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A slur is a slur is a slur
May 19, 2007 8:43 AM   Subscribe

The slur "white trash" has been used longer than you may think. ^
posted by moonbird (63 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
It is times like this where I'm forced to remember that I have two uncles named Bud & my dad parks his car on his front lawn.
[Still reeling from my Julia Louis Dryfuss envy.]

posted by miss lynnster at 9:36 AM on May 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


Actually, it's been around just as long as I thought. My family was white trash as far back as the 1830's. Then along came the Civil War and made heroes out of everyone.

Good times...
posted by Aquaman at 9:40 AM on May 19, 2007


Why do people persist in making such a big deal about this? White people have such a comprehensive advantage in every area of American life, I'm sure they'll be OK even if we allow the term "white trash" to be bandied about in the media. Sheesh.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2007


The Redneck Manifesto.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:01 AM on May 19, 2007


The term doesn't bother me in the least. I admit that I find it humorous. You know you're white trash when your dad says to your mother: "You yell more than my Aunt Winona and she had five kids!" Embrace it. You can never escape.

HA!

The other day a friend of mine used the the initials, "WT" instead of saying the phrase. "The people across the street are WT. They have toys scattered about in the front lawn." Oh brother, just say it.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:10 AM on May 19, 2007


I thought it was meant to be offensive because of the modifier "white". As in, "this trash is notably different from regular [black] trash, because it's white."
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:11 AM on May 19, 2007


Ambrosia salad, anyone?
posted by miss lynnster at 10:18 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why do people persist in making such a big deal about this?

I hear you, but I still get uneasy when I hear the phrase used publicly - I think this quotation in the last link comes closest to articulating my feeling:
When a guest or host appears on a show like "Politically Incorrect" and derides a category of people by race, that's entertainment. ...But were the host to blanketly ridicule low-income minorities, that's hate speech...

Try it. Substitute "black trash" for "white trash." After all, a disproportionate number of blacks appear on these tabloid shows. Frankly, by not calling black guests "black trash," aren't we suggesting blacks who appear on "Springer" represent mainstream black America? Now that's insulting.

Picking on, demeaning, and ridiculing whites is OK. But by demeaning any group by race, we open the door and grant permission to demean others.

Bottom line, either race-based insults are offensive or they're not. Pick one.
I don't worry as much about the poor oppressed Caucasians, as I do about what the phrase implies. "White trash" doesn't have an equivalent for other races. Is the implication that all blacks, all Latinos, all Eastern Europeans = low income trash regardless?

I'm not saying this is a fully-fleshed argument; I'm on the fence about whether this is political overcorrection or what. But, as hoverboards said, it's the modifier that bothers me. If I want to be classist or you-live-in-a-trailer-ist or Britney-is-tacky-personified-ist, I'll just call someone "trash." Don't need to make it about race.

[p.s. NOT RACIST OR CLASSIST OR TRAILERIST]
posted by pineapple at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2007


That is true white trash chow there Miss L. I have a sweet tooth, but I'd rather have that sweet tooth tied to a string that's fastened to a door knob and forcibly removed by slamming said door than ever again subject Hubert (my sweet tooth has a name) to that shit again.

On the other hand, white trash cookin' works some real wonders with meats.
posted by Mister_A at 10:22 AM on May 19, 2007


Now, where did I put my screwdriver?
posted by well_balanced at 10:34 AM on May 19, 2007


I completely agree with your argument pineapple.

I think I find it humorous because I'm white. I used to live in a trailer park and didn't prefer to wear shoes until I was thirteen years old. It's a self-mocking thing. I think of the phrase in a lighthearted way. I seldom use the phrase, but when I hear it, I'm not offended.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:37 AM on May 19, 2007


I think something is lost by evaluating the fortunes of all white people in the US as a group. "White people" over all might have a "comprehensive advantage" but the particular white people who are denigrated as "white trash" still suffer because of it. It's not okay to hurt people just because they're members of a broad group that's advantaged on average.

(I'm assuming for argument's sake that "white trash" works as an insult. If it's actually just good fun, then of course there's nothing to get upset about. But, MPDSEA, you seem to be suggesting that we simply shouldn't care whether it's a harmful, institutionally condoned racial insult.)

Is the idea that broader white privilege outweighs the indignity of the "white trash" stereotype, so that being even a "trash" white nets out positive when compared to membership in other social groups? I'm not sure that's true, and I don't think that kind of accounting exercise really makes out a defense of a hateful stereotype. "White trash" doesn't have to be the most disadvantaged group for us to recognize they're treated unfairly.

