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Doing Sociology #3 – The Politics and Poetics of Racial Identity 

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BACKGROUND:  Racial identity is expressed through a variety of elements in our culture; its many messages are captured in words and images, performed in the arts, and portrayed through the media.  Racial identity is established and shaped by our face-to-face and online interactions, and sometimes it is expressed through the collective action of the many fighting for social change.

The following is a link to a poem by Richard Blanco.  Blanco read this poem at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

The poem was discussed, analyzed, scrutinized, and evaluated by critics and ordinary citizens for months afterward.  Blanco was the youngest poet ever to read a presidential inauguration; and he was also the first Latino, and the first open gay, poet to compose verse a president.  Does Blanco’s racial identity matter for your understanding of the poem? Racial identity plays a large role in how we perceive ourselves, the world around us and how others perceive us.

ASSIGNMENT:  In this assignment, you will do a content analysis of an existing source such as a poem, speech, song, or performance piece that deals with racial and ethnic identity.  The primary focus of your analysis will be the words.  Provide the text to your piece to analyze.  A shorter excerpt from a longer speech or performance is fine also.  There are many places to for material across a variety of media:

•Look up poets such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, or your favorite poet

•Look up famous speeches by Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad Ali or Malcolm X

•Read more current speeches by Barack Obama, Cory Booker, etc.

•Choose lyrics from one of your favorite songs; there are many songs that deal with issues of racial identity

•Take an excerpt of a performance of stand-up comedian, such as Aziz Ansari, Margaret Cho, Hannibal Burress; or comedy troupes Culture Clash or Axis of Evil

Once you have found your chosen text, consider the following prompts:

•What is the overall message of the text, its major themes or patterns?  Take note of the usage and frequency of specific words phrases, terms, or their descriptive language, as well as their meaning.  Consider the significance of tone, humor, sarcasm, or hyperbole, if any.  How do these narrative elements contribute to the larger message of the text?

•How is the race or ethnicity of the writer, speaker, or performer established within the text?

•Who is the intended audience for the text?  What kind of reaction is the text trying to elicit?

•What is the importance of the historical and social context in which the text was created?  Are there references to people, events, or social problems?

•How does the text tackle issues such as racial and ethnic identity; racism, prejudice and discrimination; social inequalities; and intergroup relations?

•Does the text deal with intersectionality, where race or ethnicity is also linked to class, gender, sexuality, age, or other forms of inequality?

•In what ways is the text both an individual story and the story of a larger group?

•Why did you choose the text?  What about it is interesting or meaningful to you?  What do you think or feel?

PAPER:  Choose a poem, speech, song, or performance piece and do a content analysis of the test.  Write a 3-4 page essay responding to the above prompts.  Make sure to incorporate the relevant sociological concepts in your discussion.  Include a copy of the text with your paper.


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