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Implications of term

Posted by ESC on May 20, 2001

In Reply to: Implications of term posted by Barney on May 19, 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 [word removed in order to comply with Google's Publisher Policy]."

: : : : : : : : 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."

: : : : : : : White-Trash is a frame of mind!
: : : : : : : Pigs without proper upbringing, education, morals, drive, determination, etc.. Fat butted chain-smoking wives at the kitchen table of their dirty "rented" house not caring if their children finished their homework or where they spend the afternoons while they cook dinner from a can or "just add water" to the powder.
: : : : : : : Husbands (usually blue collar workers) who use duct tape to fix home repair, car repair and clothes repair who live for bowling/billiards night and spend all their money on beer and the lottery before rent and food.
: : : : : : : If a well brought-well educated millionaire lost all of his money and had to resort to substandard conditions, he doesn't become White-Trash. And so the opposite, if white-Trash wins the lottery or falls into millions (ie: the Roseanne Barr show, Beverly Hill-Billy's) they are still white-trash. (Just White-Trash with money)-It's a frame of mind!

: : : : : : Rosanne is Jewish. I think that disqualifies her.

: : : : : That's just goes to show how far a stereotype can be from the truth. I read about "Appalachian" people and don't recognize any of it. The No. 1 rule in my family was "paying your own way," being self-sufficient.
: : : : : We spoke standard English, with a few colorful archaic terms thrown in. Education was important. For example, during my parents' youth the community schools only went to 8th grade. So my grandparents sent their children away to board with friends so they could attend high school.

: : : : : Turn about is fair play. Here's what I thought about city folks. Although some people had the dream of "living in a brick house in town," I liked it just fine in the country. For one thing, we got our water from a spring. City people, I thought, drank recycled pee. City men ran around in plaid Bermuda shorts and were generally weak and useless. City women were thin, nervous types who tended to be sick all the time.

: : : : All the descriptions here of "w. trash" stereotypes show evidence of projection of faults that people don't want to admit in themselves or want to be recognized for not having. People seem to need an out-group to disapprove of. Not me, of course--just those OTHER people!

: : : Donning my pedant's hat I would like to point out that 'Scotch' comes in bottles whereas 'Scots' identifies inhabitants of Scotland. Unless, of course, you know otherwise.

: : The Scotch/Scots (or Scottish) distinction holds here in the colonies, too, but sometimes people forget their hats.

: : I suppose the exact meaning of "white trash" varies with where individuals were brought up and the particular style of prejudiced talk we listened to. In the concept as I picked it up, coming from the South and being rural, white, and poor weren't enough (and I'm not sure a Southern background was even necessary). White trash fell below working class on the cultural/socioeconomic scale.

: : Everybody drinks recycled pee. There's only so much water in the world, and it just keeps going round and round.

: We don't have 'White trash' in the UK; we have far to many other objects of derision to amuse us - the Welsh, the Scots, the Irish; to name but three.

You're right about "white trash" being more than just white, poor and rural. Low behavior is involved.