Ruptures and Recuperations of a Language of Racism in Alaska's Rural/Urban Divide

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A number of scholars note that racism transforms its shape and character at different times and places: both ideas of “race” and concepts of racism have been subject to change. I extend the work of one such scholar, Ann Stoler, who argues that the slipperiness of racial discourse—its “polyvalent mobility”—accounts for its longstanding power. This article is staged on four episodes since World War II, narratives that trace ruptures and recuperations of racial discourse in Alaska through its geographies of state formation. The stories follow the entanglement of two binary structures used to categorize and govern Alaska's population: formations of “race” (Native/white particularly) and frameworks of space (rural/urban) that are often understood to be a code for “race.” The first and third episodes sketch transformations of a language of equality for Alaska Natives in the 1940s into a conservative discourse in the 1980s that contested a rural subsistence priority. The second situates a reinscription of racial discourse in a progressive project of state formation and the social divisions deployed to represent Alaska in 1956. The episode challenges an equation of progressive Alaskan politics with nonracism. Public comments following the fourth, a discriminatory paintball attack in 2001, neatly illustrate the slipperiness of racial discourse. This polyvalent mobility has made racism a shifty target for critique and, at the same time, accounts for some of the paradoxical power of racial discourse in contemporary Alaska.

Keywords: Alaska; indigenous; racial discourse; rural; state formation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Geography Discipline, The Open University

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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