chapter  6
21 Pages

Whiteness at the margins

In chapter 4 I argued that one of the borders of whiteness is placed between the dominant and subordinate groups within the nominally ‘white’ collectivity. This historically contingent practice has been studied in the greatest depth by the American labour historians whose work we discussed in the previous chapter, and will look at again in the next, in relation to the Catholic Irish in America. The argument I drew from this was that not being white (i.e. being ‘inbetween’ to use Barrett and Roediger’s terminology) is not supposed to be an equivalent of being Black, Asian, First Australian, Indigena, etc. So this intermediate zone of ‘inbetween-ness’, if you like, highlights the qualifications required to be considered approximate to the dominant culture at a given moment. It is a space of peripherality, of being marginal to the dominant culture. However, there are margins and there are margins. Being a member of an ‘inbetween’ group (two examples of which we shall look at below) is not the same type of peripherality as that experienced by groups categorised as neither white nor ‘inbetween’. The members of ‘inbetween’ groups have the option of identifying as white, either as a medium to long-term goal or as a common practice in the present, when the context is such that the border between white and non-white is the most important. This is a thorny and nuanced argument to make. I have already attempted to start the ball rolling by identifying class as a significant arena for quasi-racialised distinctions. Here, I will try to establish the argument about marginal Whites in relation to Jews and Travellers/ Gypsies. This is not going to be an exhaustive and sweeping historical analysis of anti-semitism and anti-nomadism. The object is to indicate how each group has been positioned as marginal to dominant cultures, as not-quite-white.