Breaking Down Articles #VCUoculist

Monday marked the first day of class where we used a Google doc to collaborate and break down a reading for its valuable points of thought.  Hooray!  We will do this frequently throughout this semester for several reasons:

  1. Collaboration across classes is a valuable tool considering that we can learn from one another to have more precise, robust understandings of the material.
  2. It’s imperative that we practice and practice and practice putting others’ ideas into our own words (if anything just to demonstrate that we know what we’re talking about).
  3. We will now forever have a body of core ideas from the text to make portable and use for support with our own ideas and arguments. (Forever until the Internet fails us, of course.  But that will never happen.)

We will talk more about how an author’s core ideas are used in arguments (as what we can call a “warrant”), how their use differs from how we use evidence, and many other wonderful things about argumentation.  For now, let’s compare the list of warrants everyone generated from Beverly Tatum, “The Complexity of Identity: ‘Who am I?'” with my summary of the chapter:

In “The Complexity of Identity: ‘Who Am I?’” Tatum argues that we have multiple identities, many times both dominant and subordinate ones, and that these identities must be negotiated to both oppose oppression we may face and acknowledge oppression we tacitly—or overtly—accept with others. Tatum invokes and supports Charles Cooley’s assertion that “other people are the mirror in which we see ourselves” (9). As she argues, “who we are” comes from historical, social, and cultural contexts, and moreover, how we are seen (and judged) by others within these contexts. In addition to these factors, our identity is diachronic—it changes and is shaped over time. Though, given the importance of context regarding identity, certain things we associate with “who we are” in a particular time may not always be relevant. What are always relevant in any given time are the aspects of our identity that others notice and reflect back on us—the aspects that make us different (race, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, etc.).

Though these aspects may not encapsulate us entirely, our subordinate (or targeted) identities are the ones we identify with most. As Tatum writes, “Dominant group[s] [hold] the power and authority in society relative to the subordinates and determine[s] how that power and authority may be acceptably used” (11). Dominants assign roles to subordinate groups reflecting their “devalued status,” which ultimately shape the way subordinates see themselves (ex. Blacks being historically seen as less intelligent than Whites, and women less emotionally stable than men) (11). Though, dominants are ignorant to subordinate experiences. Conversely, subordinates are keenly attuned to dominants and are so because of the control dominants have within society (like various media). This knowledge is necessary, Tatum maintains, because subordinates must understand how to navigate power struggles they face for survival—whether they be active (ex. women defending themselves from male aggressors) or inactive (not responding to aggressive behavior) demonstrations (12-13). Ultimately, Tatum concludes that in attending to our various identities and understanding our abilities for social change as subordinates—to alter the mirrors in which we see ourselves—as well as our dominance over other groups, we come closer to free self expression.


Summarizing texts in accurate and precise ways is a remarkable skill, and it takes a lot of practice to get good at it.  However, unless we have some specific charge, we don’t often write formal summaries of texts in order to use the arguments within them for our own purposes.  It is always the case that one should use others’ ideas accurately and document them appropriately, but this does not mean that one is responsible for utilizing the entire work to make use of one/several core view(s).  When looking to texts like the Tatum chapter–a text we read specifically for the argument and definitions employed–think about what passages seem most valuable based on the view(s) posited and how you can possibly put them into your own words and apply them to areas of your own interest. For example, though we know that this article has nothing to do with Richmond, VA specifically, how can Tatum’s argument be applied to the various conversations and primary texts so far in class?