Investigating Blackwash: Discursive blurring of the boundary between excellence and affirmative action in representations of minority achievement

Lead Research Organisation: Roehampton University
Department Name: Drama, Theatre and Performance


The proposed research in conjunction with the resulting monograph is an exploration of a discourse practice I have labelled 'blackwash'. It proceeds from the premise that racial minority group members who achieve excellence are often constructed and represented in institutional discourses as having done so on behalf of a collective - the group to which they belong, and second, as beneficiaries of Affirmative Action. This practice is a tool in the racialization of subjects and issues.

Blackwash alludes to 'greenwash' which is defined by the Green Wash Academy Awards, organisers of the Green Oscars, as the act of spending 'more on advertising green investments than the investments themselves'. Thus blackwash is defined in this study as a glaring overcompensation of libertarian and egalitarian principles by institutions in a single event whilst in reality both liberty and equality remain only modest achievements. It is about achieving minority group members who may or may not collaborate in the practice. Blackwash as a discourse practice makes it difficult to determine real instances of minority attainment of excellence, and even when determined, the glory of such excellence is diminished because of the shadow cast by Affirmative Action.

Robert Fullinwinder (2005) suggests that discussions of affirmative action follow two paths: the legal/administrative and public debate with the latter dogged by controversy. The proposed monograph follows the second of Fullinwinder's paths inasmuch as it seeks to demonstrate how institutional discourses discursively blur the boundary between the pragmasemantic fields of concepts that are strange bedfellows - merit and affirmative action.

Research context:
Blackwash as a discourse practice is situated in communicative regimes often associated with multiracial and multicultural societies whose demographic composition coupled with the historical trajectories of some of their constituent groups act as facilitators. In this regard, slave and colonial histories make the US and Britain prime contexts for the investigation of blackwash.

Against this background then, the data that inform the discussions in the proposed book comprise transcripts from approximately 100 hours of coverage of the 2008 US Presidential Election beginning with the Primaries (Senator Back Obama), press coverage of the elections of 1984 and 1988 (Rev Jesse Jackson), press coverage of the Oscars from 1936 (Hattie McDaniels), 1968 (Sidney Poitier), 1992 (Denzel Washington), 2002 (Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washinton and Halley Berry), 2005 (Jamie Fox), and 2007 (Forest Whitaker), 1987 British elections (Dianne Abbott, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz), 1997 (Oona King), 2006 (David Lammy), appointment of four Caribbean peers (2001).

In general, the data will be analysed using multiple analytical frameworks in media and cultural studies (Hall 1997), sociolinguistic and discourse analytical tools modelled on Gumperz and Hymes (1972), and Fairclough (1989, 2003) respectively.


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Description My conceptualisation of 'blackwash' has deepened as I now believe that the discourse applies to other kinds of minorities apart from racial minorities.
Exploitation Route The proposed monograph COULD inform good practice in the treatment of minority achievement.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice