Using rhetoric in our conversations with family and friends about race - Studying King

Updated: Jan 28

Today, I had the delight of learning with MAR's very own Dr. Abigail Prang - director of Teacher's Corner. We focused on the use of rhetoric in King's Letter from Birmingham Jail and connecting that use of rhetoric to current events we're all dealing with in the here and now.

We started by looking at what rhetoric is, how it's used by King, and then we looked at how we can use these lessons in our daily interactions.

What are some ways you can use rhetoric when you talk to family and friends? How might this benefit you?

  • It might help to enhance your relationships or at least help you maintain your boundaries with people in your life who have different opinions from you.

  • It might help you articulate your thoughts a little more clearly without getting flustered.

  • It helps you model for your children appropriate ways to disagree respectfully.

Ethos: Build your own credibility

Confronting our own biases is an important way to build your own credibility. King does this when he is talking about the church in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. He says (more or less) that he’s speaking as a member of the church and is critiquing the church to strengthen it not disparage it.

Appealing to your shared ethics can help you build your credibility. For example: Do you value liberty? So do I. Do you value the justice system? Did George Floyd receive a fair trial before being executed?

Logos: Use a line of reasoning

This might force you to become more organized in your reasoning, or to listen to the other person in a new way. In some ways, you might actually realize that you and your counterpart agree but happen to be using different language. You might also realize that the person you’re speaking to is misinformed and the best way to respond is to say something like, “Hm. I’ll have to do a little more research on how to respond to that.” This might not result in anything more than the conversation ending...which might be the goal. It might also result in your counterpart giving pause and doing their own research. Perhaps not. But in the future you’ll know to take a different approach and maybe to encourage this person on their journey to accurate information.

Telos: Address the attitude

What’s your telos or purpose in engaging in this conversation? Is your purpose to incite anger? Or to come to a solution to a problem?

For example: You’re implying that the thousands of protests that happened over the summer are comparable to rioting and storming the capitol building. Protest is different from insurrection. 3000 peaceful protests over 3 months and the seat of government wasn’t invaded. The intent of the invasion of the capitol was to invade and breach security of the capitol building which is the seat of government during the important democratic process of counting votes. Clearly the intent of this event was insurrection. Now, let’s talk about the causes preceding these events and what sort of precedent we’re setting when we compare these two events? Which do you want to condemn most strongly?

Mindfully cultivating your conversations and your sphere of influence can strengthen your understanding of the world around you and encourage you in your journey.

What are some other ways these lessons could help you? Leave a comment below.

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