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Discourse and racism

some conclusions of 30 years of research

Teun A Van Dijk

pp. 285-295

Racist text and talk, on the one hand, is obviously an expression of the ethnic prejudices of the author, to be described in terms of the socially shared social cognitive representations of dominant groups, and the individual prejudiced mental models of their members about concrete "ethnic events." On the other hand, these racist discourses—as well as their racist cognitions—have a social and political function, namely maintaining the domination of the white majority. But racist discourse is not a direct expression or implementation of racist domination; such domination is mediated by the way language users as social members represent ethnic relations in their minds, and thus are able to connect to the underlying mental structures of text and talk. More specifically, the social dimension of racist discourse could thus be formulated in terms of those who control the access to, and the contents and formats of public discourse: the symbolic elites, especially in politics, the media, and education.This chapter summarizes some of the findings of my research on discourse and racism since the early 1980s. This research has three main tenets. The first is the study of the coverage of immigration in the press, starting with a modest book in Dutch about the Dutch press, followed by studies of the British, and later, less extensively, also the Spanish and Latin American press. More or less independent of political or ideological orientation, newspapers in many parts of the "Western" world portray immigrants and minorities as different, deviant, and a threat, and focus on immigration in terms of an invasion, integration as a major social problem, and multiculturalism and diversity as a threat to cultural homogeneity. On the other hand, the problems immigrants or minorities experience because of Us are ignored or mitigated, as is especially the case for the coverage of prejudice, discrimination, and racism—not only at the extreme right. The second major focus of this research deals with political discourse, especially in a major project (with Ruth Wodak), Racism at the Top, that analyzes discourse on immigration in the UK, Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. Interestingly but not surprisingly, the topics and strategies of political discourse on immigration are very similar to the dominant coverage of these topics in the press: Immigrants are portrayed as different (such as Muslim women and their hijab), deviant, and a threat. Third, in education, textbooks also tend to reproduce stereotypes on minorities and immigrants, focus mostly on problems of immigration and integration, and typically avoid or mitigate Our racism. The last phase of this project focuses on the same three dimensions of discourse and racism in Spain and Latin America—especially in a large project conducted by specialists in eight Latin American countries. One major conclusion of research on the three main domains of the discursive reproduction of racism is that the symbolic elites who control public discourse in these domains are specifically responsible for this process of reproduction.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-12616-6_10

Full citation:

Van Dijk, T.A. (2016)., Discourse and racism: some conclusions of 30 years of research, in A. Capone & J. L. Mey (eds.), Interdisciplinary studies in pragmatics, culture and society, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 285-295.

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