performative anti-whiteness

This is a discussion of why Trump's strategy of specifically appealing to white voters worked, when many analysts thought it was going to lead to defeat. The issue of white 'culture wars' is raised.
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[NY Times]


Indeed, as David French writes in National Review, American politics is still defined primarily by a “great white culture war,” with competing tribes of conservative and liberal whites divided by many, many things besides their attitudes toward race.

In this landscape even some racialized arguments are really white culture wars by proxy. A performative anti-whiteness is common among white lefties seeking a rhetorical cudgel against blue-collar Archie Bunkers and popped-collar frat bros.

Opinion | The White Strategy

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What is this 'performative anti-whiteness'-- sociological jargon for ??
 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    I supposed performative = an acting out or show of ( anti-whiteness). White people on the left are so anti-racist that their position becomes anti-other-white-people who don’t share their perspective.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    "Performative" in this context could be read as something that is "meant for show." The accusation is that these actions or stances are meant as signals but not necessarily effective, meaningful, or well thought out.
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "Performative" in this context could be read as something that is "meant for show." The accusation is that these actions or stances are meant as signals but not necessarily effective, meaningful, or well thought out.

    If that's how the author is using the word he's misusing it. See the link I provided above.
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    If you do an online news search for "performative," I wonder if you would reach the conclusion that there is widespread or popular use of the term in a more informal and less academic sense.

    I'm not seeing it, even in the news queries. It may be slowly percolating out of academia but I don't think most people are familiar with the word. Douthat is fairly highbrow, so I suspect he knows exactly how it's used in academia. (It's used mostly on the left, but Douthat, who is conservative, seems to be borrowing the same jargon.)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    American politics is still defined primarily by a “great white culture war,” with competing tribes of conservative and liberal whites divided by many, many things besides their attitudes toward race.

    Who knew?

    What is this 'performative anti-whiteness'-- sociological jargon for ??
    It's for distancing the second group from the first.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    I'm not seeing it, even in the news queries. It may be slowly percolating out of academia but I don't think most people are familiar with the word. Douthat is fairly highbrow, so I suspect he knows exactly how it's used in academia. (It's used mostly on the left, but Douthat, who is conservative, seems to be borrowing the same jargon.)
    I saw multiple examples that to me did not smack of the term's use in its strict academic meaning. At the very least, there is often a negative connotation, in my opinion: "performative disgust," "performative celebrity romance," "performative superficiality."

    and there could be nothing cutesy or performative about the acting,
    It’s never been easier to get this reaction, with the instantaneousness of social media, and its adjunct culture of performative outrage.
    The very first session is largely performative.
    What needs to end is the culture of performative wokeness

    How would you interpret the widely used criticisms of "performative activism" based on the formal definition of "perfomativity?"
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I saw multiple examples that to me did not smack of the term's use in its strict academic meaning. At the very least, there is often a negative connotation, in my opinion: "performative disgust," "performative celebrity romance," "performative superficiality."

    and there could be nothing cutesy or performative about the acting,
    It’s never been easier to get this reaction, with the instantaneousness of social media, and its adjunct culture of performative outrage.
    The very first session is largely performative.
    What needs to end is the culture of performative wokeness

    How would you interpret the widely used criticisms of "performative activism" based on the formal definition of "perfomativity?"

    I don't have time to slog through multiple citations to guess what each writer means. All I can tell you is that the MWD definition is as follows:

    being or relating to an expression that serves to effect a transaction (emphasis mine) or that constitutes the performance of the specified act by virtue of its utterance

    Another online dictionary has this:

    relating to or of the nature of dramatic or artistic performance.
    "films which push past the limits of current performative trends"

    [*]characterized by the performance of a social or cultural role.
    "many feminist theorists have come to stress the contextual and performative aspects of gender"
    [*]LinguisticsPhilosophy
    relating to or denoting an utterance by means of which the speaker performs a particular act (e.g., I bet, I apologize, I promise ).
    adjective: performative
    "performative utterances do not merely describe what one is doing; to say the utterance is to do it"

    Your example about "cutesy or performative about the acting" is possibly using the narrow meaning in red above, but note that "performative" in that definition doesn't mean "only for show," it means relating to the art of performance.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The word is almost 100 years old.

    OED:
    Performative adj. & n.
    A. adj.
    Of or relating to performance; (Linguistics and Philosophy) designating or relating to an utterance that effects an action by being spoken or by means of which the speaker performs a particular act.
    1922 Jrnl. Philos. 19 632 Thus, memorizing might be considered as a memorial action midway between the informational and performative sort.
    2003 School Arts (Nexis) 1 May 12 She has made the connection between play and performance to enhance the creative process as well as highlight the performative aspects of teaching.
    B. n.
    Linguistics and Philosophy. A performative utterance. Cf. constative n.
    1955 J. L. Austin MS Lect. Notes: How to do Things with Words (Bodl. Eng. Misc. c. 394) f. 41 What are we to call this type of sentence or utterance? I propose to call it a performative sentence, or a performative utterance, or for short ‘a performative’.

