Othello‎ > ‎

Model digital writing workshop from Dr. Carolyn

Norms are Not Normal: Critical Race Theory and Othello

Typically, one generation passes along a body of knowledge and culture to the next generation.  To become self-actualized, individuals need to transcend norms that are culturally transmitted, generation to generation, as pathways to creativity, morality, and acceptance. Brabantio, in Shakespeare’s Othello, may have prized “mastery of national culture” (Hirsch 18) as “essential for “effectiveness in modern life” (Hirsch 23), but, as he “oft invited” (Shakespeare 22) Othello to speak “of most disastrous chances” (Shakespeare 22), he also never envisioned Othello’s determination to assimilate into Venetian society, with its associated “cultural characterizations or popular images of” (Ingram & Schneider 334) and “unique voices of color” (Delgado & Stephancic 9).  Shakespeare’s choice of tragedy is didactic, in that “teaching against racism means teaching about racialization” (King 11) whenever individuals draw upon their “arbitrarily-awarded power to reconstruct power systems on a broader base” (McIntosh 80).  Because Shakespeare does not call upon any “one explanation of racial tension, racism, or sport and its travelling authority” (Jarvie & Reid 219), it is enough for him to ask his audience to consider new definitions and ways of being around race relations, as the playwright’s function, after all, is to ask rather than answer the big questions around what it means to be human. Social constructions of race erect inalterable obstacles to individuals of color, and we can all be better humans through cultural “intersectionality and anti-essentialism” (Delgado & Stephancic 9) and understanding of “’whiteness’ as a racial identity” (McIntosh 79), perhaps seeking, as did Desdemona, to “devour up …discourse” (Shakespeare 22) beyond an easy cultural transmission of racial norms.


 For my hyperlinks, I selected Maslow's Hierachy of Needs and Peggy McIntosh' "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack" article, as these materials inform my readers about the intersection of race with issues of class and other social structures. 

Visual: It is only when we see outside the black-white paradigm of race relations that we can view our own lives as special and unique--- not "normal."


The Daily Show


This comedy video and other media texts can help to eliminate social racial subjugation.  The relationship between law and racial power can become transformed when we illuminate and explore experiences of racial oppression, as have the Jon Stewart players. 


Works Cited

Delgado, R. & Stefancic, J. (2001).  Critical Race Theory.  New York University Press: New York, NY.

Hirsch, E.D., Jr. (1987). Cultural literacy:  What every American needs to know. New York, NY.

Ingram, H., & Schneider, A. (1991). The choice of target populations. Administration and Society, 23, 3, pp. 333-356.

Jarvie, G. and I. Reid.  (1997). Race relations, sociology of sport and the new politics of race and racism. Leisure Studies, 16, pp. 211–219

            King, King, C. Richard. ( 2004). Apologies and Apologists: The Disavowal of Racism and the Abjuration of Anti-racism in the Contemporary United                         States. Studies in Media & Information Literacy Education, 4, 4, pp. 1–12.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege:  Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Wellesley, MA Wellesley College Center for Research on Women

            Shakespeare, W. (2009-10-04). Othello Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition, p. 22.