Ruptures and recuperations of a language of racism in Alaska's rural/urban divide

Kurtz, Matthew (2006). Ruptures and recuperations of a language of racism in Alaska's rural/urban divide. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 96(3) pp. 601–621.



A number of scholars note that racism transforms its shape and character at different times and places: ideas of "race" and concepts of racism have been subject to change. I extend the work of one such scholar, Ann Stoler, who further argues that slipperiness in racial discourse – its “polyvalent mobility” – accounts for its longstanding power. The article is staged upon four episodes since World War II, narratives that trace ruptures and recuperations of racial discourse in Alaska through the geographies of state formation. The stories follow the entanglement of two structures used to categorize and govern Alaska’s populations: formations of “race” (particularly, indigenous / white) and the frameworks of space (rural / urban). The first and third episodes sketch the transformation of a language of “equality” for Alaska Natives in the 1940s into a conservative discourse of “reverse racism” about rural Alaska and subsistence harvest policies in the 1980s. The other episodes disrupt this narrative from a straightforward history of appropriation and challenge the equation of liberal Alaskan politics with anti-racism. One situates a subtle re-inscription of racial discourse in the progressive project of state formation and the social divisions that were deployed to represent “Alaska” in 1956. Public comments following the other – 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 modern Alaska.

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