    Derivatives
    performativeness
    n.
    1960 Proc. Aristotelian Soc. 60 p. v The most famous of his [sc. J. L. Austin's] discoveries in this field was of the element of performativeness that enters into many kinds of utterance ordinarily classified as statements.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I agree but it is the same in Benny's example as it is in A above. I suspect that the author learned the word in a philosophy class and used it.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    I agree but it is the same in Benny's example as it is in A above. I suspect that the author learned the word in a philosophy class and used it.
    I don't know exactly how long it has been since that author attended a philosophy class or read a linguistics book, but I don't think it churlish to suggest that he may be intending the word as he has likely frequently seen it used by the commentariat.
     

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I don't know exactly how long it has been since that author attended a philosophy class or read a linguistics book, but I don't think it churlish to suggest that he may be intending the word as he has likely frequently seen it used by the commentariat.

    Looking around a bit, it appears that the author in question has a fondness for the word:

    Instead of the Treaty of Detroit we have, if you will, the Peace of Palo Alto, in which a certain kind of virtue-signaling on progressive social causes, a certain degree of performative wokeness [sic], is offered to liberalism and the activist left pre-emptively, in the hopes that having corporate America take their side in the culture wars will blunt efforts to tax or regulate our new monopolies too heavily...

    The reasons for that counterprotest include an admirable patriotism and an understandable weariness with the politicization of sports and entertainment. But they also include a typical conservative cluelessness about black grievances, a performative and commercialized Americanism that parodies healthy civic life, and the toxic identity politics that Donald Trump is constantly encouraging...

    But just as tech titans accept some censorship and oppression as the price of doing business in China, they accept performative progressivism as the price of having nice campuses in the most liberal state in the union and recruiting their employees from its most elite and liberal schools.


    All of the above would in fact seem to support your suggestion. I think he's abusing the word, but as to the original question of what he means by "performative anti-whiteness," I stand corrected.
     
    Thanks, The Newt, bibliolept, and Paul! I now believe the author is saying there's an equivalence, in performance, between [] a well-to-do white person saying, "Affirmative action for Black people"[actually said] and "white [the other whites, the poor whites] people are unfairly privileged, are oppressors."

    I would sum up the article as saying "Class matters; 'upper' culture matters, whereas the 'race equality' talk is a kind of smokescreen--why? because the upper whites despise the lower-class whites [in a kind of racist way]." The rich whites are going to stay on top, so they can well espouse, for example, "affirmative admissions at Harvard for Black and brown people."

    Performatively, the latter position (in the example) is saying, "lots of qualified non-rich whites, otherwise qualified, deserve NOT to get into Harvard." This is a kind of anti-white racism.

    This position received reinforcing evidence recently when a Korean woman entertainer said basically anti-white, racist things, and the white establishment did NOT call her out, but wanted to excuse her.
     
    Last edited:

    The Newt

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Thanks, The Newt, bibliolept, and Paul! I now believe the author is saying there's an equivalence, in performance, between saying a well-to-do white person saying, "Affirmative action for Black people"[actually said] and "white [the other whites, the poor whites] people are unfairly privileged, are oppressors."
    [...]

    I don't think that's what he's saying, at least as far as his use of "performative" goes. Bibliolept has convinced me that the author is using a (to me, incorrect) meaning of the word that is equivalent to something like "meant for show" or "ostentatious" (with perhaps an echo of "perfunctory"?). The "white lefties," according to Douthat, are making a point of putting on a show of anti-whiteness that may not reflect their true loyalties.
     
    The word is not rare these days. Here are a couple examples from Cambridge dictionary:

    The performative impact of fables derives from the fact that until recently they were part of the school child's curriculum and were learned by rote.
    From the Cambridge English Corpus

    The performative of gender takes an important role in these theories.
    From the Cambridge English Corpus
    ===

    Oxford has a note on the rise of this concept of performativity beyond the strict linguistics definition.

    Most notably, Judith Butler developed the concept of performativity to describe how gender is constructed in the 1990s. Butler argued that gender is an ongoing and socially constructed process, which proceeds through a continuous series of performative acts, from, for example, the utterance of “It’s a boy!” on through a person’s lifetime. Performativity, then, is the process of subject formation, which creates that which it purports to describe and occurs through linguistic means, as well as via other social practices.
    Performativity
     

    carriep

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Yes, it absolutely means "meant for show" in this context. Who knew that words could take on new meanings over time!

    I am in my 30s and teach language and linguistics courses at the university level. I hear "performative" with this intended meaning at least on a weekly basis from a wide range of sources.

    The Newt: Take a count of how many polysemous words you use in the next hour (some adopted meanings more recent than others) and perhaps you'll change your mind about language change. The dictionary changes to reflect real human language use; not the other way around. It's always slow to catch up, and even more in these modern times with change accelerated by technology.

    Also, a note to those above talking about "reading a linguistics book" – this is a gross misrepresentation of linguistics. We are not the gatekeepers of language; quite the opposite. When fights break out over grammar rules and "proper" word usage, it's the trained linguists that come in and tell everyone to get off their high prescriptive horses. If it effectively communicates a message, it's valid.
     
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