Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel

First Committee Member

Kang, Jiyeon

Second Committee Member

Fixmer-Oraiz, Natalie

Third Committee Member

Whaley, Deborah Elizabeth

Fourth Committee Member

Havens, Timothy


In this dissertation, I conceptualize common sense racism as the material basis for the unconscious rhetorical processes that shape and normalize unsympathetic and uncritical public responses to racialized violence against black communities, and which thereby perpetuate racial structures of power and foment white innocence and indifference. This form of common sense is comprised of a set of deeply embedded logics and rationalities—fragmented forms of prepropositional knowledge—that have evolved over time through the shapeshifting ideologies of white supremacy and anti-blackness to partly determine how civil society understands and interprets ongoing legacies of violence. Rather than just thinking of common sense in how we discuss it in everyday talk, I conceptualize and critique it with regard to how it animates and informs some of the fundamental cultural constructs, such as language, time, and humanity, that "we" as a nation rely upon to orient ourselves to and make sense of the world around us. Through these frameworks, common sense racism structures rhetorically how civil society's institutions make meaning in moments of racial crisis, tension, and transformation, and how its dominant publics relate to ongoing histories of racial oppression and abuse, or rather, how they do not relate to them at all. Through three case studies, a theoretical chapter, and an introduction and conclusion, I offer a critical vocabulary for understanding the nation's inability to confront racialized violence while considering the means by which these systems of meaning-making can be disrupted by black vernacular rhetorical practices.


Critical/Cultural Studies, Critical Race Theory, Public Memory, Racism, Vernacular Rhetoric, Whiteness


xi, 278 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 256-278).


Copyright © 2018 Matthew Houdek