Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

English

Major Professor

Jessi Grieser

Committee Members

Lisa King, Martin Griffin

Abstract

In this thesis, I examine how language constructs and constrains racialized discourse in post-Jim Crow contemporary America. Drawing on rhetorical and sociolinguistic work set forth by Booth, Shotwell, Bonilla-Silva, Omi and Winant, and others, it is apparent that racial organization— and racial identities and categorization— in the US is reliant upon specific markers that signify racial meaning. Such markers are assimilated into wider, unconscious discourse through what Shotwell and Booth describe as seemingly inherent— yet ultimately constructed— matters of “common sense,” and are expressed through evaluative stance acts. I explore the origins and construction of these markers and the relationship between color-blind racism and language through the framework of Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus/doxa schema. Bourdieu illuminates the ways current racial language denies self-reflexivity, instead maintaining its own survival by way of “common sense.” To apply these principles, I analyze four public statements made during the 2006 racially-charged “Jena Six” situation in Louisiana— two who are critical of the Jena Six, and two who are in support of them— as the Jena Six case, trial, and surrounding public response provide numerous points of comparison to more recent racialized events. To analyze the four statements, I apply five rhetorical “rules” that I develop from Bonilla-Silva’s definitions of color-blind language, and I look at the ways in which the logic within each statement is mediated through a “common sense” racial knowledge and expressed through stancetaking. What is observed in the two statements that are critical of the Jena Six is a unified yet flexible system of racial thought that works to preserve current racial conditions, while the two statements made in support of the Six utilize language and logic that suggest avenues for boundary-breaking in regards to available racial language and subsequent racial realities.

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