- Odd Tribes : Toward a Cultural Analysis of White People
- About the author
- Full text of "Odd Tribes"
- Odd Tribes
Skip to content Skip to search. Published Durham : Duke University Press, Language English View all editions Prev Next edition 2 of 2. Physical Description p. Subjects Poor. Poverty -- Social aspects. Race relations. Social history. Whites -- Economic conditions. Whites in popular culture. Whites -- Race identity. Whites -- Social conditions.
Odd Tribes : Toward a Cultural Analysis of White People
Working class whites. Poor -- United States. Poverty -- Social aspects -- United States. Rednecks -- United States. Whites in popular culture -- United States. Whites -- Race identity -- United States. Whites -- United States -- Economic conditions. An elegant, fresh, provocative, often surprising, and ultimately hopeful work that argues forcefully for a cultural perspective on racial matters. Table of contents Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 Part I 1. Establishing the Fact of Whiteness 8. Locating White Detroit 9. Review quote "[A]n important and critical engagement with what is sometimes called 'whiteness studies.
Using his research in Detroit, Hartigan convincingly traces the varied and varying way in which race is lived in a context that is highly racialized, and yet not all social encounters are necessarily about race. Odd Tribes deftly develops this approach through a series of lively accounts of how lower-class whites have been racialized in ways that simultaneously normalize whiteness. Its difficult lessons-for both liberal academics and antiracist practitioners-need to be absorbed and understood.
About Jr. John Hartigan John Hartigan Jr. Rating details. Book ratings by Goodreads. This raises the eerie possibility that the source of this monster is some repressed, lethal libido, suggesting that Helen has committed these crimes. The sharp contrast in this narrative from the earlier two is that the Id and the Ego have become accepted explanations for such muddled acts of violence.
Hyde has become real. The constitutively repressed inner Self is located in the inner city, as well as within the middle-class subject. Thus, the monstrosity of Candyman is of a larger order than a simple emergence of a repressed Self, one that is legible in the material and symbolic dimensions of the city. Helen is held responsible for unaccountable black deaths and acts of inner-city violence, but the monster she is grappling with materializes a different order of responsibility.
Candyman finally links her to the original act of racial violence that has been unfolding in the Cabrini-Green housing project. She finds a depiction of the murder; the white woman at the scene resembles her. But these are elusive realizations, more tangible in the mythic dimension of pictures than in the objectivist realm of rational assessments of the significance of racial differences. We shall die together in front of their very eyes and give them something to be haunted by. She kills Candyman but exchanges her life for that of the child, gaining the promised immortality by achieving her own form of haunting monstrosity.
How do we assess the way their symbolic and overdetermined dimensions shape studies of the poor?
Then, how do we represent these relations to students and a wider audience? Perhaps because, as Booth suggested, more humanistic accounts of the poor do not significantly challenge the predispositions of middle-class viewers who consume such imagery. Even the most sober and stolid contemporary work of social science is inflected by the dynamics of desire and loathing, fear and fascination depicted through these tales and images of monsters.
About the author
Instead, I use these tales to suggest ways to think more imaginatively about the fusion of racial and classed forms of inequality, particularly how they are produced and maintained in multiple, visceral, overlapping registers simultaneously. We bear responsibility for them and an intimate connection to their creation. This relation is not easily grasped and it is almost entirely overwhelmed by the imagery and reporting generated on life in the inner city.
The monsters reviewed here arise and are created out of the effort to keep class and racial realms distinct 56 CHAPTER I and to align these spheres with opposed moral orders. But in their horrible visitations they also hold out the promise or offer contorted glimpses of ways to cross and recross these culturally constructed boundaries, of ways to destabilize the rigorous insistence that class orders represent contrasting moral dispositions Haraway ; Gordon ; Brogan Grasping this potential requires imaginative effort, applied to and in conjunction with empirical modes of socially analyzing and representing urban poverty.
