Interacting with whiteness: Constructing and resisting stereotypes of whiteness in Mandarin interaction
If talk-in-interaction can be assumed to be a (if not the) primordial site of sociality then it stands to reason that talk-in-interaction is also the site where racial and ethnic stereotypes are reproduced and resisted. This paper explores this claim by drawing on conversation analysis (CA) to analyse an excerpt of face-to-face interaction between five Mandarin-speaking people who topicalise a stereotype about whiteness. The key problems I address are: 1) how do the co-participants interactionally manage the stereotype of whiteness, and 2) how can this local management be shown to interact with what we might call a ‘discourse of whiteness’?
The transcription is based on a recording taken at the home of a Chinese migrant couple living in Melbourne, Australia. The participants are four Chinese women and the researcher (a white Australian man), recorded while preparing and eating dinner.
As can be seen in the transcript, the topic of whiteness is introduced as something either delicate or improper, as well as a potential resource for self-selecting to ‘be white’.
In my analysis I find that the question in lines 3-4 above initiates two simultaneous activities pursued by different participants: a) a serious response to delicate question (see Schegloff, 1980, on pre-delicates and 'delicacy'), and b) an Impropriety-Affiliation sequence (Jefferson, Sacks, & Schegloff, 1987). I show how co-participants construct their subjectivities in relation to the discourse of whiteness that is managed through these two interactional activities. I argue that at the end of the transcript segment the co-participants achieve intimacy and in so doing potentially alter the discourse of whiteness. Building on work by Speer (2005), McNamara (2019) and others, this implies interaction may have a more significant interplay with the production of discourses and subjectivities than previously acknowledged.