Color Blind: Political Realism, Epistemic Racism, And Rhetorical Salience

Robert Hariman, Francis A. Beer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The rhetoric of any academic discipline can involve epistemic distortions and blind spots, including a tendency to obscure systemic racism. The doctrine of political realism from the discipline of International Relations is an influential example. Realism relies on several rhetorical devices, including a structural distinction between rhetoric and reality, a modality of abstraction, and the trope of anarchy/hierarchy. These provide both a compelling theoretical framework and a discursive program that obscures race and racism. Realist discourse operates further through several dimensions of rhetorical salience that are modulated by changes in context. Foreground, background, ambient, and ontic salience provide multiple registers for inscribing realism. Realism's lack of reflexivity in disciplinary, governmental, and public arenas adds to its power and its defects. Exposing the rhetorical constitution of realism and its architecture of non-knowing raises challenges not only for realism but also for rhetoric. These include avoiding the inscription of realism and racism within rhetorical inquiry and avoiding epistemic hubris in the self-definition of rhetoric as a discipline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-34
Number of pages34
JournalRhetoric and Public Affairs
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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