Deconstructing Mock Spanish: A Multidisciplinary Analysis of Mock Spanish as Racism, Humor, or Insult

Breidenbach, Carla Maria

College of Charleston, United States of America


Racism is “a belief in, or set of implicit assumptions about, the superiority of one's own race or ethnic group, often accompanied by prejudice against members of an ethnic group different from one's own.” Many social scientists believe that today, even though overt forms of racism are falling by the wayside, racism still exists as “an unconscious attitude in many individuals and societies, based on a stereotype or preconceived idea about different ethnic groups, which is damaging to individuals (both perpetrators and victims) and to society as a whole” . This paper examines the macrostructure of racism as it relates to a specific manifestation of covert racism in the United States: Mock Spanish (e.g.el cheapo) (Hill (1995a, 1995b, 1999, 2001a, 2001b).

This works analyzes Mock Spanish from a multidisciplinary perspective to examine whether Mock Spanish is racist in all contexts or are there contexts in which Mock Spanish might have a different interpretation such as humorous or insulting, and what makes Mock Spanish racist. These questions inform the research and analyses presented in this dissertation in order to gain insight into the culture that permits such Mock Spanish to be used without hesitation.

Based on my previous research (Breidenbach 2002, unpublished study), I argue that there are four important factors that contribute to a more complete understanding of the interpretation of Mock Spanish as a form of covert racism: 1) the ability and willingness to consciously acknowledge the past and present socio-historical context of the Hispanic American experience, 2) the relationship between participants involved in the Mock Spanish exchanges or discourses, 3) the ideological frameworks hidden behind the utterance, and 4) the intentionality of the source.

The multidisciplinary approaches and analyses of racism as a macrostructure offer insights and explanations into how people arrive at conclusions about Mock Spanish as a form of covert racism. In contrast to Hill’s analysis, drawing on the work of Foucault, Hall, Bakhtin, and Fenigsen, I demonstrate that the racism of Mock Spanish is “floating” (Hall 1997), always open to interpretation, but can be specifically identified as racist in instances when framed within “broader structural relations of inequality” (Fenigsen) such as hegemonic power struggles or the ‘strategic altering’ of the ‘Other’ (Kingsolver 2001) occur. My position is supported by approaches that allow that racism and meaning are not fixed but can be “frozen” by broader structures such as power, knowledge, and ideologies (Hall 1997, Foucault). This idea is exemplified by van Dijk’s (2005) definition of racism whereby racism is “the social system of domination of one group over other groups where the Others are defined as being ‘different’ from ‘us’ and that mainstream racist ideologies today are framed in terms of cultural differences, or in terms of priorities. ‘We’ have priority in the country, city or company, because we were ‘first’ and this is ‘our’ country”. (Van Dijk 2-7) As van Dijk suggests, this is why racism often also has a nationalist dimension (e.g., the Minutemen protecting the borders in the name of legal American citizens).

Session: Paper session
Youth Language 5 / Film-TV
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 17