Negotiating race in post-apartheid South Africa: Bernadette’s stories
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Contemporary scholarship on race investigates how racism is deeply embedded in everyday norms and practices in ways which subtly, even unwittingly, serve to reproduce white domination. In South Africa, like many other postcolonial societies, racial constructs continue to be particularly salient. This paper focuses on how a young South African, Bernadette, navigates the complex terrain of racial positioning in a focus group interview with her peers. Drawing primarily on Labov’s seminal work on narrative, as well as more recent interactional approaches, it investigates how Bernadette uses the reported speech of others in her stories as a key narrative strategy for racial positioning. The analytical findings suggest that despite her efforts to distance herself from what she perceives as racist talk, she slips into a racializing discourse which is much less overt than that which she rejects, and which has the effect of reassembling the apartheid hierarchy as an explanatory framework. This paper argues that a narrative lens enables the researcher to begin uncovering the multilayered complexities of racial positioning and the subtle ways in which racial discourses circulate in contemporary talk.