This paper analyzes the rhetorical situation of the AME church shootings in Charleston, SC in the light of Governor Haley’s response to this incident. The issue will be explored according to Lloyd Bitzer’s model of rhetorical situations with the help of sequential criticism as a method of rhetorical analysis. Thus, the theories of theaudience, exigence, and constraints are in the focus of the analysis. Besides, various arguments are introduced in order to explain the following situation. One of the key issues that Haley’s speech addresses is triggering the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol. In line, a number of points are taken into consideration. The first point is that the U.S. law enforcement and legislative bodies, both federal and state ones, hold power in controversial, delicate, and ambiguous matters like the one under concern. Secondly, some significant social and cultural issues, including the protection of the national legacy, gun control, hate crimes, public safety, and bias plus prejudices pertain to the analyzed issue.
Explanation of the Rhetorical Situation
The rhetorical situation at hand is a response to the shootings that took place at the Charleston church. Nikki Haley emotionally reacts to the situation during the Statehouse press-conference. The governor, in the presence of representatives of both parties, including Republican senators, and the former governor of Republicans, called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse by the state legislature.
Lloyd Bitzer’s model of rhetoric situations comprised the following elements: exigence, audience, and constraint. Exigence is a complex and multifaceted concept. In the current social sciences praxis, scholars apply this term to some urgent and pressing problems. The notion also considers issues or situations that might cause a serious emotional stress that made a person to speak or write. In other words, demands, needs, and requirements that define conditions and circumstances, which can be addressed by speaking, are associated with exigence.
Application of the Rhetorical Situation
All rhetorical situations develop from an exigence. It makes one argue. It is an ill-fated fact that the American society is still struggling with the racial bias, hate crimes, and gun control as the most burning social and political issues. It sounds ironic that a string of events involving the shooting of nine people dead at the AME Church (Charleston massacre) attracted the attention of the public to these problems. The incident was followed by another heinous act, a murder of a 50-year-old African-American, who worked as a police officer in North Charleston (Lewis, Laughland and Gajanan). One cannot deny the fact that both tragedies required immediate response and action of the state authorities.
Governor Haley delivered a speech, in which she called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the public display. In this situation, the exigence is that the flag does not represent South Carolina’s goals and future; therefore, taking it down is a God’s work, as well as a symbol of moving forward and away from the past and desire to control hate crimes and racial shootings in the society. In such a manner, the controlling rhetorical exigence was the presence of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the Statehouse; it was the governing imperfection marked by urgency.
Because of the close geographic vicinity of the two events and the fact that they occurred one after another gave the general public and the media a ground to assume that the violence at the church and the brutality of the police might have been connected somehow. The tragedy that took place at the church in South Carolina was scrutinized by the public; therefore, the mass media carried out some polls in order to trace the roots of racism, violence, and intolerance. The organizations responsible for the surveys reported that there was no unambiguous and unanimous response amongst the citizens of the state concerning the issue. Moreover, people did not know the basic details of the Civic War, including the opposing parties and their aims (Pew Research Center). Opinions similarly divided concerning what the Confederate flag signified (Pew Research Center). Some people asserted that the Confederate flag symbolized the superiority of the South, while others believed it was a symbol of oppression. Most importantly, the Confederate flag was a memorial reminder of one of the most horrible pages in the American history.
Obviously, there were people who had positive associations with the Confederate flag. However, most of them had either bad or mixed reactions to the United States flag (Pew Research Center). Research demonstrated that opinions about the Confederate flag were diverse and depended mainly on the educational background of respondents. In this respect, it is crucial to consider the following points. Hate offenses, in general, and the shooting at the AME Church, in particular, reflect the extent of the socioeconomic disparity in the US. Differences concerning the present issue signify the uneven spread of wealth, as well as different employment and educational opportunities. Certainly, the degree of prejudices based on ethnicity and race is among the key factors that contribute to the intolerance. As a result, the majority of the South Carolina residents have a biased attitude towards people of other races.
