Some Questions to Ask of Readings on Philosophy, Narrative, and Race

  1. What is the main argument (or what are the main arguments) in this essay? What is or are the author's/authors' foils? How do you know?
  2. Who seems to be the audience for this piece? How does the author address this implicit audience? What does she or he apparently assume about them?
  3. How does the essay achieve its power? (e.g., through appeals to logic, facts, authority, humor, or emotion; through the forcefulness or beauty of its language; by creating suspense; by inviting the reader into a particular relationship?)
  4. What is the shape of this essay? Is it reminiscent of a mosaic, a scientific experiment, a conversation, a dance, a wall, a weaving, a battle?
  5. What sense do you get of the author or authors? What is her/his/their voice? How are they present in the text? What effect does the author's presence or lack of presence have on the meanings (intended or otherwise) of the text?
  6. What does the author(s) seem to believe about knowledge? about truth? about power?
  7. What does the author seem to believe about brownness, blackness, whiteness?
  8. What is the significance given to narrative in this piece? How does it figure, how does it matter? What kind of narrative is assumed, referred to, or taken up? How do narratives as understood in the essay make meaning and what role does the reader have in making those meanings?
  9. What views of education or learning does the author(s) invoke? What assumptions about personal growth or change are evident (e.g., is anti-racist growth a journey? a transfiguration? a conversion? a loss?)
  10. What assumptions or beliefs about relationship (especially cross-race relationship) and its possibilities are played out in the article or chapter?
  11. What conception does the author(s) have of what it means to listen (and read) across difference?

Audrey Thompson, 2004

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