Reproducing Whiteness Through Diversity: A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Pro-Affirmative Action Amicus Briefs in the Fisher Case

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Abstract

Legal decisions about affirmative action in higher education do more than impact how admissions policies are structured. The discourse produced in these decisions structures how race is talked about, understood, and enacted in the context of higher education and beyond. However, critique of affirmative action rhetoric in the legal realm tends to focus on the anti-affirmative action constructions of race, underanalyzing rhetoric favoring affirmative action. The current project uses critical discourse analysis to explore how dominant interests are challenged, produced, and sustained by pro-affirmative action rhetoric. Specifically, this project engaged Whiteness as a theoretical and analytical lens through which to critique the amicus briefs submitted in support of race-conscious admissions policies in the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Fisher v. University of Texas (2013). Our analysis revealed that pro-affirmative action arguments engaged the concepts of diversity and race in ways that reproduced the structural power of Whiteness, drawing upon individualism and market-driven rationales as discursive resources. The analysis suggests that even arguments supporting race-conscious admissions may inadvertently contribute to the reproduction of problematic racial hierarchies. The findings also note the potential transformative value of alternative rationales present in a small subset of amicus briefs submitted by African American organizations. Practical applications for pro-affirmative action advocates and policymakers are offered.

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