Racism and discourse in Spain and Latin America

Racism and discourse in Spain and Latin America. By Teun A. van Dijk. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2005. Pp. 197. ISBN 9027227047. $126.

Reviewed by Sara McElmurry, Northeastern Illinois University

In an age when being politically correct is politically correct, Teun A. van Dijk’s Racism and discourse in Spain and Latin America examines the racist undertones that still readily permeate elite discourse in Spain and several Latin American nations. D synthesizes examples from a variety of sources—including the press, political commentary, popular culture, education, and everyday conversation—to explore racist ‘us’ versus ‘them’ themes stemming from both generations-old historical structures and recent immigration trends in Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. D also draws from examples of racist discourse in Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Peru.

In Ch 1, ‘Racism and discourse’ (1–12), D opens with a reflection on racism, recognizing that although racism may present itself in discourse, its manifestations—including discrimination, marginalization, violence, and exclusion—extend far beyond the scope of discourse or language. Furthermore, D argues that discourse is often to blame for the reproduction of racism: ‘we all learn to be racist (or antiracist) through children’s literature, movies, TV programs, textbooks, conversations with friends, news reports and opinion articles, and so on’ (9).

D maintains that racism in its varying forms stems from polarized beliefs about ingroups (‘us’) and outgroups (‘them’). In Spain, as outlined in Ch. 2, ‘Elite discourse and racism in Spain’ (13–82), ‘us’ is a group of elite whites, while ‘them’ has traditionally included a Muslim, Arab, and Romaní (gitano) minority group. More recently, ‘them’ also includes new groups of immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Racism is particularly highlighted in regions such as Catalonia and Andalusia, where immigration is considered a threat to autonomous identity, language, and culture.

In Ch. 2, D presents an analysis of discourse taken from the Spanish mass media, politicians, employers, academia, and the Catholic Church and concludes that while most discourse may not be blatantly racist, racism exists in most domains of society, especially toward new immigrant groups. Discourse surrounding immigration focuses on illegal immigration (rather than ‘regular’ immigration), crime, stereotypes, and cultural differences.

In Ch. 3, ‘Elite discourse and racism in Latin America’ (83–163), D reveals that the same racist trends hold true in Latin America, but the target of the racism in these countries is not new immigrants (with the exception of Koreans in Argentina). Rather, analysis of discourse from a variety of sources reveals underlying racist statements toward various indigenous groups, along with blacks in Brazil. Indigenous and black sources are rarely cited in newspapers; these groups are often associated with crime and are readily portrayed as victims in media coverage and in popular culture. In many Latin American countries, race is intertwined with class, with the latter often used by elites to justify inequalities in their countries.

While D holds politicians, the media, and academia responsible for eliminating racism in Spanish and Latin American society, he also calls for more research in the areas of discursive racism and ethnic relations. According to D, only a combined effort can effectively combat racism across the globe.