Laughing White Men

Timothy J. Lensmire


The complex social production of white racial identity is the focus of this article.  Drawing from a larger interview study conducted in a rural white community in the Midwest, I explore how Frank, a high school teacher, experienced being white.  I pay particular attention to Frank's descriptions of two white spaces in which he said he participated:  one that he called a "basement culture," characterized by laughter and racist and sexist humor, and another that he described as more formal and "politically-correct."  Ralph Ellison thought that white racial identity was created in various scapegoating rituals, such as lynching and racist humor.  With Ellison's help, I interpret a long comic story that Frank told about selling his van to Mexican immigrants, in which Frank was the butt of the joke, as an example of a scapegoating ritual that just might be compatible with a democratic project.

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