Current interest in the problem of whiteness increasingly focuses on how such cultural judgments about belonging are made in relation to this racial construct. The basis for answering such questions, though, begins with the recognition that whiteness is not simply a racial identity and that race is not an absolute social condition. Tracing the emergence of white trash in the United States in its gradual shift from a regional folk epithet to a nationally recognized stereotype opens a vista onto these complex and muddled dimensions of whiteness.
White trash induces an intense self-anxiety in relation to explicit forms of white racial consciousness expressed toward the end of this era with the rise of the eugenics movement. Rather, uses of this epithet are read here as recording important cultural dynamics shaping class, gender, and racial identities in the United States. With class, it highlights bodily and rhetorical aspects of class identities that are typically overlooked in sociological and economic analyses of class.
This speculative history examines popular writings from two eras. In this narrative '-ofith'e emergence and development of nationally circulated representations of white trash in the United States, it becomes apparent that notions of projected images of otherness are insufficient to the task of explaining how racial and class identities are formulated and experienced.
Works published in offer several examples of usage of this charged epithet. The image of white trash also raised a host of unsettling anxieties about the stability and content of racial identities. The volatility of the term combined with the fluid contours of the population to which it was applied, along with the anxiety and concern their image generated, resulted in a highly unstable labeling practice.
Northern writers were initially hesitant about using the term white trash, preferring labels such as mean white or poor white. Mean, too, was a word revived in the U. Certainly, there was poverty throughout the New England and midwestern states, but this condition was surprisingly easily racialized 62 CHAPTER 2 as a function of immigration and ethnic groups crowding into East Coast cities Ward While Weston wrote to awaken northerners to this potential, others wrote directly addressing this unfixed population.
For these abolitionists, the key feature of this troubled collective was its whiteness and the bonds of racial solidarity so entailed. These social observers each struggled to fix a clear image of a group whose size and defining feature were fluid and open to debate. The core features of this group were still in flux and the moral charge attributed to their condition was uncertain but profoundly inflected by whether anxiety or sympathy animated the particular observer see chapter x.
Notably, Cairnes overlays an interpretive frame of otherness on the visage of white trash, making a more ominous figure emerge. Cairnes speaks of. Brothers intermarry with sisters, fathers cohabit with daughters, and husbands sell, or barter away, their wives, as freely as they would their hounds, or as the planter would his slaves. This representational tactic remains a basic starting point for characterizing white trash.
Cairnes and Gilmore agreed on one point that amounts to a consensus view among all these writers: that white trash was a uniquely southern phenomenon and a byproduct of slavery. The relation of poor whites to slavery degraded their very constitutions. Those designated white trash are defined here as fundamentally lacking crucial moral characteristics i. The fundamental basis for objectifications of this group arose from this moral categorization of those who will and will not work. But this distinction was unstable and perhaps unsustainable. As these writers strove to objectify this unique social collective, they tried to establish the boundaries between white trash and other class and racial identities.
The instability of this boundary derives from the lack of fixed, distinguishing criteria and the intense concerns generated by the need to keep whiteness and blackness distinct. Thus, depictions of poor whites are continually inflected by the anxieties and disgust that white trash provokes. As much as he invested this group with hope and valor, he also was anxious about the unnerving prospect that those people would leave the slave states and move north.
Whether the image of white trash invoked sympathy or anxiety depended on how this collective was used to figure the terrain of racial and class identity. The whites of the South are nearly all of the Revolutionary stock. They are a fine, manly race. Their valor, attested upon a hundred battle-fields, shone unvarnished and still resplendent in the last conflict of the Republic.
I feel for that unhappy people all the ties of kith and kin. God forbid that any avenue should be closed by which they may escape out of the horrible pit of their bondage. The multivalent moral charges to this figure and the distinct futures with which it was associated is rendered more sharply by contrasting these depictions to that of southern planters who disassociated themselves from the racial predicament presented by white trash Genovese and But he also wrote to discredit the idea that white trash was an outgrowth of slavery, thus dismissing the racial relevance of this people.
