Digital Color and Racial Identity ~ Session F2


Review by Abigail Scheg

Read more about session F2 on the C&W conference site.


Joel Beatty, Michigan Technological University
Douglas Walls, University of Central Florida
Dawn Armfield, Frostburg State University
Terry Smith, University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Joel Beatty was the only member of this panel to provide a live presentation. Douglas Walls was unable to attend Computers and Writing, but created a video presentation that was graciously set up by Linh Dich of Miami University Middletown. Walls was also available via Twitter to answer questions from the participants. The other participants, Dawn Armfield and Terry Smith, did not present. Also, the technology in the room did not work for these presenters, but was modified to the use of Beatty’s iPad and Dich’s personal laptop.

Although this panel’s title indicted that all speakers would be discussing the complexity of racial identity in the online classroom, that was not the case. Walls’ presentation was about race, and, from the program it seems that Armfield and Smith’s would have been as well. But Beatty’s presentation was about color and color theory, not about race at all. While that led to a little confusion at first, the ideas actually tied together in a very interesting manner in the discussion that followed the presentations. The audience asked questions that engaged elements of both presentations, theories, pedagogies, and outcomes in a truly dynamic and multimodal discussion.

“Color as an Agent of Meaning: Approaches to Color for the Multimodal Composition Classroom”

Joel Beatty (@jb_mt), Michigan Technological University

Beatty framed his discussion by asking how we interact with colors in the world utilizing the works of Wysocki and C. Selfe, among others. To begin, Beatty questioned our use of black and white as the basic presentation form for documents. He asserted that writers (students, faculty, and others) typically begin the writing process by opening a word processing document, which defaults to a white page with black font, which is undoubtedly true. But he challenged this behavior by asking, “What are the effects of the learning process on the black and white word processing realm?”

Beatty then introduced the concepts of color theory, arguing that it is a necessary component of every rhetorical communication. He explains that color theory can be problematic because it is represented by and used in so many disciplines, which is perhaps why multimodal composition has not engaged too heavily with it yet, but argues that there are natural, cultural, and technological possibilities and constraints of color in all communications.

Beatty continued by explaining color as an artistic process and challenging the attendees to think critically about art that we have seen and consider the implications of color choice in those pieces. Color is part of the invention process and should be consciously considered. Black and white are colors, Beatty argues, but as we are not typically consciously choosing those as our medium and just following a template, really, then the decision is not a rhetorical one. Introducing work such as the research by Mark Changizi (@MarkChangizi), Beatty truly provided research and a new perspective that challenges the processes of both traditional and multimodal composition.

“Hushing Twitter: Theorizing African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric through Actor-Networks”

Douglas Walls (@WallsDouglas), University of Central Florida

Via video presentation, Walls explained the concepts of African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric, such as the work by Vorris Nunley in regards to barber shop communication. In such spaces, Walls described, African Americans can speak frankly in black spaces with black audiences in a way that is not intended for others to hear, see, or participate in.

Walls then provides a brief background to Spinuzzi’s actor-network theory in which objects are considered as part of a social network that can play a role such as intermediary or mediator. Using Twitter as a network object participant, Walls argues that networks do not just form, but rather, they are linked through coordinated objects. He then provides an analysis of a self-identified African American woman and her multiple Twitter accounts. She holds multiple Twitter accounts because she is connected with multiple communities, such as her work community and her personal African American community.

Walls explains that this woman balances two rhetorical situations at work while using Twitter on her phone. In this case, Twitter acts as a non-human trustworthy representative because her communications can remain private in her locked personal space. Thus, she is expressing herself on Twitter as part of a hush harbor community because she cannot share some personal details with her work colleagues. In this situation, then, Twitter becomes a fellow rhetor and participant in the hush harbor community.

Walls’ presentation and corresponding questions and answers on Twitter provided participants with not only a conversation about racial identity, but, as was the case with Beatty’s presentation, an opportunity to discuss the conscious and unconscious decisions that we make with technology, communication, and composition.

Overall, I think that these presentations provided the audience with some tremendous food for thought for the writing classroom. In regards to Beatty’s presentation, I would argue that many faculty members take for granted the elements of black-and-white-based composition, especially those (like myself) that work at institutions which favor traditional composition assignments. Without constraints of printing, based on more elements of multimodality, this presentation provided a new way to envision “traditional” composition. Walls’ presentation provided opportunity for instructors to re-imagine the technological and written assignments within a composition classroom based on the personal identification factors that students utilize. A greater attention to the pedagogical understandings behind technologies (or assignments) is necessary than just experimenting with technologies or projects.

Dr. Abigail Scheg (@Abigail_Scheg) is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and researches in the area of online pedagogy, distance education, and regulating standards for online teaching and training.


Leave A Reply