Week 8: Race & Ethnicity
How to challenge the seeming “natural” quality of many social identities (gender, race, ethnicity,
the performative aspects of social identities; how language is used to help achieve them;
What are Race and Ethnicity?
Descent, bodily appearance: physiognomy (facial characteristics), skin colour, skeletal structure
language (structure), interactional behavior (language use), consumption (including food), religion,
dress codes, type of work, gender roles, climate, character
Race & Ethnicity
Race and later ethnicity originated historically as classifications given to explain visible human variation
(NB: human genome mapping has found that 99.9% of DNA b/w any 2 individuals is identical).
Historical conditions: knowledge production connected to European imperial expansion, intense in 19
c., connected to early global relations.
Race and ethnicity are not given by nature, but are complex social facts. Supposedly natural
characteristics are taken as indexes (signs) of a racial or ethnic essence.
Language & Race/Ethnicity
Key & Peele: Dialing it up…
Key & Peele: “white-talking black guys”
NastiSavage: “That’s not a “white” sound…It’s called speaking proper English!”
Threatening, Lying, How “they” see “us”, I.e., racialized, associated with negative stereotypes
Anxiety about association with out-group, Speaking in black styles index in-group, How “we” see “us”,
Complexity of Indexicals: Rough Diagram
Out-Group Contexts In-Group Contexts
Talking Standard (“White”) ‘Non-threat’ Talking Standard (“White”) ‘Outsider’
Dialing it up ‘Threatening black guy’ Dialing it up ‘One of the guys’
The use of “white” (more public, still associated with dominant speakers) vs “black” (less public, still
associated with underprivileged speakers) varieties are relational, and have distinct but connected
meanings in different types of contexts.
“White” varieties (spectrum) are associated with important public contexts, and are still associated
with dominant speakers.
“Black” varieties (spectrum) are associated with less public contexts, and many registers are still
associated with underprivileged speakers.
However, these relations of boundaries and associations are not stable, but rather historically given
and change over time. Markedness
In every context, there is a style or variety of speech that is considered appropriate for the context.
Any other style or variety is considered marked, that is, to communicate something extra.
There are connections between contexts because of the power of certain social g