The Right to Life: what can the White Man*

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THE RIGHT TO LIFE: WHAT CAN THE
WHITE MAN…SAY TO THE BLACK
WOMAN (1989) – ALICE WALKER
Insight by Daniel Mail
NATIVE AMERICANS
Native Americans are an indigenous people. Early evidence showing
indigenous people to inhabit North America indicates they migrated there
over 11,000 years ago, which was followed by several large waves of migration
e.g. groups from Asia and South America.
Native Americans led peaceful lives up to the 15 th century, following the
arrival of Europeans.
The horses they brought over spread disease among the natives, who had no
immunity to these diseases and therefore suffered several losses from measles,
chicken pox etc.
NATIVE AMERICANS
The Europeans also made it their territory, taking over the land and building
farms and homes for themselves
Before the European invasion, Native Americans were very populous, whereas
now, only 1.4% of US citizens are thought to be Native Americans.
Those who claim to be natives are mostly located in designated Indian
reservations
Today, the Native American symbols are used as mascots in several national
sports, which has stirred controversy.
BLACK HISTORY
Most African Americans are the descendants of Africans who were held captive in
the United States from 1619 up to 1865. In the past they were referred to and selfidentified collectively as the American Negro.
1746 – Lucy Terry, an enslaved person, becomes the earliest known black
American poet, her poem, Bar’s Fight, wasn’t published until 1855.
1773 – Phillis Wheatley becomes the first African American to publish a book.
Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
1787 – slavery is illegalised in the Northwest Territory while Congress is forbidden
from banning it until 1808.
1793 – a federal fugitive slave law is enacted, providing for return slaves who
escaped.
1808 – Congress finally bans slave importation from Africa
1820 – Missouri Compromise bans slavery north of its southern boundary
1831 – Nat Turner leads most significant slave uprising in American history
BLACK HISTORY
1857 -
The Dred Scott case holds that Congress has no right to ban slavery in
states and that slaves are not citizens.
1865 – The Civil War ends, and slavery effectively ends when they receive the news
of the Civil War. The Ku Klux Klan is formed in Tennessee
1892 - Prominent black Missourians declared a national day of prayer and fasting
in response to nationwide lynching violence; 1500 gathered in St. Louis (May 31).
1948 - Truman "It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there
shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed
services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.“
1963 – Martin Luther King delivers his famous “I Have A Dream” speech
1965- Malcolm X, black nationalist and founder of the Organization of AfroAmerican Unity, is assassinated
2009 – Barack Obama, first African American president
MARTIN LUTHER KING ORATORY
In his speeches, he used several rhetorical and oratorical devices such as
alliteration, repetition and the rule of three
Alliteration: “..in whose symbolic shadow we stand today...” “dark and
desolate” “dignity and discipline” “marvellous new militancy”
Repetition: “One hundred years later” “Now is the time” “We can never be
satisfied as long as...” “go back” “I have a dream”
Rule of three: “insult, injustice and exploitation” “justice, good and
brotherhood”
STYLE OF WRITING
•The title of the speech is frequently mentioned throughout as a rhetorical
question.
•There are multiple references to the unnamed “white man” e.g. “We see him
lined up on Saturday nights” “He has not cared for a single one of the dark
children in his midst”
•The author lists several tribes and races that have become endangered due to
the effects of racial attacks “Where are the children of the Blackfoot? Gone.”
“Of the Cheyenne? Of the Chippewa? Of the Iroquis?” Etc.
•As the speech progresses, Walker begins to speak directly to the “white man”
... “From the beginning, you have treated all dark children with absolute
hatred” but also speaks to the black woman as the white man, therefore
answering the question that the poem’s title poses
SIMILARITIES / DIFFERENCES
WITH “I HAVE A DREAM”
•Use of repetition in the speech’s title
•Variations on particular phrases used throughout e.g. “You shove” “you
string” and “Let us be clear” “let it be remembered”
•Whereas I Have A Dream concerned just race, The Right To Life covers
gender as well
•Speaks directly to those victimising her race/gender. Martin Luther King
addresses those who are listening, encouraging them to support his cause
RE-CASTING TASK
Imagine you are a stereotypical “white man” reinforcing the type of world
created by his race mentioned in the poem. Write a response to Alice Walker’s
speech using the extract from “We do not forget the forced sterilizations...” to
“...is a testament to his injury.” Consider:
The attitude he will take towards the things said by Walker about the
devastation caused by the white man
Using any appropriate stylistic speech features.

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