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Threatening Whiteness: “Angry Russell” and the Rhetoricity of Race

Pages 152-166
Published online: 05 Apr 2021


Using racial rhetorical criticism, we apply and extend Flores’s theory of racial recognition to United States news and sports media usages of “Angry Russell” as a name for National Basketball Association (NBA) star Russell Westbrook. Focusing on media coverage of an 11 March 2019 incident in which a Utah Jazz fan allegedly yelled racist and homophobic taunts at Westbrook during an Oklahoma City Thunder game against the Utah Jazz, we map how the mediated attention to Westbrook’s “anger” and so-called threatening behavior is a form of spatiotemporal collapse that situates Black male bodies as menacing and violent sites of subordination to whiteness. We then interrogate how player statuses and the intimacy of NBA arenas themselves, like Vivint Smart Home Arena, operate as sites of spatiotemporal excess by signaling a recognition of race as unable to be contained within the racial categories established by whiteness.


The authors would like to thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback that helped to improve this manuscript.

A prior version of this paper was presented by the first author at the 105th annual meeting of the National Communication Association, Baltimore, MD in 2019.


1 When writing about individuals who identify as Black or who occupy Black positionality, we have chosen to use the label “Black,” a name that individuals who occupy Black positionality have claimed for themselves throughout history. Rather than using the label “African American,” this term does not assume that all individuals who identify as Black have African heritage or ethnicity. We only use the term “African American” when citing information from the TIDES report, which uses this specific label. We also reference people who identify as Black as people who “occupy Black positionality” or a variation of this phrase. As the Modern Language Association (MLA) requires, we capitalize “Black” to identify it as a racial identity and to call attention to its significance. We only use “black” when providing a direct quote from an author, see CitationCramer, “Cam Newton” and CitationCollins.

2 We refer to people as those who “occupy White positionality” and “occupy whiteness” or a variation of these terms to indicate that they occupy the cultural location of whiteness and benefit from its space. As the MLA requires, we capitalize “White” but not “whiteness” to identify “White” as a racial identity and to call attention to its significance. We only write “white” when providing a direct quote from an author; see CitationCramer, “Cam Newton” and CitationNakayama and Krizek.

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