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Contours of White Ethnicity

Popular Ethnography and the Making of Usable Pasts in Greek America

Yiorgos Anagnostou

Publication Year: 2009

In Contours of White Ethnicity, Yiorgos Anagnostou explores the construction of ethnic history and reveals how and why white ethnics selectively retain, rework, or reject their pasts. Challenging the tendency to portray Americans of European background as a uniform cultural category, the author demonstrates how a generalized view of American white ethnics misses the specific identity issues of particular groups as well as their internal differences.

Interdisciplinary in scope, Contours of White Ethnicity uses the example of Greek America to illustrate how the immigrant past can be used to combat racism and be used to bring about solidarity between white ethnics and racial minorities. Illuminating the importance of the past in the construction of ethnic identities today, Anagnostou presents the politics of evoking the past to create community, affirm identity, and nourish reconnection with ancestral roots, then identifies the struggles to neutralize oppres sive pasts.

Although it draws from the scholarship on a specific ethnic group, Contours of White Ethnicity exhibits a sophisticated, interdisciplinary methodology, which makes it of particular interest to scholars researching ethnicity and race in the United States and for those charting the directions of future research for white ethnicities.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

Books bear countless imprints of those critical communities and institutions that contribute to their making. This book is no exception. It is animated by the eddies and currents of intellectual and material sustenance that I have received throughout years of teaching and writing in my intellectual home, the Modern Greek Studies Program at the Ohio State University. I have been fortunate to find...

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Introduction: Why White Ethnicity? Why Ethnic Pasts?

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pp. 1-28

In this work I explore the social category of “white ethnicity” in the United States. A classification that emerged and gained currency during the civil rights era, white ethnicity refers to hyphenated populations that trace their origins to Europe but also to countries and areas in relative proximity to it. This ascription incorporates both ethnic and racialized dimensions, attaching to these populations...

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1. The Politics and Poetics of Popular Ethnography: Folk Immigrant, Ethnic, and Racial Pasts in History and Discourse

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pp. 29-61

In this scholarly intervention, I rely neither on statistical data to tabulate objective patterns of cultural retention or loss nor on interviews and surveys to identify degrees of subjective attachment to ethnicity. The aim is not the collection of statistically significant evidence that disrupts conventional interpretations of white ethnicity. Instead, I build on the close reading of texts. I undertake the...

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2. Whither Collective Ethnic Identities? White Ethnics and the Slippery Terrain of European Americanness

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pp. 62-95

What is happening to American white ethnicities in the era of multiculturalism? A significant number of scholars tend to think about white ethnicity in apocalyptic terms, writing, if not of its imminent extinction, certainly of its dramatic weakening. Key words such as “atrophy,” “twilight,” “superficiality,” and “thinness” increasingly frame a research perspective that is unwilling to probe...

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3. Whose Ethnic Community? Gendered Pasts and Polyphonies of Belonging

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pp. 96-128

The model of white ethnicity as cultural loss equates the dispersal of ethnics in the suburbs with the depletion of cultural resources that promote collective belonging. Thus it sustains the notion of the dissolution of meaningful ethnic collectivities and the fragmentation of ethnicity into a domain of largely privatized identities. Yet, contrary to this view, popular ethnographies illuminate practices...

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4. Interrogating Ethnic Whiteness, Building Interracial Solidarity: Popular Ethnography as Cultural Critique

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pp. 129-161

One dominant contour of ethnic self-representation turns complex human beings into the celebrated model white ethnics. This chapter goes beyond this self-congratulatory caricaturing to showcase popular ethnographies that venture into dangerous memories and negative self-portrayals of ethnicity. The texts discussed here counter the discourse of ethnic perfection by centering on...

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5. Ethnicity as Choice? Roots and Identity as a Narrative Project

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pp. 162-192

Individuals connect on many levels with personal, familial, regional, and immigrant pasts to claim an ethnic identity. The discourse on roots, in particular, guides the quest of fashioning an identity out of the past, in fact requiring that a meaningful identity is shaped out of what necessarily becomes a usable past. Roots orient individuals researching family biography and engage them with...

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6. Redirecting Ethnic Options: Historical Routes of Heritage

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pp. 193-223

In what ways did history mediate the encounter between the immigrants and the dominant society? And how have social discourses in the past shaped the available contours of white ethnicity today? Symbolic ethnicity brackets the crucial questions of how specific immigrant cultural forms interacted with host structures and how some of them came to be recognized as available ethnic resources...

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Afterword: White Ethnicity as Cultural Becoming

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pp. 224-229

This work complicates the ways in which ethnicities are commonly represented in academic writing. By addressing how popular ethnography builds on the past to imagine a future for ethnicity, explaining how and why heritage is constructed, and considering the implications of creating specific kinds of identities in the larger context of ethnic and racial politics in the United States, it illuminates...


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pp. 231-257


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pp. 259-279


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pp. 281-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780821443613
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821418215

Publication Year: 2009