Political blackface: Dave Wilson’s 2013 campaign and the rhetoric of identity

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University of Alabama Libraries

In 2013, Houston native Dave Wilson enlisted his campaign for a position on the Houston community College Board of Trustees for Houston’s second district. Following Wilson’s win over incumbent, Bruce Austin, public and media outrage over Wilson’s alleged political blackface ensued. Wilson, a white man, managed to convince voters in Houston’s second district that he was black without appearing on or using his voice in any of his campaign materials. Wilson used a series of mailers along with two radio ads in his campaign that, the public alleges, serve as an indictment of Wilson’s racially deceptive tactics. In this thesis, I examine Wilson’s campaign materials using a critical rhetorical approach as well as Burke’s Theory of Identification to underscore Wilson’s creation of a nonphysical racial identity. I conclude Wilson’s nonphysical identity flourished through the use of communally recognized markers and ideology associated with black identity in his community. Finally, I offer implications in the broader context of politics and identity established by Wilson’s campaign.

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Rhetoric, Political science, Communication