Culturalizing politics, hyper-politicizing ‘culture’: ‘White’ vs. ‘Black Turks’ and the making of authoritarian populism in Turkey



This paper focuses on the uses and abuses of two terms, ‘White’ and ‘Black Turk’, which have been significant in the ways modern Turkish society and national identity have been defined and contested in recent decades. Initially emerging in social analysis in the 1990s, ‘White Turk’ was a metaphor for and critique of the class culture, subjectivity and worldviews of the ‘new middle classes’ in a period of rapid integration to neoliberalism and globalized capitalism. Over time, both White and Black Turks have come to be used as part of a politics of identity and a politics of authenticity to characterize who are seen as the ‘authentic self’ and inauthentic others of national identity and to assert different visions for the future of Turkish society. White Turk has been adopted as an identity by outspoken members of the media and business elite, whereas its binary opposite, Black Turk, has been appropriated by Islamist politicians of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) as a metaphor to characterize the marginalization and purported oppression of their conservative Muslim constituency. As White and Black Turks were adopted as self-proclaimed identities, they provided a basis for a culturalist depiction of Turkish society, contributing over time to an increasingly divisive politics. Even though the AKP initially used the reference to White and Black Turks to appeal to specific demands for inclusion, as it increased its grip on power, it also (hyper)politicized the terms to articulate nativist claims to authenticity. In recent years, this nativist populism has been used to justify increasing authoritarianism and to delegitimize belonging and political participation of those deemed inauthentic others of the body politics.


‘White Turks’ ‘Black Turks’ Culturalism Culturalization of politics Authoritarian populism 


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Conflict of interest

There is no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and Public AdministrationRyerson UniversityTorontoCanada

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