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Gates, Henry Louis

Page history last edited by Elspeth Runyan 15 years, 2 months ago

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a prolific African American scholar. Born in rural West Virginia in 1950 he attended Yale and received his Ph.D. in 1979 from Cambridge University. Gates has written numerous works, including "Race", Writing, and Difference (1986) in which Gates discusses the idea of race as the master trope framing our thoughts and social discussion. Trope, literally means to twist or turn and a social trope is that which twists and turns social phenomena. For Gates, race is the mater trope because all societal framework has been twisted and turned around the issue of race. Race structures our consciousness, thus designating it as the mater trope. Race is no longer a biological matter, but rather a societal tool. There are countless other tropes such as, gender, reason, and identity, but race is trumps them all. Gates writes, "Race has become a trope of ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief systems which- more often than not- also have fundamentally opposed economic interests" (Lemert, 2004:516).


How do tropes frame our consciousness? This has to do with the politics of representation. The representation of race throughout history has come to determine our framework of it. In discussing the politics of representation Gates references the role of the written word. Gates point is to show the position of the written word in society and the position of race discussion in the written word. Writing has always been an important tool of civilization. Since the Enlightenment the written word has become the most legitimate form of knowledge. Thus, the truest forms of knowledge come in writing. Gates writes, "Writing, many Europeans argued, stood alone among the fine arts as the most salient repository of "genius", the visible sign of reason itself" (Lemert, 2004:519). Therefore, to the white intellectuals and masters, blacks not only lacked the artistic ability of writing they also lacked the capacity for reason. Reason, during and after the Era of Enlightenment, was "priviledged, or valorized, above all other human characteristics (Lemert, 2004:518). Thus, blacks were not considered truly human, they were considered stupid and inferior.













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