Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Whiteness of Silence: A Critical Autoethnographic Tale of a Strategic Rhetoric

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

The Whiteness of Silence: A Critical Autoethnographic Tale of a Strategic Rhetoric

Article excerpt

There is one question that every person has asked him or herself numerous times throughout life's trajectory: who am I? Although we know identity is multifaceted and always changing, there are pieces of our identity that remain relatively static. I have codified my answer to this question since my initial introduction to the academy: I am a woman, feminist, scholar, partner, mother, daughter, and friend. Mostly, though, I am White1. As a White woman who earned a PhD at a historically Black university, my identity was constantly a site and sight of contestation. I learned to explore, accept, and piece together a White racial identity that I could never separate from the strategy of Whiteness. Although my attempt is always to claim the identity of an anti-racist White woman, I recognize that the White part of that is the most useful analytic tool for the examination of social, political, economic, and sometimes interpersonal relations of power and privilege Understanding, articulating, and evaluating my identity is not the focus of this essay; rather, my identity is a lens through which Whiteness, privilege, and racism manifest themselves in identity development.

Perhaps one of the most important essays in the communication field on the social manifestation of Whiteness comes from Thomas Nakayama and Robert Krizeck's (1995), "A Strategic Rhetoric of Whiteness." Nakayama and Krizek offer an understanding of Whiteness that exists beyond the narrow understanding of mere skin color. They uncover six strategies of the discourse of Whiteness: emphasizing a privileged social position based on one's racial identity (White means majority or status); White by default, or due to non-racial or ethnic categorization; using scientific definitions and classifications to articulate Whiteness; grouping Whiteness with nationality; discourses of Whiteness that refuse to use a "label" for Whiteness; and Whiteness as an articulation of European ancestry. In the twenty years since the publication of this essay, numerous scholars have studied Whiteness and privilege from a rhetorical perspective and added valuable contributions to the study of Whiteness. Although some of these scholars have addressed the body through the lens of performance (Butler, 2011; Jackson, 1998; O'Brien, 1994; Warren, 2003; Warren & Kilgard, 2001), the discussion of the "strategic rhetoric" of Whiteness still lacks everyday examples of its embodiment or definitive iterations of what might constitute this rhetoric in action. . In this essay, I seek to demonstrate concretely the ways in which Whiteness is deployed and redeployed as a rhetorical strategy. To do so, I describe a specific moment during my graduate career in which I, a White woman, was complicit in the deployment of Whiteness using the strategy of silence as a means of fending off perceived attacks from my Black classmates. First, though, I provide a methodological and theoretical framework for my analysis.

(Critical) Autoethnography

While autoethnographic research is still a relatively new form of qualitative ethnography, it is an obvious methodological choice when attempting to theorize about one's own identity, the social position that it delineates, and the structural violence operationalized therein. Ellis and Bochner (2000) define autoethnography as an "autobiographical genre of writing and research that displays multiple layers of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural" (p. 739). They describe the "findings" of autoethnographic research as "evocative stories" that a researcher presents about his or her own experiences (p. 744). Jones (2009) extends the explanation of evocative stories by describing them as stories that "long to be used rather than analyzed; to be told and retold rather than theorized and settled; to offer lessons for further conversation rather than undebatable conclusions; and to substitute the companionship of intimate detail for the loneliness of abstracted facts" (p. …

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