A Talk to Teachers

by James Baldwin

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In "A Talk To Teachers" by James Baldwin, was his purpose to persuade or inform?

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James Baldwin was an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist born in 1924. His essayA Talk to Teachers” was delivered as a speech entitled “The Negro Child—His Self Image” to an audience of educators in New York City in 1963. He experienced first-hand many humiliating injustices born of racial prejudice, both as a child and as an adult. In “A Talk to Teachers,” Baldwin uses his powerful intellect and mastery of rhetoric and writing to both inform and persuade his audience of the realities and plights of black children, who are born “in the shadow of stars and stripes,” into a system and society that does not fulfill its promises of equality for all.

Baldwin informs because most in his audience are white and may not be fully aware of or able to imagine the obstacles, struggles, and injustices that pervade the daily lives of black Americans beginning in childhood. He also informs by putting into context the history of black Americans as slaves and how this practice distorted the thinking and public policies that ensued well past the abolition of slavery. His audience may never have questioned the national myth of social mobility and freedom as a reality attainable for everyone, and may lack insight into the bitter truth that this is a delusion for so many.

Baldwin persuades because he uses poignant metaphors and personal storytelling—appeals to pathos—as tools to help convince his audience of the truth and urgency of his message. Without these elements, his words would not speak to the conscience. That the changes he hopes to see must begin in the hearts and minds of teachers is a premise he powerfully conveys by both informing and persuading.

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