Fighting Words: Antiblackness and Discursive Violence in an American High School

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In the United States, discourses of “black-on-black” violence are pervasive in news media and everyday interactions. These discourses are often indexicalized along various contextual scales and draw upon several ideological wellsprings in their interdiscursive iterations. By examining a specific discourse about tensions between African transnational and African American young people in the Philadelphia area, this article considers how students and educators at a large suburban high school, local community members, and news media sustain and contest a notion of black-on-black violence by sometimes using the entextualized phrasing but, more often, by tacitly indexing or eroding its epistemic underpinnings. In the analysis, these underpinnings are presented as anti-black epistemes that construct black people as immanently and exceptionally violent, and African Americans especially so. Ethnographic discourse analysis conducted over several years suggests that such epistemes help to not only rationalize the criminalization and disciplining of black youth regardless of national origin (and thus engender a multifaceted practice of “discursive violence” that can produce actual violence), but also help prop up the contextual frames through which African transnational youth discursively perform nonthreatening selves in contradistinction to their African American peers, even as they may undermine anti-black epistemes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)356-383
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Linguistic Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • blackness
  • education
  • race
  • transnational
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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