Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
At the Stark County Fair in Northeast Ohio, symbols of racial hierarchy, including the Confederate flag, are potent elements of the fair's atmosphere. They adorn jackets, 4-H displays, and amusements. These symbols, in their ubiquity, denote what Trent Watts has described as a white supremacist fantasy space. And yet despite their ubiquity, these symbols are rendered distinctly inaudible. They cannot be discussed aloud or explicitly; an environment of silence around race is normatively enforced. To breach this norm in conversation is to invite a defensiveness that reveals its tenacity.
This paper presents an ethnography of a rural county fair in order to comment theoretically on sound not as an acoustical materiality, but in the state of its being absented in everyday political engagements. Thinking with the anthropology of refusal (Audra Simpson), this paper considers how sound might be understood in contexts where audition is denied--where not-listening reigns. Finally, I consider the labor of activists who have recently tried to ban the sale of Confederate flag merchandise]. The pressure these activists have exerted (for example, by setting up a Black Lives Matter information booth at different county fairs) in order to transform environments of racial privilege from sedimented silence into open, critical debate has had important consequences. I discuss the implications of this scenario for how the anthropology of sound might come to think about sound atmospherically where it is primarily not heard, but refused.