My Racial Journey

Week 7

Racial Communication
Part II

Rhetorical shields are just that: shields, pieces of armor to protect us when we want to avoid making mistakes when talking about race. They are face-saving techniques used when pushed on a slight undertone of racism to quickly move back to a position of neutrality.


Rhetorical Shields

Rhetorical shields are used to save face because post-civil rights norms, particularly for white people, are to not voice any views on race. When race seeps into comments, there is a perceived need to return to colorblind rhetorical shields.

Below are five examples of rhetorical shields based on a sample topic. Think about how you may use these or react when others use them in your presence.

Topic: Talking about Race at School

Rhetorical Shield: Projection to Blaming Someone Else
Example: I’m not racist for wanting my child to learn about math in school. They are the racist ones for making our kids learn about race. 

Rhetorical Shield: Apparent Denials
Example: Sure, I’ve heard the statistics, but that can’t possibly be the case that teaching about race in school benefits Black children. It must just isolate them more!

Rhetorical Shield: Contradictions
Example: I am not prejudiced, but I don’t see why we need to cater to Black students over white students.

Rhetorical Shield: Yes and No, but…
Example: Well I’d have to say yes and no because on the one hand it could be helpful, but on the other hand it could cause division among children.

Rhetorical Shield: Anything But Race
Example: I don’t think that race plays a role in the classroom. What I really think plays a role is the media and our reliance on cell phones.

Pick one of the rhetorical shields above. How might you challenge it while keeping the conversation open and productive?

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My Racial Journey was developed at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development and with the Office’s Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education (P.R.I.D.E.) Program. This work was funded by a 2019 Open Education Resource Grant from the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of the Provost.

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My Racial Journey was created by the University of Pittsburgh
Office of Child Development and the Office’s P.R.I.D.E. Program.

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