Communication Studies graduate student Brett Farmer has received a nationally competitive graduate scholarship to present his research at this 17th Alta Conference on Argumentation, July 28-31 in picturesque Alta, Utah. The Alta Conference is a highly competitive, bi-annual conference that has been the testing ground for some of the most innovative scholarship in rhetorical studies.
Brett is finishing his first year at UNT. He is a teaching assistant for COMM 2140 (Rhetoric and Argument) and for the department's nationally competitive policy debate team. Brett's paper, "(De)Coding Race: Right Wing Conspiracy Theory as Racial Coding," stems from a larger project on racism and contemporary conservative populism on which he has been working under the direction of his advisor, Dr. Darrel Enck-Wanzer.
Brett's paper, "(De)Coding Race: Right Wing Conspiracy Theory as Racial Coding," considers the use of conspiracy theory to enable a discussion of race, without actually discussing race. The paradigmatic example is the Birther conspiracy movement that claimed that President Obama was actually a foreign citizen. By framing President Obama as a foreign Other, the Birthers created an entire set of definitions that are used to discuss President Obama. Framing Obama as a non-US citizen has established a public discourse about the President that not only calls into question his "American" values, but also centers the question of his racial heritage. The terms created by the Birther conspiracy have enabled discussions of Obama as a dangerous dark Muslim, a socialist conspirator, and as a racial other. All of this is accomplished through a discussion of the President's legal status, as opposed to his non-whiteness. These codes mark race as part of a subterfuge system that ensures dominant interests are not disadvantaged by the "freedom" afforded to them by the neoliberal free market. In the instance of the Birther movement this code has been adopted by the refusal of the majority of Republicans to actively state that the birth certificate issue is false. Rather, these politicians tend to discuss the issue in an amorphous manner that neither place Obama as a non-citizen nor alienate the Tea Party. This refusal to relinquish conspiratorial discourse is demonstrative of the power of neoliberal racial codes.