Populist and Anti-Populist Discourse Concerning African-Americans. A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Central Park Five Case

Philip P. Limerick


While much work has been done on discourse and populism in Europe concerning various minority groups, little is understood about how populist ideologies are manifested through discourse in current US political and media discourses concerning African-Americans. Using the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis, the present study seeks to uncover such discursive patterns. Based on Wodak’s (2015) conception of populism as tied to fear, scapegoating, and ‘othering,’ the current paper aims to address populist discourse in US (social) media. A collection of diverse online media is employed (news articles, YouTube videos) to analyze the populist discourse of Donald Trump, his supporters, and his anti-populist opponents. Particular attention is paid to (anti) racist discourse concerning African-Americans, primarily the case of the Central Park Five. Specifically, the discursive strategies in these types of discourses are examined in order to explain how populism is structured and manifested in discourse, affording the unique opportunity to further understand the unfolding of populist text and talk in its recent and ongoing stages. Findings indicate that the most prominent discursive strategies that characterize these media, and that manifest populist attitudes are despective lexical choice, legitimation, evasion, and exclusionary rhetoric. This qualitative analysis reveals the subtle ways in which African-Americans are discriminated against through language use and sheds light on (anti) populist ideologies in US media. Additionally, this work tries to fill a gap in exploring resistance discourse (i.e. anti-populist), an understudied area in the critical discourse studies literature.


Populism; Critical Discourse Studies; African-Americans; Central Park Five; Donald Trump

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13136/2281-4582/2020.i15.701


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