Stressing the classed aspect of their identity, he also disputed their unique connection to the South. And what ensured the consistency of this collective through the many decades since their emigration? Where northerners perceived a people debased by an economic institution and a social system, southern aristocrats insisted instead that those people were simply born that way. Hundley also challenged the association of white trash with the South and slavery by pointing to similarly degenerate whites in the North.
In sharp retort to northern accounts of white trash that assigned this collective strictly to the South, Hundley i, stated: 70 CHAPTER 2 To form any proper conception of the condition of the Poor White Trash, one should see them as they are. We do not remember ever to have seen in the New England States a similar case; though, if what a citizen of Maine has told us to be true, in portions of that State the Poor Whites are to be found in large number.
In the State of New York, however, in the rural districts, we will venture to assert that more of this class of paupers are to be met with than you will find in any single Southern state. They are also found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and all the States of the North-West, though in most of these last they came originally from the South. Even their motions are slow, and their speech is a sickening drawl. All they seem to care for is, to live from hand to mouth; to get drunk, provided they can do so without having to trudge too far after their liquor.
The point to underscore here is that this composite perception of the collective identity of white trash as physically and behaviorally distinctive is articulated in class terms, specifically over and against an attention to racial commonality or solidarity. Class is as viscerally perceived and experienced as profoundly Other as are projections of racial difference. The new ground for making sense of white trash was keyed instead to the dramatic economic changes that transformed the United States between the s and the s. Following the Civil War, the term white trash entered common parlance in the Midwest, perhaps in conjunction with the southern white migratory populations first discerned by Weston, appearing in literature set in the states of Illinois and Missouri.
That I was purer blooded than the white trash here? Sherwood Anderson also dramatized the appearance and influence of white trash in midwestern life. The distance between degraded white trash and redeemable poor white is underscored by the southern origin of his family and his sojourn eastward to the rapidly industrializing cities of Ohio: In the South their fathers, having no money to buy slaves and being unwilling to compete with slave labor, had tried to live without labor.
The food was meager and of an enervating sameness and their bodies degenerate. Children grew up long and gaunt and yellow like badly nourished plants. The more energetic among them, sensing dimly the unfairness of their position in life, became vicious and dangerous. Grant was disturbed by the way poor whites had spread across the United States and sought to explain their enduring presence in the burgeoning republic.
Thence they passed both up the Missouri River and down the Santa Fe Trail, and contributed rather more than their share of train robbers, horse thieves, and bad men of the West. The most shiftless and least intelligent of them tended to collect in the least valuable lands at the fringe of civilization, or to drift along to other similar settlements farther west and south. Largely of pure Nordic stock, they are a striking example of isolation and undesirable selection.
But this gesture was hardly adequate to the task of accounting for the presence of poor whites in the many places they were now being recognized in the North, particularly in the older, eastern states pointed to by Hundley. In so doing, Grant reframed the racial significance of white trash in the post-Emancipation era, recasting it in relation to intensifying debates and concerns over sexuality, citizenship, and the color line see Bederman ; Hale ; Jacobson As Grant noted: No doubt bad food and economic conditions, prolonged inbreeding, and the loss through emigration of the best elements have played a large part in the degeneration of these poor whites.
But the interpretive repertoires by which their significance was assessed exceeded the set of concerns linked to slavery that initially made white trash interesting to northerners. The uses of poor whites by the eugenics movement featured more complex assessments of what counted as racial and class boundaries. The eugenical threat posed by such degenerated whites reflects an era of radically altered racial dynamics see Gerstel ; Carlson The source of the threat is depicted as arising from the allegedly purest of Anglo-Saxon strains, rather than through transgression of the color line.
Larson ; Wray Through this set of terms, new forms of etiquette for policing the boundaries of white racial identity in relation primarily to class concerns become manifest. The eugenical depiction of threats to the race posed by the breeding habits of poor whites brought into play a far more unnerving focus on the need for middle-class whites to engage in racial self-interrogation.
