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Re: Implications of term

Posted by ESC on May 18, 2001

In Reply to: Re: Implications of term posted by Kory on May 18, 2001

: : : Now I realize that "white trash" refers to poor U.S. Southerners with Caucasian complexion. But what does the term imply in terms of habits of life, social relations, ethics and such? Thanks for the help.

: : Think Bundy as in "Married with Children".

: Insensitive? Superficial? Wanna-be self-indulgent? Lascivious? Confused? Am I on the right track?

First let me say that labeling people and assigning classes by accident of birth or how much cash they have just AIN'T the American way. I put together the following after my daughter told me her teacher said "poor white" isn't a negative term. It's just what certain white people are called in the South, he said. Wrong! Read on:

In "Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions, " (Pocket Book, 1993) Robert Hendrickson explains that "poor white" and "poor white trash" are not neutral terms used to refer to people who are white and poor. These terms are slurs used to denigrate people who are viewed as poor, white and of low character:

"poor white - 'In discriminating Southern speech, it (poor white) was not (emphasis mine) used to include all white person who were poor.The 'poor whites' were those who were both poor and conspicuously lacking the common social virtues and especially fell short of the standard in certain economic qualities.' (W.T. Couch, 'Culture in the South,' 1941)

An old black Southern rhyme goes:
My name is Sam,
I don't give a damn.
I'd ruther be black
Than a poor white man.

poor white trash - Lower-class white people. 'There were white people who were poor and there were poor white people. The difference was absolute.' (Jonathan Daniels, 'Tar Heels, 1941) The offensive term goes back at least to the early 19th century. 'The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as 'poor white trash.' ' (Frances Kimble, 'Journal,' 1833) Terms like poor white, poor white trash, redneck and peckerwood are often slur names in about the same class as nigger."

Grady McWhiney, in "Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South," (The University of Alabama Press, 1988) makes a distinction concerning the term Cracker and tries to reclaim the term that is now used as a slur. He says that "cracker," in Scotch-Irish dialect meant "a person who talked boastingly." Later the term Crackers came to mean a Scotch-Irishmen, a particular group of people.
McWhiney says Cracker eventually became a disparaging term and Crackers were equated with "poor whites."

He quotes historian Lewis C. Gray, in "History of Agriculture in the Southern United States to 1860," as associating the term Cracker with other slurs: "The distinctive characteristics of poor whites were recognized in the various special appellations by which they were contemptuously known in different parts of the South, such as, 'piney-woods people,' 'dirt-eaters,' 'clay-eaters,' 'tallow-faced gentry,' 'sand-hillers,' and 'crackers.'"

McWhiney asserts that Crackers are a distinctive ethnic group - the Scotch-Irish - and is appalled that, ".in a nation in which slurs based upon race, ethnicity, or religion have become strictly taboo, it is still acceptable to lampoon Crackers as a group."