Daily Archives: 2019-06-08 17:26:50 GMT+0000

Strategies of Denial of Racism

Dijk, Teun A. van (Wikipedia)

Speaking of denialism, . . . . or rather, painfully thinking back on the unpleasant experience of sitting in a plane for three hours next to a racist jerk who clearly assumed a fellow Aussie would love to be “entertained” with racist jokes and anecdotes against aboriginal Australians and Muslims (of any country). . . .

The painful part of the experience was that it was evident that my “guest” could not see that he was a racist or all-round ignorant bigot. In his mind he was simply acknowledging what he considered to be the “unfortunate realities” of the world. It’s the old line, “I have nothing against blacks, but . . . ”

(Were such persons willing to make the effort to check the full story, the facts behind the assertions, the other perspectives, then they would, I think, learn that their perception of “reality” has been very blinkered and that there are other “realities” — especially from the perspective of the minorities — that are worthy of appreciation and acceptance.)

It turns out that there is a vast scholarly literature on this very thing — denial of racism by those who speak and act racism. I’ll discuss just a small portion of one 33 page article that I have found cited in several other works:

  • Dijk, Teun A. van. 1992. “Discourse and the Denial of Racism.” Discourse & Society 3 (1): 87–118.

It is not appropriate or even moral in this day and age to be thought of as racist. We have laws against racist acts and even some forms of racist speech. Besides, it’s just not socially acceptable to be accused of racism. A decent person, it is assumed, abhors racism.

Would that the human race can just turn off bad attitudes like a tap. After how many centuries of slavery, genocides, race-riots, ethnic cleansings, can we really have suddenly moved into a utopian wonderland where we are all anti-racists? I don’t think that’s a likely reality.

Therefore, even the most blatantly racist discourse in our data routinely features denials or at least mitigations of racism. Interestingly, we have found that precisely the more racist discourse tends to have disclaimers and other denials. This suggests that language users who say negative things about minorities are well aware of the fact that they may be understood as breaking the social norm of tolerance or acceptance. (Dijk, 89)

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