What is it about white people? This deceptively simple question cuts to the
core of racial matters, but answering it requires more than an attention to
race. Whites are increasingly the focus of debates about the significance of
race, reversing the previous tendency to equate ‘‘racial’’ solely with the ac-
tions and interests of peoples of color. Odd Tribes also takes whites as its
subject of study, but it does so without making race the singular basis for
analysis. Instead, this book examines the cultural dynamics that underlie
and shape racial identities.∞ This involves critically assessing assumptions
that shape our understandings of race in the course of using cultural analysis
to objectify whites as racially interested social subjects.≤ Odd Tribes is a
sustained argument for the need to simultaneously critique notions about
what counts as race while also analyzing the behaviors and beliefs of whites
in the United States.
Odd Tribes works at making sense of white people from two angles; one
focuses on the powers and privileges associated with whiteness as the other
keys in on uses of ‘‘white trash’’ to police color lines in this country. White-
ness and white trash are hardly equivalent or entirely adequate means for
examining white cultural identity. But they are useful starting points because
they each bring some degree of specificity to generalization about white
people. Whiteness, as a concept honed by academics and activists, asserts the
obvious but consistently overlooked fact that whites are racially interested
and motivated.≥ Whiteness both names and critiques hegemonic beliefs and
practices that designate white people as ‘‘normal’’ and racially ‘‘unmarked.’’
White trash, a lurid stereotype and debasing racial epithet, applies to poor
whites whose subordination by class is extreme. This charged label is a
reminder that there are important class dimensions to whiteness and that
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