Skip to main content

Ideologies of language and race in US media discourse about the Trayvon Martin shooting

  • Adam Hodges (a1)

This article examines the discourse about race and racism that ensued in the US media after the shooting death of an African American youth, Trayvon Martin, by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, in February 2012. The analysis examines news programs from the three major cable television channels in the United States: CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. The theoretical framework builds upon Hill's (2008) discussion of the ‘folk theory of race and racism’ in contrast to critical race theory, and asks, to what extent does the mainstream media's discourse about race remain embedded in folk ideas and to what extent (if at all) does the conversation move beyond those ideas? The paper aims to unpack the ideologies of race and language that underpin talk about race and racism in an effort to expose the hidden assumptions in the discourse that hinder more productive dialogue on the topic. (Critical race theory, folk theory of race and racism, George Zimmerman, ideology, language ideology, media discourse, race, race talk, racism, slurs, Trayvon Martin)*

Hide All
Alim H. Samy, & Reyes Angela (2011). Introduction: Complicating race. Discourse & Society 22(4):379–84.
Alim H. Samy, & Reyes Angela & Smitherman Geneva (2012). Articulate while black. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bakhtin Mikhail (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Ed. by Emerson Caryl & Holquist Michael, trans. by McGee Vern W.. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Baugh John (2003). Linguistic profiling. In Makoni Sinfree, Smitherman Geneva, Ball Arnetha, & Spears Arthur (eds.), Black linguistics, 155–68. New York: Routledge.
Bauman Richard, & Briggs Charles (1990). Poetics and performances as critical perspectives on language and social life. Annual Review of Anthropology 19(1):5988.
Bonilla-Silva Eduardo (2013). Racism without racists. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield.
Bonilla-Silva Eduardo, & Forman T. A. (2000). ‘I am not a racist but…’: Mapping white college students’ racial ideology in the USA. Discourse & Society 11(1):5085.
Bourdieu Pierre (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bucholtz Mary, & Hall Kira (2008). Finding identity. Multilingua 27(1–2):151–63.
Bucholtz Mary, & Hall Kira & Trechter Sara (2001). Introduction: White noise. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11(1):321.
Childress Sarah (2012). Is there racial bias in ‘stand your ground’ laws? PBS Frontline. Online:
D'Andrade Roy (1995). The development of cognitive anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dick Hilary Parsons, & Wirtz Kristina (eds.) (2011). Racializing discourses. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21. Online:
Duranti Alessandro (1993). Truth and intentionality. Cultural Anthropology 8(2):214–45.
Eberhardt Jennifer; Goff Phillip Atiba; Purdie Valerie; & Davies Paul (2004). Seeing black: Race, crime, and visual processing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 87(6):876–93.
Fairclough Norman (1989). Language and power. London: Longman.
Feagin Joe (2006). Systemic racism. New York: Routledge.
Feagin Joe (2010). Racist America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Routledge.
Gal Susan (2005). Language ideologies compared. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15(1):2337.
Hill Jane (2000). Read my article: Ideological complexity and the over-determination of promising in American presidential politics. In Kroskrity Paul (ed.), Regimes of language, 259–92. Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press.
Hill Jane (2008). The everyday language of white racism. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Irvine Judith, & Gal Susan (2000). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In Kroskrity Paul (ed.), Regimes of language, 3583. Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press.
Johnstone Barbara (2008). Discourse analysis. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Kroskrity Paul (2004). Language ideologies. In Duranti Alessandro (ed.), A companion to linguistic anthropology, 496517. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Lippi-Green Rosina (2011). English with an accent. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Oddo John (2014). Intertextuality and the 24 hour news cycle. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press.
Omi Michael, & Winant Howard (1994). Racial formation in the United States. New York: Routledge.
Reddy Michael (1979). The conduit metaphor. In Ortony Andrew (ed.), Metaphor and thought, 284324. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rickford John Russell, & Rickford Russell John (2000). Spoken soul. New York: Wiley.
Rosaldo Michelle (1982). The things we do with words. Language in Society 11(2):203–37.
Silverstein Michael (1976). Shifters, linguistic categories and cultural description. In Basso Keith & Selby Henry (eds.), Meaning in anthropology, 1155. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Silverstein Michael (1979). Language structure and linguistic ideology. In Clyne Paul, Hanks William, & Hofbauer Carol (eds.), The elements, 193247. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.
van Dijk Teun (1987). Communicating racism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
van Dijk Teun (1998). Ideology. London: Sage.
van Dijk Teun (1992). Discourse and the denial of racism. Discourse & Society 3(1):87118.
Williams Raymond (1977). Marxism and literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wise Tim (2009). Between Barack and a hard place. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
Wise Tim (2010). Colorblind. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books.
Woolard Kathryn, & Schieffelin Bambi (1994). Language ideology. Annual Review of Anthropology 23(1):5582.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
  • URL: /core/journals/language-in-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 134
Total number of PDF views: 792 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1530 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.