Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Carol Jablonski, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Payne, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Navita James, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dan Bagley, Ph.D.


Rhetoric, Race, David Payne, W.E.B. Du Bois, Kenneth Burke


The rhetoric of W.E.B. Du Bois contributed both to a sense of group failure among blacks and a sense of individual failure. Du Bois also created a need to explain the reasons for the failure of the group, as well as that of individuals within the group, specifically those within a segment of the black population deemed the talented tenth. Today the talented tenth is more generally spoken of as those occupying positions within the black middle class. Explanations for failure among blacks as a group are generally of two kinds. The first posits that the failure blacks experience as a group is due to the failure of the talented tenth to provide adequate leadership of the race. The second posits that the failure blacks experience as a group is due to the failure of American society to commit itself to establishing not only legal equality but also social, political, and economic equality for all Americans.

Members of the talented tenth, not understanding that the root of the problem lies with the impossible situation Du Bois placed them in as saviors of the race begin to attribute perceived failures among blacks to American society. Instead of questioning Du Bois's goal and the possibility for complete 'racial uplift,' members of the talented tenth begin to question American society's commitment to realize the goals of the civil rights movement. Rather than optimism, one finds pessimism among blacks in the post-civil rights era.

I examine Shelby Steele, Derrick Bell, and Randall Robinson's texts as rhetorical discourses that respond to the notion of a debt owed to the race, and evidence a sense of group failure among blacks. I illustrate how David Payne's topoi of therapeutic rhetoric provide a context for understanding not only the arguments these authors make about the nature of failure among blacks, but also the possible solutions these authors pose as avenues for consolation and/or compensation.