Pastor and author Jeremy Dowsett in his essay, “What My Bike Has Taught Me about White Privilege” , argues that white privilege is in fact an issue in America and how he came to this conclusion while riding his bike around in his town of Lansing, Michigan. Dowsett uses rhetorical devices such as the overall concept of the paper, word choice, the kind of evidence used, and imagery, to he develop his claim. While using these devices, he first defines what white privilege is, then goes into how white people tend to feel a certain kind of way when the phrase “white privilege” is brought up in conversation, and finally how he came to understand how white privilege as an issue through riding his bike everywhere in his city. Dowsett’s purpose is to persuade the audience and fellow white people to not only understand white privilege but understand how it affects people of color. He tailors his writing for what I would consider to be a white and educated middle class audience. Everything that the author set out to do with this article, in terms of it’s purpose, was done eloquently.
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The first way that he develops his claim is through the concept of the thesis. Through his concept of looking at white privilege as the people driving cars being white people and as people on bikes being people of color, Dowsett skillfully compares the situation to something relatable that makes the concept easier to understand. If you have ever rode a bike before, which most people have, the idea of riding the bike in a somewhat busy area and then comparing how those people driving their cars or trucks react to you “being in there way” and acting as if they have more of a right to be on the street than you do in the perfect parallel to white privilege. He said this best when he said “I can imagine that for people of color life in a white-majority context fells a bit like being on a bicycle in the midst of traffic. They have the right to be on the road, and laws on the books to make it equitable, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are on a bike in a world made for cars“(Dowsett, 2016, pg.986) . The fact that the other was able to take this and use it as an analogy of sorts to explain and understand how white privilege works as a white man is truly amazing.
Another way that Dowsett backs up his claim is through his word choice. His word choice helps shape the argument into what it is. He out right states many things which is important to the reader’s understanding, especially when you are making a case in an argument and are trying to persuade. An example of his word choice helping him to develop his claim is the definition that he provides for what white privilege is because it is in his own words. According to Dowsett, white privilege is “… not intended to make a moral assessment or a moral claim about the privilege at all. It is about systemic imbalance. It is about injustices that have arisen because of the history of racism that birthed the way things are now. It’s not saying, “You’re a bad person because you’re white.” It’s saying, “The system is skewed in ways that you maybe haven’t realized or had to think about precisely because it’s skewed in YOUR favor.” (Dowsett, 2016, p. 985). I chose this example to represent the author’s use of word choice because him creating that definition from his own words to put it in simpler terms for people to understand without really thinking about it is good for the reader’s comprehension of the text.
Dowsett justifies his claim by presenting evidence. In any good argument you have to present evidence to back it up any claim that is being made whether it is through graphs, quotes, statistics, etc. and in this case, personal experience is used. The author uses his personal experience of riding his bike through Lansing, Michigan as the main piece of evidence in his argument. An example of him using personal experience as evidence because as the author says, Lansing, Michigan is not really a bike friendly town and it is sometimes just out right dangerous to be a bike commuter. One instance of this is “…they don’t realize that a pothole or a broken bottle, which they haven’t given me enough room to avoid – because in a car they don’t need to be aware of these things – could send me flying from my bike or cost me a bent rim or flat tire. “(Dowsett, 2016, pg.986) This shows how dangerous this is. If he was to fall off of his bike while being on the road he could unfortunately easily get hit by a car.
Another way that Dowsett develops his claim is through imagery. As he is going through his personal encounters of different events that has happened while he was riding his bike, you can picture it happening in your mind which also helps with the understanding of it. For example, when Dowsett says “If I am on the sidewalk — where I legally belong — people will yell at me to get on the sidewalk. If I am on the sidewalk — which is the safest place to be — people will yell at me to get on the road. People in cars think it’s funny to roll down their window and yell something when they get beside me. Or to splash me on purpose.”(Dowsett, 2016, p. 986). As you read this, you can picture being outside and watching it happen as the event is being described which is the good because having a visual just helps with the audience’s understanding.
Jeremy Dowsett has a great way of using things such as imagery, evidence, word choice,and just the general concept of his paper to really bring it together and help the audience to understand his point on white privilege. His sole purpose was to show people that white privilege does exist in America and I believe that he accomplished that.
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