One form of this bunking has been described to me. During the winter the inmates lie on the floor strewn with straw or rushes like so many radii to the hearth, the embers of the fire forming a centre towards which their feet focus for warmth. This proximity, where not producing illicit relations, must often have evolved an atmosphere of suggestiveness fatal to habits of chastity. That would entail, first, confirmation of this kind through subsequent family studies and then theoretical elaboration through the explanatory efforts of eugenicists in the next century.
Yet, well before families like the Jukes were invoked to support the racial interests enshrined in eugenical ideals and legislation, middle-class whites found them fascinating for representing a world of class otherness.
Full text of "Odd Tribes"
Sexuality is the molten core that generates his fixation on the Jukes. This class and sexual condition, Dugdale asserts, reflects a deeper set of predispositions than even those associated with race. The long life of the book and its central imagery of poor, degraded whites evolved in two distinct stages, which reflect a basic shift in interpreting this family, first as a form of class otherness and then as a disturbing mirror of racial sameness. Dugdale has been the text of a multitude of sermons, the theme of numberless addresses, the inspiration of no end of editorials and essays.
For twenty years there was a call for a companion picture. Whatever weakness the Jukes represent finds its antidote in the Edwards family, which has cost the country nothing in pauperism, in crime, in hospitals or asylum service. This is a subtle but significant shift from the set of concerns and anxieties related to the image and logic of Otherness that Dugdale mobilized and honed in the s. Such imaginative scenes mirror the descriptive accounts of white trash in the pre-Civil War era, and the family studies offered many opportunities to tap into the white trash migration narrative.
They are generally diseased. Their children die young. They live by petty stealing, begging, ash-gathering. We hear of them in Illinois about Decatur, and in Ohio about Columbus. In the fall they return. Each of the representational elements delineated by Rafter contributed to depictions of poor whites that fit a tight frame of class otherness. He was possibly of French origin, but migrated more directly from the western hill region. The progeny of these two men, old Neil Rasp, and the Englishman, Nuke, have shifted through the town and beyond it.
Despite the uncertain lines of origins, the racial contours are quite clear and obviously white. BLOOD WILL TELL 85 Given that the eugenics movement is so often characterized as primarily animated by concerns over immigration and miscegenation, it is striking that the objects that formed the centerpiece of their field research efforts were so consistently delineated as American and white.
Kite goes to great length exactly to characterize the degenerate condition of poor whites in the Pines in explicit and unfavorable contrast to local immigrant families. The emphasis on Anglo-Saxon origins of these troubling white families is sharpest in relation to the family that was even more widely cited than the Jukes in the s and s.
Then a scion of this family, in an unguarded moment, steps aside from the paths of rectitude and with the help of a feeble-minded girl, starts a line of mental defectives that is truly appalling. Lippincott Co. They are multiplying at twice the rate of the general population, and not until we recognize this fact, and work on this basis, will we begin to solve these social problems.
This point, one that provoked a distinctive sense of self-anxiety among many readers, was stressed as accounts of these poor white families were widely broadcast in the early s. The images were clearly riveting, but they did not speak for themselves, nor did they immediately impact whites broadly. The answer lies in the 88 CHAPTER 2 centrality of concerns over self-constitution and self-control, which is at the basis of both the cultural work of etiquette and the concerns addressed by the eugenics movement in this era. Scenes of class conflict and unruly mass movements took on new significance for anxious middle-class whites as eugenicists spun horrific depictions of the threats posed by crime, disease, and spreading slums.
Smith ; Ryan The eugenics movement fused a set of technical terms with the images of these poor white families; as well, popularizers articulated a range of means by which this eugenical perspective could be applied in daily life to decisions that fundamentally turned on matters of belonging and difference. Additionally, a range of books for popular audiences and textbooks for college and high school students also deployed images of the family studies to illustrate an array of claims ranging from marriage advice and hygienic guidance to calls to support sterilization and institutional segregation for these poor whites.
