 21st Century in order to better understand mediated representations of African Americans. Our goals are to: have fun; to look at and listen to images with critical eyes and open ears; to study the impact of racialized communication on the social and symbolic construction of the United States; and to understand the ways in which African American identities are constructed, maintained, and mobilized.

...developed with Ulli K. Ryder, and Richard J. Lawrence Jr.
...inspired by the teaching and research of Teresa A. Nance, Ph.D.


Hi Professor Dawkins! How

Hi Professor Dawkins!

How are you? I hope your father and sister are doing well.

I am beyond thrilled to write a review of the class for you! So many of the analyses and class discussions we had have been useful to me on the job at the Federal Public Defender's Office. I would love to stay in touch now.

Andrea Fischberg

Great class

I still talk about that class that you guys taught as one of my absolute favorites and the class that made me think about being a professor someday (after I have produced at least 3 incredible features and am tired of the rat race!!!). As well as expanding my mind. But seriously, if there are any times that you guys have lecturers or something like that on the weeknights or on the weekends I would love to know about it TED style! Hope all is well.

Anastasiya Kukhtareva

Easily the most memorable class at USC

As an alumnus of USC and as someone who took classes at Annenberg School, Marshall School of Business, the School of Public Planning and Diplomacy at USC - I can confidently say that this class stands out to me more than any other class I took at USC.

Marcia executed this class amazingly. She designed a phenomenal curriculum and was able to bring it to life with ease. The class included intense debates, amazing guest speakers, and themes that no other class at USC dared to touch upon. Dealing with issues of race, one might assume that there may have been tension among students and during discussions, but it was quite the opposite. Marcia fostered a sense of family and comfort in the class. Not only was she approachable, but no topic was out of bounds. Everyone felt comfortable voicing their opinions and it made for healthy discussion.

Marcia also made it a point to make the class current and applicable to all of our lives. We took a critical lens to the Chappelle Show, various music videos, articles, and current events. We were able to relate to a lot of the examples she used and the speakers she brought in. Marcia also tied many of her lesson plans into issues outside of African American ones.

Marcia was far and away more engaging, inspiring, and motivating than any other professor or phd candidate that I had in my four years at USC.

Z. Alfi
USC Alum '08

Great Class!

You guys taught a wonderful class, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Nicolette Omoile


I just wanted to thank you guys for a great semester. I really learned a lot from you guys and feel like this class opened up my mind to a lot of new things and new perspectives. Thanks again and happy holidays and have a happy new year!

Jennifer Ahdout
University of Southern California

I wanted to say thank you…

This class has easily, EASILY been one of my favorite classes in the 1.5 years I've been at USC. I came to USC expecting a campus based on apathy, materialism, and the polo shirt frat boys who run Sample's office...and that's exactly what I found. Students with consciences are either delegated to the role of campus hippies or too scared of losing their scholarship and not getting into med school to speak out and educate or learn. When I heard this class would be offered, I can't tell you how excited I was. To find a class so based around the individual being offered by a department so committed to corporation worship and networking luncheons blew my mind. This, mind you, was after a semester in Professor Smith's class which opened my eyes to how a Communication BA can actually lead to something beyond a job at a PR firm or a whitening strip smile reading the news and looking pretty.

I based my schedule around this class, putting it as a priority on my classes to register for and even jeopardizing the requirements for an honors program I am in (don't worry, it's gonna work out ok). I was a little worried that I was giving it too much credit at first, but even within the first day I could tell that it was exactly what I was expecting. I had spent the summer trying to decipher my role as an activist and this class helped me put it into perspective, though it was only a semester leaving much more for me to learn (more than I could learn in a college career, I expect). After taking this course, I am able to look at things more critically, I have found new ways of communicating issues of race, class, and gender to my constituents, and I have a better idea of where the campus stands politically and how best to approach it.

Getting that opportunity to bring my art to the classroom was an experience I don't think I'll forget in the years I spend at USC as I don't think things like this can be exclusively taught from Powerpoint slides and course readers. You allowed us as a class to learn from each other and you really brought the Black experience to life through your multimedia examples and bringing in people who were, in themselves, a new experience. The final projects allowed us to showcase where we stand after a semester of learning, and though the piece I performed was challenging to write, I feel as if I have accomplished something and have a better understanding of myself.

I'm sorry this e-mail is longer than a standard lecture, but I've been trying to capture my experience in words and there is no way to be succinct. I want you three to keep on teaching so that my fellow students and I can keep on learning. I'm tired of taking direction from old Roman men who we respect because we're supposed to respect them. It's time for our generation to start learning from ourselves and I'm glad that a class like this was created to start the dialogue.

I applaud you for your work and hope to keep in touch!

Sincerely and gratefully,
Sean M.