Journal of Sociolinguistics

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The public life of white affects

Abstract The growing political power of racialized groups in white‐supremacist societies has unsettled the hegemonic position of whiteness. In the United States, this political shift has led to the linguistic repositioning of whiteness within public discourse as visible and vulnerable rather than unmarked and dominant; such repositioning operates as part of a larger strategy for maintaining white supremacy. Within white publics, which are simultaneously constituted through white public space, white public discourse, and white affects, those who are white‐identified linguistically engage in affective performances that reassert racial dominance by invoking claims of wounded whiteness. The article compares the affective strategies of white public discourse found, on the one hand, in ethnographic interviews with white youth in liberal educational spaces in California and, on the other hand, in the mediatized discourse of the US racist far right. The analysis identifies five affective discourse strategies deployed in the white public discourse of both groups: colormute racism; disavowals of racism; appropriations of diversity discourses; performances of white fragility; and claims of reverse racism. This shared set of discursive strategies is part of the larger convergence and mutual dependence of militant racism and mainstream racism in protecting all white people’s possessive investment in white supremacy.

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