On the whole, these secondary, popular publications eschewed the lurid details that were a feature of the actual family studies; they did not feature graphic depictions of these debased white others. But it was the scientific conception of heredity that most profoundly recast the sense of threat posed by these poor white families. We are beginning to realise that we are the keepers of our children, of the race that is to come after us. Our sense of social responsibility is becoming a sense of racial responsibility. Ellis, and many other writers at the time, preached the need for a new mode of race consciousness, with a dual nature, directed simultaneously to what those people are doing while also making the middle- class self an anxious locus of intense scrutiny.
What makes these writings and this imagery distinctive is that it unfolded primarily in an intraracial discourse, without relying on an active invocation of racial Otherness. That is, in this new mode of racial thinking, whites learned to regard a gamut of class relations in specifically racial terms, where previously their racial significance was unrecognized or muted at best. Notably, given the whiteness of the objects of concern and the whiteness of the subjects addressed by this movement, each of these basic dimensions of etiquette was explicitly and emphatically cast in terms of race.
The practices promoted in popular magazines and in books and textbooks were not oriented toward direct action in maintenance of the color line. The labels were not just technical, abstract terms, but were instead racially charged and deployed to make the significance of race far more tangible and the source of critical concern.
Rather, matters of class belonging and difference were at stake. Self-interrogation was a key feature of these writings. Good Housekeeping featured a series of articles on eugenics in and that sought to explain its practical relevance to daily life by addressing issues of birth and marriage. Extreme forms of class difference, such as the Jukes and Kallikaks, evoked such senses of disgust and horror that they presented little direct threat to young middle-class whites in search of marriageable partners.
But what of less obvious cases? The popular writings on eugenics strove to answer this question by supplying selective criteria for decision making, delineating characteristic signs for detecting these racially suspect whites. The presence of such a class would, of course, be an annoyance or even a menace to normal society, for the imbecile is usually also either the pauper, the prostitute or the criminal.
This impact is apparent in that, surprisingly, amid all the publicity on the poor white family studies were widely circulated, many middle-class whites responded by wanting to participate in them, desiring to produce similar investigations of their own families. These charts were staples of the demonstrations of the racial threat posed by the Jukes and the Kallikaks, and yet thousands of whites wanted to apply them to their own families. Davenport and Laughlin Davenport and Laughlin , 3.
This mode of objectification was not primarily directed toward displaying the threat of racial others, but rather to render tangible the terrain of the self in relation to racial identity. Davenport and Laughlin , 9. Davenport and Laughlin , These diverse features are all rendered here in a clear racial frame. Negro , y. The elements of race consciousness promoted by eugenicists are evident in this do-it-yourself family study kit; skin color was only a modest portion of the big picture, and competed with forms of comportment and posture to determine racial belonging or difference.
But what purpose would this knowledge of individual constitutions serve? And the one practical decision on which all this could be realized was in the selection of a mate. It is, however, easy to show that it does matter tremendously. Also I think it quite within the range of possibilities that it will become incorporated into the mores that persons who are thinking of marrying should learn something about the genealogical history of the proposed parents of their children.
And, again, it is highly probable that, after we have learned the method of inheritance of racial traits and can state the consequences certain or probable of particular matings, that such precise knowledge will influence human conduct even as a knowledge of the causes of yellow fever has influenced human conduct and has led to a vast reduction in the morbidity from that disease. This emphasis on comportment profoundly impacted how whites thought about race. Part of the answer lies in the demise of the eugenics movement as much of its scientific basis was subject to withering criticism in the s.
The link between the epithet and the figure of white trash is that both rely on a conception of pollution and a discourse of contamination that are common features of cultural identity. For Stoddard, one of the principal ideological proponents and popularizers of eugenics, the concept of pollution was critical to explaining how and why poor whites presented such a threat to the race. Race consciousness-was hi s all- consuming concern, and he asserted that white Americans should recognize it as the basis of international relations.
His most notorious book, The Rising Tide of Color , depicts the operation of white racial anxiety and the totalizing worldview that whites developed. Thus, Stoddard insisted that distinctions had to be drawn more sharply than allowed by the intra- racial terrain of white skin color. Hence his insistence—a central creed of eugenicists—that the race is both improved and threatened from within, and his obsession with pollution and the linked concern with constructing boundaries and instilling a consciousness that regards them quite seriously and sees them everywhere.
