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Date of Award
Dissertation-ISU Access Only
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department of English
Cheryl E. Ball
This dissertation investigates the rhetorical strategies used to construct Whiteness in a large sample of online reader comments responding to immigration reform. Online reader comments are everyday sites of public digital writing known for uncivil and racist discourse, and I argue that they are also important spaces where racial definitions, logics, and ideologies are (re)created and maintained. I investigate the rhetorics of Whiteness to make the often-invisible workings of Whiteness visible so that they can be contested and redressed and lead to more socially conscious digital writing practices.
To identify the most prominent rhetorical themes characterizing the sample, I perform a critical discourse analysis of over 2,000 comments responding to news articles published on four major U.S. news sites. Using both inductive and deductive coding methods, the most prominent rhetorical themes that emerged were: stereotypes of immigrants, including immigrants as criminals, laborers, and welfare recipients; border and deportation rhetoric; partisanship rhetoric; and rhetorics of naming. Rhetorics of naming refer to how undocumented immigrants are labeled--most often according to the clipped term "illegals"--in opposition to the legitimate residents of the U.S., who are referred to as "Americans," "citizens," and "taxpayers." These naming strategies were one of the main ways commenters dehumanized undocumented immigrants in the sample. All of the themes individually and together dehumanize undocumented immigrants and characterize them as unworthy of basic human rights, rights that commenters argue should be reserved for U.S. citizens. Ultimately, I argue that this citizenship is constructed as White citizenship, where the benefits and rights of U.S. citizenship are and should continue to be the sole property and privilege of Whiteness. Through my contribution of significant empirical data on the rhetorics of Whiteness online, I show how commenters are adept in adjusting their digital writing practices to maintain hegemonic Whiteness.
These rhetorics of Whiteness emerge in numerous digital writing situations, and in order to prepare students to become critical consumers and producers of digital texts, I argue for a critical digital literacies pedagogy that includes both digital and racial literacies. Digital literacies include teaching students how to integrate different modes and technologies into their composing practices, while racial literacies include teaching students awareness of critical race histories and contemporary racial discourses. Equipped with these knowledges, students can be more informed about the texts that they encounter, produce more ethical and effective digital texts, and be more engaged and activist citizens.
McDuffie, Kristi, ""What Happened to Americans First ???": Rhetorics of Whiteness in Online Reader Comments" (2015). Theses and Dissertations. 313.