The Management of Racial Common Sense in Interaction
Whitehead, Kevin A.
In this paper, I consider one mechanism by which racial categories, racial “common sense,” and thus the social organization of race itself, are reproduced in interaction. I approach these issues by using an ethnomethodological, conversation analytic approach to analyze a range of practices employed by participants of a “race-training” workshop to manage the normative accountability involved in referring to the racial categories of others when describing their actions, and thus in using racial common sense in talk-in-interaction. This accountability arises in part because a speaker’s use of a racial category to explain someone else’s actions may provide a warranted basis for recipients to treat the speaker’s own racial category as relevant for understanding and assessing the speaker’s actions. I describe three main ways in which speakers can manage this accountability, namely generalizing race, localizing race, and alluding to race. My analysis shows that, even in attempting to resist racial common sense in accounting for their own actions and those of others, speakers orient to race as a normative framework according to which individuals will produce their own actions and interpret those of others, and thus reproduce it as relevant for understanding social action. This research contributes to advancing knowledge in the fields of ethnomethodology, conversation analysis, racial studies, and categorical inequality.
“Categorizing the Categorizer”: