Whiteness of a Darker Shade: Reclassifying Italian-Americans in the Trials of Maria Barbella

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2 Scopus citations


It has been established that racial categories are constituted by rhetoric as much as reality and that whiteness occupies the position of greatest power in the resulting hierarchy. Prior research has demonstrated the symbolic constructions that defend the boundaries of whiteness. Those boundaries, however, have historically been unclear and fluid in their application to immigrants. This essay examines that fluidity during the two trials of an Italian immigrant for murder. An immigrant community successfully shifted the borders of white America to encompass Mediterranean immigrants by turning rhetorical strategies of whiteness against themselves through a complex relationship of multiple narratives arising from at least three different communities. It concludes by discussing the opportunities, limitations, and risks for liminal communities seeking to alter their relationship to whiteness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-549
Number of pages22
JournalWestern Journal of Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 19 2020


  • Italian Americans
  • Maria Barbella
  • murder trials
  • strategic rhetoric
  • whiteness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics


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