Image courtesy of KC Green, originally posted on


Phyllis Mentzell Ryder seeks to push her students (and herself) beyond the paralysis of moral relativism in classroom discussion. Ryder examines works of what she considers to be activist literature/academia and identifies three recurrent rhetorical strategies among them: hierarchies of ignorance/awareness (“people are racist because they don’t know any better”), personal experience (“claims can’t be universal because my own lived experience varies from that claim”), and liberation morality, where students and claimants acknowledge their positionalities while simultaneously analyzing the power relations at play as often as possible. Ryder believes the first two strategies still lack an awareness of a larger discourse or fail to consider the stakes of power dynamics, and she ultimately advocates for a use of liberation morality. Ryder suggests a heuristics of interrogation that evaluates an individual positionality but does not end there, consistently questioning the macrodynamics of who benefits from a relativistic stance. How do individual opinions intersect with systems of oppression and uphold larger discrepancies of power?



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