At least 1000 words
Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, “America believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen’s claims of American exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard” (Coates, 8).
The mortal error of slavery and the abuse of black Americans focuses Coates’s scathing critique of American history. Throughout the semester, we have encountered debates about moral issues that saturate American life. Among the many debates we have discussed, the experience of black America might truly be exceptional in the level of violence and the length of injustice. Coates lays that history bare.
And then there is O.J. Simpson. In the documentary about his life and his identity, the story of O.J. is both a parable of black America—the body of an athlete appropriated and defined by white America—and in some ways the exception to that historical experience. We have discussed at length the way O.J. sought to shape himself and his identity into something that he claimed was beyond race or color, and the way that the world he moved through and the world that existed with or without him, defined him, used him, and ultimately would both acquit him of murder and imprison him for a completely different crime.
Your task is to consider the how both Coates and the documentary on O.J. Simpson explain the construction and destruction of identity. Of course, we are not talking about an abstract identity, rather we are looking at black male identity in late twentieth century America. One of the marks of scholarship is the ability to build arguments that use evidence and theory to describe the complexities of life. This assignment will test your ability to this in three ways. Below are the three main sections of the paper on which you will be graded:
Section 1: Narrative 5 points
Please describe how each source—Coates and the documentary on OJ—explain identity. You are required to provide direct references from the sources. In the case of Coates, that means quoting from his book (and providing page numbers). In regard to the documentary that means referring to particular scenes.
Section 2: Argument 5 points
Please make an argument that compares and contrasts the ways these two sources deal with identity. Where do they clearly overlap, where do they clearly conflict or challenge each other?
Section 3: Writing 5 points
You need to upload a final draft that has a minimum of grammatical errors, with proper and consistent citation of sources, and well-constructed, clearly articulated sentences. This means that you will need to pay attention to your writing and write multiple drafts—read your work carefully and make revisions.