The Evolving Rhetoric of Whiteness (NeMLA Conference Panel)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Skyler Gibbon

Whiteness is often described as too hard to see, like a fish noticing it swims in water.


It’s also hard to hear.  Scholars have long pointed out how silence has been a strategic rhetoric for white people.  Not speaking up about race allows white people to retain the default status as the American norm.  In their 1995 article, “Whiteness: A Strategic Rhetoric,” Nakayama and Krizek attempt to reveal whiteness by exposing its performativity in daily life. “White is a relatively uncharted territory that has remained invisible as it continues to influence the identity of both within and without its domain. It affects the everyday fabric of our lives but resists, sometimes violently, any characterization that would allow for the mapping of its contours.” Avoiding one’s white identity keeps issues of race on the darker Other.


But what does whiteness look like and sound like when it is revealed?  And how do white people handle the exposure of their whiteness in a culture that has disguised it for so long?


Few have taken up Nakayama and Krizek’s challenge to further understand whiteness by mapping the discursive strategies that rhetorically construct whiteness (305) [Crenshaw “Resisting Whiteness’ Rhetorical Silence”; Martin et al “Exploring Whiteness”].  However, we are living in a moment when white identity is becoming more exposed given the Black Lives Matter movement and its accompanying prolific expression of white racial “wokeness”.  We also see white identity asserted anew through the rise of white supremacy groups.  The presentations in this panel will examine the evolving rhetoric of white America.  Panelists will address questions raised by the shifts in our culture surrounding the meaning of whiteness:


  *   What can we learn about whiteness from the current political divide among white Americans?


  *   How is the rhetorical construct of whiteness being revealed today?


  *   How is the silence and invisibility of whiteness being maintained?


  *   What changes can we see in the construction and expression of whiteness over history? 


  *   What can we learn about American identity more broadly through revelations of white identity?