The Stactive Style: Whiteness and the Rhetoric of History
Abstract: As rhetoricians combine antiracist and postmodern discourses to compose a hybrid critical discourse on whiteness, they fail to consider the contradictory attitudes toward historical knowledge embodied by the two original discourses. Repressed from the hybrid discourse’s content, the contradictory attitudes nonetheless surface in its style. On one hand, the hybrid discourse’s style is characterized by active sentences that strive to represent historical dynamics, following the antiracist imperative to ameliorate historical amnesia. On the other, the hybrid discourse’s style is characterized by abstractions and vague actions, which reflect postmodernist skepticism of historical knowledge. Abstract nouns replace specific agents and social groups, while weak verbs gesture toward unspecified practices and processes. These stylistic elements constitute “stactive” sentences that substitute a feeling of historicity for concrete historical dynamics. Uncritical immersion in the stactive style can limit the field’s and the public’s ability to develop a much-needed historically rich discourse on whiteness.