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Apes and anticitizens: simianization and U.S. national identity discourse

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Within the literature on public opinion, the mainstream framework is that in-group and out-group attitudes are distinct phenomena, especially with regard to racial attitudes. Elsewhere, in the literature on race and nationalism, scholars have concluded that the United States subscribes to cultural, color-blind racism, that has predominantly replaced biological racism. To explain the context in which white supremacy is again a viable political force in American politics, this paper argues that notions of biological racism that predate the Civil Rights Movement remain potent and continue to underlie cultural racism, and that that these out-group attitudes are not independent of in-group attitudes. This paper focuses on a form of dehumanization-simianization, or the depiction of racial groups (in this case African-Americans) as apes, tracing its origins in Enlightenment-era scientific racism, its historical role in shaping U.S. race and class relations, and as its role in defining American citizenship as hierarchical. Moreover, this paper presents evidence of simianization in contemporary political discourse surrounding African-Americans in the United States. The paper seeks to synthesize the literature on public opinion and that on race and nationalism in order to shed new theoretical light on our thinking about the relationship between in-group and out-group attitude formation.
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Keywords: Simianization; U.S; dehumanization; national identity; race

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, Northeastern University, Boston, USA

Publication date: January 2, 2020

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