Demanding respect: The uses of reported speech in discursive constructions of interracial contact

Richard Buttny, Princess L. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


This investigation examines discursive uses of respect in talking about interracial contact. In discussing the documentary, Racism 101, the most frequently quoted portion by African-American and Latino participants was a segment on demanding respect from Whites. Our first study analyzes such discourse - reported speech - for what is made relevant from the original documentary segment. The participants' reported speech conveys little of the exact wording of the original, but does capture its spirit through using similar structural features: the repetition of 'respect', a contrast between respect and liking, and addressing this to Whites. These uses of reported speech are participants' way of performing the power of another's words, in the sense of being able to articulate a compelling discursive position on an interracial problematic. Our second study employs focus-group interviews to further explore the meanings of respect for African-Americans. We examine narratives of disrespect during interracial contact in public places, such as during service encounters in stores. Participants' narratives told of being disrespected by being overly monitored, not receiving service, or being treated in a derogatory fashion, in short, the perception of being treated differently than Whites. Reported speech was used in these narratives to construct the White service worker's actions, how the narrator responded, what could have happened, or what in-group members say as an aggregate. Reported speech allows narrators to articulate the subtext to what is being said. Also, the evaluation of these incidents told of the emotional costs of being the recipient of disrespect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-132
Number of pages24
JournalDiscourse and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2000


  • Discursive constructions
  • Interracial contact
  • Reported speech
  • Respect
  • Talking race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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