The concept of pollution is key to this contrast. He explained: As civilization advances it leaves behind multitudes of human beings who have not the capacity to keep pace. The laggards, of course, vary greatly among themselves. Some are congenital savages or barbarian; men who could not fit into any civilization, and who consequently fall behind from the start. For, in this respect, the individual is like society. This Under-man may be buried deep in the recesses of our being; but he is there, and psychoanalysis informs us of his latent powers.
But we had better face them, lest they face us, and catch us unawares. Let us, then, understand once and for all that we have among us a rebel army—the vast host of the unadaptable, the incapable, the envious, the discontented, filled CHAPTER 2 with instinctive hatred of civilization and progress, and ready on the instant to rise in revolt. Here are foes that need watching. And to these direct costs there must be added indirect costs which probably run to far larger figures.
Think of the loss to the national wealth, measured in mere dollars and cents, of a sound, energetic stock ruined by an infusion of Jukes blood. This is not fear of miscegenation nor of dilution of the Anglo-Saxon stock by migrants from southern and eastern Europe. As Stoddard himself stre ssed. The regimens of intelligence testing in the United States, too, were effectively assailed by critics, who also challenged and disproved the biased assumptions that animated eugenics research efforts such as the family studies.
But careful investigation proves that this was emphatically not the case. As psychologist H. That is exactly the sort of thing that mores explain. Almost everything that is said about the Negro can also be said about them. They lived in New York in the nineteenth century, but they were not a part of it. In this regard, it is important to keep in mind that white trash is neither just a name nor a distinct social group. Rather, it isjjJbrm of objectification developed by a range of social commentators who tapped the cultural perception of pollution to make their fellow citizens recognize a fearful, debased white threat to domestic order in the United States.
Less well understood are the intense effects that images of poor whites had on white middle-class audiences. The racial, sexual, and class threat posed by white trash was met not simply with social control efforts enacted on the bodies of poor whites, but also with the emergence of a regimen of CHAPTER 2 self-examination by which middle-class whites learned to think anxiously about raciaLidentity in far broader terms than simply black and white.
Racial analysis currently is often focused on dynamics of othering, on projections of difference, or on discerning racist ideology at work behind ostensibly nonracial discourses or practices. I hope this chapter demonstrates that these do not account for all that we need to know about how racial identification operates and why race matters. I have tentatively sketched another series of dynamics at work, those of self-constitution and of intra- racial assessments of the limits and nature of belonging, that are, at root, cultural, and I have argued that these cultural aspects of racial identification are critical to our understanding of race.
The value of this cultural perspective is that it lets us grasp the broad and overlapping range of registers class and gender as well as race by which judgments and perceptions of belonging and difference are forged in relation to shifting social concerns and interests. Granted, the historical account offered here is skewed by emphasizing the anxieties and interests in self-constitution among middle-class whites.
But because the cultural dynamics I have emphasized are so little understood and recognized, I feel they warrant the singular attention paid to them in this chapter. In addition to this theoretical point concerning racial analysis, I also hope that this chapter contributes to the burgeoning literature on whiteness.
This question is easily posed and perhaps too easily answered. In response to the question, I find that people readily reel off a list of attributes, with complete confidence and assurance that they are in no way associated with those people. In a political moment when derogatory labels and innuendoes for ethnic groups are rigorously policed in social and institutional exchanges, white trash still incurs little self-conscious hesitancy on the part of the user. The confidence with which people are labeled white trash derives from a long tradition of social contempt and a complex process of racial and class stereotyping.
But there was one group that I somehow got the message that it was okay to be bigoted about, and those were the backward, white Southerners—white trash. This process of socialization has deep roots in American culture, stemming back to mid-nineteenth-century debates over the significance of slavery and the bounds of white racial solidarity exam- ined in the previous chapter. This situation is changing, and a critical assessment of the cultural work white trash performs may be impelled and facilitated by both the recent proliferation of uses of this racial epithet in public discourse in the United States and by the way poor whites are responding to this label.