The US is a multiethnic and highly globalized, as well as scientifically and technologically advanced, country. Therefore, peace and harmonious co-existence of all residents are challenging tasks. In the case of South Carolina, the current governor of which is an Indian-American female politician, taking away the Confederate flag seems a necessary action (Macneal; Moyer; Margolin). However, this action is not a sufficient measure in itself.
In her reaction, Governor Haley appealed to the divided residents of South Carolina to support those nine families that felt victims to these crimes with prayers and compassion. She also asked people to keep cool. Parents had to explain to their children that they still could attend church services and feel safe. In addition, she expressed condolences on the death of people that were brutally and viciously killed in a sacred place. Equally important was the appeal for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. The shooters could have been inspired by the flag and decided to start a racial war with the help of shootings.
Apart from the rhetorical exigence, the other aspect worth discussion is the rhetorical audience. All rhetoricians address a certain audience, which includes a collective body of listeners that is either imagery or real. There exist two kinds of the rhetorical audience. The first one is the immediate audience, which comprises individuals that are listening to the message. In this case, people at the conference, who heard the governor’s address, and those, who watched it from home, were the immediate audience. Another kind is the mediated audience, which includes individuals, for whom the rhetorical argument or situation is intended. However, such audience might or might not listen to the message. The intended audience of the South Carolina’s situation includes members of the state government, the lawmakers, and residents of South Carolina. This audience had to vote for and remove the flag.
In this case, the direct rhetorical audience included members of the state government. The above assertion is true because removing the flag from the grounds of the Statehouse would require legal action. The citizens of South Carolina were a secondary, or indirect, audience of the situation because they only could exert pressure on the direct audience. Accordingly, the following debates and pressure from the secondary audience, who voted for the change, the decision to remove the flag was made after weighing all the pros and cons. The above action was a public response to the AME church massacre and not a desire of the governor alone.
The basis of rhetorical situations is the connection between the rhetorician, the subject matter, and the audience (Foss). However, they are also affected by various constraints that do not merely define the manner, in which the situation is presented to the public, but also changes the way, in which people will interpret the situation. One of the most common constraints is the rhetorician’s knowledge about the situation and the audience’s awareness of the same. In this case, Governor Haley alluded to the AME church massacre, and her message was understandable to the audience. For example, the governor expressed her emotions that the safety of South Carolina was broken; now, parents had to explain to children how to attend church safely. The above points make the audience understand that it is not a situation that they have ever thought to face.
Other rhetorical constraints are the beliefs that both the audience and rhetorician hold about the subject matter (Foss). In the present case, they both condemn the massacre at the church and the ethnic war, in general; first, they lifting the nine affected families in prayer and then bring down the flag. Culture is another constraint that can affect the presentation as well as the interpretation of a situation. In the current case, the Christian culture of the state affects these two viewpoints by condemning the racial prejudice and racial war. Timing as a constraint can also influence the rhetorical situation. Following the fatal shootings at the AME church, Governor Haley strongly argued for the removal of the Confederate flag from the public display and eradication of the racial prejudice and racial war.
Lastly, the situation was presented at the Statehouse conference where Governor Haley delivered a passionate speech about the shooting at the AME church that took lives of nine people. The situation that Governor Haley presented got a warm reception and people voted for the removal of the flag, which finally finished the debates. As a result, the mass media reported that after the shooting, even some of the most unreserved activists of the gun reform shifted their focus to the Confederate flag issue (Margolin). Senator Murphy also argued that it could have been easier to take down the flag than manage the ethnic crime epidemic in the United States. However, it does not mean that the racial crime, violence, and prejudice should be continuously ignored (Margolin). Owing to described situation, the Governor Haley’s appeal to remove the Confederate flag seems a fitting, emotional, succinct, intelligible, informative, but yet somewhat incomplete reaction.
This paper attempted to analyze thoroughly the rhetorical situation that was presented in Governor Haley’s speech concerning the removal of the Confederate flag. The speech appealed to the officials and emotions of the secondary audience. The display of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the Statehouse was the controlling imperfection marked by urgency, while the right rhetorical audience included the members of the state government. The above assertion is true because removing the flag from required certain legal actions.