As the (U.S.) American Society for the History of Rhetoric, we have let “the history of rhetoric” guide our programmatic priorities since our foundation in 1977. The truth is, though, that such an emphasis is incomplete and even harmful when it ignores the American context in which we rhetoricians are educated, evaluated, and employed.
We unequivocally denounce the state-sponsored and state-excused murders of Black people in the United States, with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and David McAtee as recent victims among a tragically untold number in our country’s centuries-long and present-day history of anti-Black oppression. We affirm that, beyond individual racist actions, the systems that order American life are themselves racist and rooted in white supremacy. Such systems, which we condemn, exist not only within the academy writ large but also within the field of rhetorical studies broadly and the history of rhetoric more specifically.
What sort of work, from which scholars, about which topics gets rewarded in the U.S. American academy? Who faces serious consequences for their work? Who does not enter or remain in academe because of its hostility to them and/or what they teach and study? Honestly asking those questions reveals that whiteness and White scholars are often promoted, rewarded, and advanced, while Black scholars, Black scholarship, Black rhetors, and Black rhetoricians are often marginalized, ignored, neglected, and tokenized.
ASHR commits to centering and supporting scholars and scholarship that draw upon the history of rhetoric to call out anti-Black systems and structures (including within the study of the history of rhetoric itself) and trace their historical-rhetorical development and deployment, to enrich understanding of Black rhetorical traditions, or to otherwise bring Black perspectives to the field. In doing so, we follow the lead of scholars and scholarly groups who have been doing and promoting such work for decades, and at no little personal and professional risk.
In making this public statement, we make ourselves accountable to everyone reading it. Please hold us accountable.
The ASHR Steering Committee