Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara Previously Published Works bannerUC Santa Barbara

When are persons ‘white’?: on some practical asymmetries of racial reference in talk-in-interaction


This report contributes to the study of racial discourse by examining some of the practical asymmetries that obtain between different categories of racial membership as they are actually employed in talk-in-interaction. In particular, we identify three interactional environments in which the ordinarily 'invisible' racial category 'white' is employed overtly, and we describe the mechanisms through which this can occur. These mechanisms include: (1) 'white' surfacing 'just in time' as an account for action; (2) the occurrence of referential ambiguities with respect to race occasioning repairs that result in overt references to 'white'; and (3) the operation of a recipient design consideration that we term 'descriptive adequacy'. These findings demonstrate some ways in which the mundane invisibility of whiteness - or indeed, other locally invisible racial categories - can be both exposed and disturbed as a result of ordinary interactional processes, revealing the importance of the generic machinery of talk-in-interaction for understanding both the reproduction of and resistance to the racial dynamics of everyday life. © 2009 SAGE Publications.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View