Spring 2018; Monday 4-6:50 Bayou 2237

Course Objectives


Primary course objectives are aligned with our discussion presentations and first exam essays throughout the semester.

Primary course objectives (1 & 2 are required for each text discussed)

1. Evidence of minority identity, culture, or voice (or in some cases, immigrant or dominant / "settler" culture).


2. Identification & analysis of literary purposes, devices, or genres.


3. Identification & analysis of universal human attributes?


Detailed course objectives


* * *

Detailed Objective 1
To define the minority concept" as a power relationship modeled by some ethnic groups’ historical relation to the dominant American culture.

1a. “Involuntary (or forced) participation”
(Unlike the dominant immigrant culture, ethnic minorities did not choose to come to America or join its dominant culture. Thus the original "social contract" of Native Americans and African Americans contrasts with that of European Americans, Asian Americans, or most New World Immigrants. Consequences and attitudes of "choice" or "no choice" echo down the generations.

1b.  “Voiceless and choiceless”
(Contrast the dominant culture’s self-determination or choice through self-expression or voice, as in "The Declaration of Independence.")

1c. To observe alternative identities and literary strategies developed by minority cultures and writers to gain voice and choice:

“double language” (same words, different meanings to different audiences)

using the dominant culture’s words against them

conscience to dominant / immigrant culture (which otherwise forgets the past).


1c. “The Color Code”

Literature represents the sensitive subject of skin color only infrequently or symbolically, but with important associations for identity and consequences  for destiny.

Western civilization associates “light and dark” with traditional values of good & evil, rational / irrational;
these values are transferred to people of light or dark complexions, with implications for power, validity, sexuality, etc.

Skin color matters, but how much varies by circumstances.


BUT inevitable mixing of people and races in a mobile culture continually creates “New Americans,” whether in appearance or status.

This course mostly treats minorities as a historical phenomenon, but the biological or visual aspect of human identity may be more immediate and direct than history. People most comfortably interact with others who look like themselves or their family. (Inter-racial marriage is most common among people who grow up in mixed neighborhoods or among military veterans.)

Color-coding doesn't always involve race; e. g. white collar, blue collar, gray collar, pink collar, plum collar for various occupations or classes.

Detailed Objective 2
To observe representations and narratives (images and stories) of race / ethnicity, gender, and class as a means of defining minority categories.


2a. Is the status of women, lesbians, and homosexuals analogous to that of ethnic minorities in terms of voice and choice? Do "women of color" become "double minorities?"


2b. To detect "class" as a repressed subject of American discourse.

American culture officially regards itself as "classless."

Race and gender may replace class divisions of power, labor, or "place."

“You can tell you’re an American if you can’t talk about class.”

Class may remain identifiable in signs or markers of power and prestige or their absence.

High class status in the USA is often marked by plainness, simplicity, or lack of visibility. (dominant-culture style)

2c. "Quick check" on minority status: What is the individual’s or group’s relation to the law or other dominant institutions? Does "the law" make things better or worse?

Detailed Objective 3
To compare and contrast the dominant-culture “American Dream” narrative—which involves voluntary participation, forgetting the past, and privileging the individual—with alternative narratives of American minorities, which involve involuntary participation, connecting to the past, and traditional (extended) or alternative families.

Tabular summary of contrasts between the dominant culture's "American Dream" narrative and minority narratives (still Objective 3)

 of dominant-minority comparison)  

dominant-culture immigrant narrative or "American Dream"

Minority Narratives
(not traditional immigrants)

Cultural group's original relation to USA

Voluntary participation (individual or ancestor chose to come to America)

Involuntary participation ("America" came to individual or ancestral culture)

Cultural group's relation to time

Modern or revolutionary: Forget the past, leave it behind, get over it (original act of immigration; future-oriented)

Traditional but disrupted: Reconnect to past (not voluntarily abandoned; more like a wound calling for healing)

Social structures

Abandonment of past context favors individual or nuclear family, erodes extended social structures.

Traditional extended family shattered; non-nuclear, "alternative," or improvised families survive.

3a. African American alternative narrative: “The Dream”
"The Dream" resembles but is not identical to "The American Dream," which emphasizes immediate individual success.
"The Dream" factors in setbacks, the need to rise again, and a quest for group dignity.


3b. Native American Indian alternative narrative: "Loss and Survival"
Where immigrants define themselves by leaving the past behind to come to America, the Indians in their past had America but lost most of the land along with many of their people.
Yet they defy the myth of "the vanishing Indian," instead choosing to "survive," often assuming the dominant culture will eventually destroy itself, and the forests and buffalo return.


3c. Mexican American narrative: a border people? La Frontera?
"Americano Dream?" / “Ambivalent Minority?”

Mexican American culture is so dynamic, expansive, and mobile as to elude description or classification.
Recent literary theory on Mexican American identity concentrates on the idea of "the border" or "la frontera" as a site or condition
where different cultures meet, clash, mingle, and evolve to new identities.
This evolving identity creates unique
Mexican American
identities compared to other American ethnic groups:

Mexican Americans may be both a minority and an immigrant group; many Mexican peoples in what is now the Southwestern USA
 were overrun, destabilized, and dominated much like American Indians.

As with other American immigrant and minority groups, assimilation to the modern American Dream lifestyle compels rapid change,
geographic and social mobility, and erosion of ethnic tradition,

BUT Mexico's proximity constantly refreshes ethnic traditions, leading to "the Americano Dream,"
which hopes to combine modern economic advancement with traditional family values, religious commitment, community identity, etc.

Creation of a Mexican American identity across the border of Mexico and the USA
may partly parallel or reproduce the creation of Mexican identity  across the border
or meeting of the Indians and European explorers and settlers 500 years ago.


(from previous semesters)
Mexican American narrative: “The Ambivalent Minority” / "Americano Dream"
"Ambivalent" means having "mixed feelings" or contradictory attitudes. Mexican Americans may exemplify immigrant culture as individuals or families who suffer social dislocation by coming voluntarily to America for economic gain, but Mexico's historic experience with the USA resembles Native America's: most of the Southwestern United States (including Texas) was once Mexico. Does a Mexican who moves from Juarez to El Paso truly immigrate?

Will Mexican Americans assimilate and join dominant culture?

Will Mexican Americans remain a separate culture, emphasizing difference and victimization?

Third way? Neither immigrant nor minority, or both?


Detailed Objective 4

To register the minority dilemma of assimilation or resistance—i. e., do you fight or join the culture that oppressed you? What balance do minorities strike between economic benefits and personal or cultural sacrifices?

 4a. To identify the "new American" who crosses, combines, or confuses ethnic or gender identities (e. g., Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, K. D. Lang, Dennis Rodman, RuPaul, David Bowie)

 4b. To distinguish the ideology of American racialism—which sees races as pure, separate, and permanent identities—from American practice, which always involves hybridity (or mixing) and change.

 Tabular summary of 4b

American racial ideology (what dominant culture thinks or says)

American racial practice
(what American culture actually does)

Races or genders are pure and separate.

Races always mix. What we call "pure" is only the latest change we're used to.

Races and genders are permanent categories, perhaps allotted by God or Nature as a result of Creation, climate, natural selection, etc.

Race & gender classifications are cultural, not natural; they constantly change or adapt; e. g., the Old South's quadroons, octaroons, "a single drop"; "crossing"; recent revisions of racial origins of Native America; Hispanic as "non-racial" classification; "bi-racial"

Detailed Objective 5
To study the
influence of minority writers and speakers on literature, literacy, and language.

5a.  To discover the power of poetry and fiction to help "others" hear the minority voice and vicariously share the minority experience.

5b. To assess the status of minority writers in the "canon" of what is read and taught in schools (plus the criteria determining such status).

5c. To regard literacy as the primary code of modern existence and a key or path to empowerment.

5d. To note development and variations of standard English by minority writers and speakers and related issues of spoken & written cultures.

5e. To emphasize how all speakers and writers may use common devices of human language, including narrative, symbols, figures of speech, and other literary devices.

5f. To generalize the "Dominant-Minority" relation to philosophical or syntactic categories of "Subject & Object," in which the "subject" is self-determining and active in terms of "voice and choice," while the "object" is acted upon, passive, or spoken for rather than acting and speaking.

Detailed Objective 6
Images of the individual, family, and alternative families in minority writings and experience

6a. Generally speaking, minority groups place more emphasis on “traditional” or “community” aspects of human society, such as extended families or alternative families, and they mistrust “institutions.” The dominant culture celebrates individuals and nuclear families and identifies more with dominant-cultural institutions or its representatives, like law enforcement officers, teachers, bureaucrats, etc. (Much variation, though.)

6b. To question sacred modern concepts like "individuality" and "rights" and politically correct ideas like minorities as "victims"; to explore emerging postmodern identities, e. g. “biracial,” “global,” and “post-national.”


Objective 7
To survey minority representations of the USA's “dominant” culture.

 7a. Primary definition: "American Dream" or "Immigrant" culture.

7a. How does Minority literature help you see the nation's dominant culture differently?

7c. To observe shifting names or identities of the dominant culture in relation to different minority cultures:

(Tabular summary for Objective 7b)

Minority category

dominant-culture designation

"minority" culture

"majority," “mainstream,” "dominant" culture

Involuntary participation

Immigrant culture



African American



European American

Chicano, Hispanic, Mexican American (not identical terms)

"Anglo" or

North American

Native American,

American Indian,

"Red Man"


"White man," European American, plus many local variants such as "Long Knives," "White Eyes," etc.

“hyphenated American” (e. g., African-American, Mexican-American)

"American" or "Real American" (frequently indicates European American)

Woman, female, feminine, feminist

man, male, macho, guys, etc.

Gay, lesbian, homosexual, queer

Straight, heterosexual, "breeders"