Social Justice Usage
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, p. 45.
Toni Morrison uses the term race talk to capture “the explicit insertion into everyday life of racial signs and symbols that have no meaning other than positioning African Americans into the lowest level of the racial hierarchy.” Casual race talk is a key component of white racial framing because it accomplishes the interconnected goals of elevating whites while demeaning people of color; race talk always implies a racial “us” and “them.”
Source: DiAngelo, Robin J. White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2018, pp. 45–46.
My teacher-education students also engaged in race talk—reinforcing the boundaries between “us” and “them” while positioning us as superior. They engaged in race talk when they expressed fear about being placed in “dangerous” neighborhoods while describing their hometowns as “sheltered.” These depictions are relentlessly strengthened by news stories that position violent crime committed in primarily white suburban communities as shocking, yet claiming that one has grown up in a sheltered environment raises a question that begs to be answered: “Sheltered from what and in contrast to whom?” If we grow up in environments with few if any people of color, are we not in fact less sheltered from racist conditioning because we have to rely on narrow and repetitive media representations, jokes, omissions, and warnings for our understanding of people of color?
Conversely, positioning white spaces as sheltered and those who are raised in them as racially innocent taps into classic narratives of people of color as not innocent. Racist images and resultant white fears can be found at all levels of society, and myriad studies demonstrate that whites believe that people of color (and blacks in particular) are dangerous.
New Discourses Commentary
In critical Social Justice, an underlying assumption is that racism and other forms of bigotries are systemic in nature and lie hidden just beneath the surface (see also, mask). It is the job of a critical theorist to identify, expose, and problematize these hidden biases (see also, implicit bias, critical consciousness, and wokeness). This often involves assumptions that people in positions of dominance (here: white people) tend to speak in coded language that enforces the alleged racial hierarchy (see also, racial contract and aversive racism).
Race-talk, or sometimes colortalk, has two distinct meanings in the Social Justice lexicon. As can be read above, it is the name given to the coded language allegedly spoken by white people in order to keep people of color (especially black people) down. Sometimes, it is referred to as “racist dog whistles.” In practice, it is a way for critical race Theorists and other antiracist activists to be able to read racism into situations in which it is unlikely to be, minimally, or not present through a kind of highly interpretive analysis that lets them find what they already believe is there and then use it as proof of a problematic system (see also, close reading and discourse analysis).
Of note, a related, but distinct, term to this is “white talk,” which may date back to W. E. B. Du Bois and carries elements of this idea while being more encompassing of how white people speak from a social position of whiteness about race and racism. This also encompasses multiple meanings and is widely described (following Du Bois) as “fluttering,” although “stammering” might be more appropriate (see also, white fragility and racial stress). Usually, this implies their ignorance of racial complexities and is believed to be patronizing (see also, white equilibrium and white innocence) while also exhibiting “fragile” defensiveness. For instance, statements like, “I have a black friend,” “I marched in the ’60s,” or “Black people have made great contributions to science,” are examples of white talk that are not necessarily coded dog whistles for how whiteness is Theorized to believe that people of color should stay down (as above). Rather, white talk also includes speech that implies that white people believe people of color are down along with attempts by white people to position themselves as a “good white” and to indicate allyship and solidarity, often in defensive tones, when topics of race are brought up.
As can be read below, colortalk is also the subject being brought up when people (typically woke people) say something like “we need to have a conversation about race.” That is, it is the kind of speech that brings up issues of systemic racism (see also, discourses), which is theorized in a variety of ways to make white people uncomfortable (see also, white comfort, white equilibrium, white innocence, white ignorance, white fragility, colorblind, racial stress, aversive racism, and racial stamina). In this meaning, colortalk is not a problematic but a necessary corrective mechanism as a part of a broad antiracism program, and it is something that white people deliberately and unconsciously avoid at most costs.
Ally/Allyship; Antiracism; Aversive racism; Bias; Close reading; Code; Colorblind; Critical consciousness; Critical race Theory; Critical Theory; Discourse; Discourse analysis; Dominance; Good white; Implicit bias; Mask; People of color; Position; Power (systemic); Problematic; Race; Racial contract; Racial stamina; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Social Justice; Solidarity; White; White comfort; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White talk; Whiteness; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Thompson, A. “Colortalk: Whiteness and Off White.” Educational Studies, 30(2), 1999: 141–160, p. 142.
In naming whiteness as an oppressive power, jokes such as these engage in colortalk. Talk about color and difference is an act of resistance to white hegemony, making explicit the we/they lines that—contrary to the colorblind rhetoric of inclusiveness and social harmony—continue to organize most white/non-white relations in the U. S. Colorblind discourse attempts to suppress any recognition of meaningful differences across white, black, and brown forms of experience; colortalk, on the other hand, specifically draws attention to the racial patterns found in social life. Rejecting the romanticism of appeals to a racially transcendent weness, colortalk both acknowledges racial and ethnic differences and identifies these as connected to power.
Source: Thompson, A. “Colortalk: Whiteness and Off White.” Educational Studies, 30(2), 1999: 141–160, p. 143.
By the same token, they view colortalk—the acknowledgement that race makes a cultural and/or political difference in our lives—as inherently racist. Because they see racism as a question of labeling, advocates of colorblindness may even complain that those who call attention to racial questions are being racially divisive. Indeed, they sometimes blame people of color for perpetuating racism. But of course the material interests of American Indians, Latina/os, African Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other minority groups are not served by racist relations. On the contrary, it is whites who persist in maintaining educational, residential, and other boundaries between themselves and people of color.
Source: Thompson, A. “Colortalk: Whiteness and Off White.” Educational Studies, 30(2), 1999: 141–160, p. 144.
Refusing to recognize color, race, or racism, colorblindness characterizes racial inequalities by some other explanation (such as merit). Not only does this refusal to see color fail to erase institutionalized racial hierarchies, but it leaves us without tools for thinking about them.
Colortalk, in naming culture, race, and racism as significant dimensions of social experience, provides us with tools for understanding how race works in a racialized society. Whereas colorblindness suppresses recognition of race relations, colortalk explicitly names the mechanisms by which regimes of color are maintained. Communal versions of colortalk often involve a lively awareness of difficult or threatening conditions, communal and individual strategies for getting by, and ways of naming trouble. June Jordan points out that in Black English, for example, there is no passive voice: “you cannot say, ‘Black English is being eliminated.’ You must say, instead, ‘White people eliminating Black English.’”
Revision date: 7/8/20