Associate Professor Jen Roth-Gordon and alumni Jessica Harris and Stephanie Zamora have a new article published in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language. Based on research Jessica and Stephanie conducted while they were undergrads in the School of Anthropology, the article is titled “Producing white comfort through ‘corporate cool’: Linguistic appropriation, social media, and @BrandsSayingBae.” If something didn't feel right about those IHOP tweets "pancakes on fleek," read this article to find out why!
Abstract: Drawing on branded tweets that linguistically appropriate slang, African American Language, and hip-hop lyrics, this article examines how corporations rework black culture to create “corporate cool” as part of their advertising strategy on social media. We examine three processes that corporations engage in to associate themselves with “coolness” while managing levels of racial contact and proximity for their audience: 1) racially ambiguous voicing, 2) “bleaching” black bodies out of images, and 3) the forging of “racially tinged” intertextual connections. While previous scholarship has analyzed how acts of cultural and linguistic appropriation reap profit for white people and continue to stigmatize already racially marginalized groups, we describe how these seemingly innocent cultural and linguistic references harness a corporately constructed black cool to produce a sense of white comfort. We argue that white comfort is generated not only through the avoidance of overt references to racial conflict, as the term “white fragility” suggests, but also through well-worn, familiar, and comfortable reminders of racial difference and domination that are offered at a safe distance from actual black people and contexts of racial violence. (Anthro News Digest date: 10/2/2020)