But in current popular cultural productions, white trash increasingly serves as a means of self-identification. Such usages were rare prior to This makes white trash a particularly tricky subject for cultural analysis. The surge in references to white trash can be mapped in relation to a range of dramatic, unfolding social and economic processes in the United States.
Another significant factor is the increase in downward mobility for whites in the middle and working classes. I became interested in the phenomenon of white trash while pursuing ethnographic fieldwork in West Virginia in In each holler, it seemed, there was always one family that was used to mark the edge of sociality, through either their unruly behavior and lifestyle or their isolation from the rest of the community. In this regard, white trash named a strange collective order, one that manifested only locally in detached isolation.
There were no white trash neighborhoods or groups, just particular, solitary families and individuals. White trash also bore another striking feature in this area. The family bore every feature of the white trash stereotype.
These instances of the term detailed below are quite removed from the way the term typically operates in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Before addressing the transgressive uses of white trash, a few cautionary considerations are warranted. Several historians have tried to redress the stigmatization and ostracism of white trash by portraying a valorized social history of poor whites.
He asserts that his object of study is roughly the poorer half of the white population Alternately disparaged, patronized, and ignored, these people have never received what every group is entitled to—a sympathetic look into their history that seeks to understand them on their own terms. Terms that embody such prejudices are not useful for historians and should be discarded. They are epithets at best, moral judgments at worst. But such a tack is counterproductive, in that it leaves unexamined and unassailed the operation of social contempt mobilized by white trash.
If images of poor whites in popular cultural forms were reduced to a generic, neutral form of reference, the rhetorical identity of white trash as a function of a discourse of difference would be rendered unintelligible, though hardly inoperable. Rather, by tracking the charged racial work performed by white trash, we can directly see the means of boundary maintenance through which white identity operates, containing or expelling certain whites from the social and political body of whiteness.
I argue that it is exactly this confidence in some neutral space where disparaging social judgments, can be rendered more politely that gives white trash part of its enduring momentum. In one regard, no one is white trash unless so labeled by somebody else. This rhetorical boundary construction is historically developed and quite supple. Rather than referring to a static list of character traits and bodily features, white trash continues to be applied in innovative ways. Dirt, garbage, and trash are all materials that must be excluded from a cultural system in order that its modes of identity operate as naturalized conditions.
From this perspective, it is easy to understand how a certain normative cultural identity is maintained through a series of exclusions that are achieved by inscriptions of pollutions as stigmatized, threatening excesses. To investigate what counts as dirt helps to identify the categories of the system. White trash is used to name those bodies that exceed the class and racial etiquettes required of whites if they are to preserve the powers and privileges that accrue to them as members of the dominant racial order in this country.
It also opens a means for understanding how such an unpopular cultural form provides a representational dumping ground in which excessive forms of whiteness that blur racial boundaries can be exorcized. As an unpopular culture, the images and instances of white trash in mainstream media productions work as examples of what whites cannot afford to be if the propriety of their implicit racial privileges are to be maintained. Rather than simply providing a glimpse of a certain social group, instances of white trash open a perspective on the broad social order from which they have been exorcized, and which they transgress.
Rather than constituting a unique cultural object or identity, white trash is a function of complex and charged cultural poetics see chapter 4. The meanings, effects, tendencies, and images that the name assembles do not simply reside in individual bodies or a group of bodies but, rather, are generated in complex code struggles between classes and races and over what will count as sexuality or gender.
Although other novelists, travel writers, and journalists conveyed explicit instances of white trash to an interested American public, these two works have a prominence based on the continued fascination with their figures and plots, particularly in the case of Gone With the Wind. They presented views of the South to the nation at large, depicting an etiquette-laden world in which social orders were naturalized and enduring. But as representations of white decorum, honor, and pride, these dramas also relied on objectifications of white trash as an image threatening that cultural order.
Yet, in both works, white trash play critical and quite similar roles.