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Denying racism: Discursive strategies used by the South African media

Denying racism: Discursive strategies used by the South African media

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Published by quaylem
Abstract
South Africa’s dramatic transition from apartheid to an anti-racist state has resulted in significant social and institutional changes; but the practical distribution of power, wealth, and access to resources in society is still overwhelmingly racially skewed. In 1999 the South African media was the subject of a Human Rights Commission inquiry into racism. This paper explores the discursive practices deployed by mainstream newspapers in response to these accusations of racism. We show how several interlocking strategies of denial were used to remodel the field of racist practices and representations into a terrain suited to preserving white privilege. Specifically, the media used strategies of splitting, (dis)locating, relativising, trivialising, deracialising and, ultimately, reversing racism. In this way, the South African media was able to sidestep criticism by developing ‘acceptable’ arguments for reasonable prejudice that marginalise ‘black’ experience.
Abstract
South Africa’s dramatic transition from apartheid to an anti-racist state has resulted in significant social and institutional changes; but the practical distribution of power, wealth, and access to resources in society is still overwhelmingly racially skewed. In 1999 the South African media was the subject of a Human Rights Commission inquiry into racism. This paper explores the discursive practices deployed by mainstream newspapers in response to these accusations of racism. We show how several interlocking strategies of denial were used to remodel the field of racist practices and representations into a terrain suited to preserving white privilege. Specifically, the media used strategies of splitting, (dis)locating, relativising, trivialising, deracialising and, ultimately, reversing racism. In this way, the South African media was able to sidestep criticism by developing ‘acceptable’ arguments for reasonable prejudice that marginalise ‘black’ experience.

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Published by: quaylem on May 26, 2009
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10/18/2011

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Denying racism: Discursive strategies used by the South African media.
Kevin Durrheim *Michael QuayleKevin WhiteheadAnita KrielSchool of PsychologyUniversity of Natal (Pietermaritzburg)Private Bag X 01Scottsville, 3209South AfricaEmail: Durrheim@nu.ac.zaKeywords: racism, denial, South Africa, news media, discourse, rhetoricRunning head: Denying racism* To whom correspondence should be addressed
 
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Abstract
South Africa‟s dramatic transition from apartheid to an anti
-racist state has resulted insignificant social and institutional changes; but the practical distribution of power,wealth, and access to resources in society is still overwhelmingly racially skewed. In1999 the South African media was the subject of a Human Rights Commissioninquiry into racism. This paper explores the discursive practices deployed bymainstream newspapers in response to these accusations of racism. We show howseveral interlocking strategies of denial were used to remodel the field of racistpractices and representations into a terrain suited to preserving white privilege.Specifically, the media used strategies of splitting, (dis)locating, relativising,trivialising, deracialising and, ultimately, reversing racism. In this way, the SouthAfrican media was abl
e to sidestep criticism by developing „acceptable‟ argumentsfor reasonable prejudice that marginalise „black‟ experience.
 
 
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Traditionally, social psychology has emphasised psychological, individual andintrapersonal aspects of prejudice at the expense of the social, interpersonaldimensions. Adorno et al. (1950) suggested that prejudice is the result of fixedpersonality characteristics, and Allport (1954) argued that individual prejudice is theresult of simplified categorisations and negative affect. These seminal studies set thescene for research that has assumed that racism is a problem of prejudiced attitudes,which are fixed and measurable individual characteristics, stable across context andtime.More recently, this approach has been criticised by,
inter alia
, discursive socialpsychologists, who have pointed out theoretical and methodological shortcomings of the traditional understanding of prejudice (Edwards, 2000; Potter, 1998; Wetherell &Potter, 1992)
. In a move that demands a radical reconstruction of the “topic areatraditionally occupied by attitude research” (Billig, 1989: 204), Potter 
(1998) arguesthat attitudes should be viewed as evaluative practices rather than mental entities. Thefocus should be on the activity of opinion giving, investigating the discursivefunctions served by talk in particular contexts. Expressions of racism are thus treatedas displays, which are interpersonally constructed, and strategically tailored to thedemands of context (Edwards, 2000). Racism exists in the nuts and bolts of everydaytalk (and text) rather than in underlying psychological dispositions or attitudes.Talk, like any other action, is subject to societal rules and constraints. It is the activeproduction of individuals, tailored to the demands of the situation (Edwards, 1997),but it is also deeply normative and scripted. In the contexts of opinion giving, onlycertain forms and contents of opinion are appropriate on any occasion. Likewise,

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