Anyway, I guess this thread is mostly about taking back the "white trash," which is cool but which I can't really add to.
*backing out*
posted by grobstein at 10:42 AM on May 19, 2007 [5 favorites]


I prefer "Southern Baptist".
posted by The God Complex at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2007


I prefer "Appalachian American."
posted by quin at 11:01 AM on May 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


It took me a while to get used to the New York usage, where everyone from people living in dilapidated rural shacks to middle-class people who like fruit salad at picnics can be called white trash.
posted by gubo at 11:03 AM on May 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've been using the term white trash as far back as I can remember. Generally to refer to parts of my family.
posted by quin at 11:05 AM on May 19, 2007


There's a big difference between the phrases "white trash" and "redneck." One's a slur, mostly, and one is worn as a badge of honor.

For instance, Jeff Foxworthy's routines were "you might be a redneck," not "you might be white trash." And Gretchen Wilson scored a big hit with "Redneck Woman," not "White Trash Woman."

You know what the phrase "white trash" is like? It's like the word "hipster." People will apply it to everyone around them while denying that they are exactly the same. You can stand in a trailer park and hear a woman complain about all the white trash who live around her, the same way you can be at a party in Williamsburg and some guy with tapered jeans and goofball hair will complain about all the hipsters.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:10 AM on May 19, 2007


Me too, quin.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:15 AM on May 19, 2007


I prefer "Appalachian American."

I nominate that one for the win.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:25 AM on May 19, 2007


Yes, Goad's Redneck Manifesto is worthwhile. His arguments are well researched, and his style is often hyperbolic and over-the-top. And laugh-out-loud-tears-streaming-down-your-cheek funny at times...

I often think of Goad when I criticize my own style; I wish I could "let go" like Goad can.
posted by Tube at 11:30 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


"White trash" is, as far as I know, a term used in the South to differentiate between white people with money & power and those white people without money and power. Like, sharecroppers, say. Black people who were slaves, or later even in the employ of wealthier white people, could and did look down upon "white trash" and were, so far as I know, considered to be slightly above those whites in the pile of social standing near the bottom. Which partially explains why poor white people, who never had slaves so much, really hated black people a lot.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:41 AM on May 19, 2007


They used to just call them peasants.

My family is white trash. My paternal grandparents were sharecroppers who came from the Ozarks. I have uncles who never finished junior high. I have relatives that live(d) off disability checks and spend portions of it on steak and cheap beer and whiskey. I've had to wonder how I was going to get through the maze of dog shit, car parts, children's toys, and empty Coors cans to the front door to just say hello to an aunt. Am I proud of it? I don't know if poverty and laziness are things to be proud of, but it was my childhood and it led to becoming incredibly conscious of class as an adult. I'm not going to get WT tattooed as a Superman logo anywhere on my body, though.

I'm more offended by people like Larry the Cable Guy (as previously discussed) than by the term "white trash." I'm offended when being "country" = "blind patriotism," resulting in a metric-shit-ton of yellow ribbon and Calvin pissing on the word Iraq bumper stickers. I'm offended by people who wear their white trashness as a badge that allows them to be able to act like they are the star of their own reality-based TV show about how low-brow and socially/culturally inept they are. I'm offended by those who go around thinking they're a white trash hero for some sort of credibility. I'm offended by all who seem to just be working the exploitation of white trash for all that it's worth, but never actually helping anyone who doesn't have the means to help themselves.

I think if you haven't read it, read the first essay in Lisa Carver's book Dancing Queen. It's called "White Trash: You Can Run 'Em Over With Your Car and They'll Still Come After You Hollerin'" (article from poprocks about the essay) and gives a pretty good idea of what white trashness actually is. Or read most anything by Faulkner.

White people have such a comprehensive advantage in every area of American life, I'm sure they'll be OK even if we allow the term "white trash" to be bandied about in the media. Sheesh.

The term white trash is more about class than color. Or what pineapple and grobstein said above.

Lastly, Ambrosia salad, what with it's high-falootin' name, wouldn't go over well at my family gatherings. If you brought some celery with cheez whiz slathered on or some drunk wieners, then maybe they might eat it.
On preview:
Bookhouse, that's true, but the terms are usually interchangeable for many. I think of "rednecks" as those who can afford to buy three pick-ups, two hunting dogs, and Tivo, but still want people to know they're white trash.
posted by sleepy pete at 11:44 AM on May 19, 2007 [7 favorites]


Why do people persist in making such a big deal about this?

I don't know if many people do.

However, I cringe when I here people throw around insults at poor people.

While living in Brazil, I was outside of the system, and I didn't apply the same values to class that the people who were raised in the society did. I would have felt pretty offended if people called the poor in Brazil "trash," just like the untouchables in India...
posted by iamck at 11:47 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Once upon a time in America, there was a social fiction that the pursuit of happiness was not only our right, but our very definition, and that if you could just pull yourself up by the bootstraps, then by golly you'd make something of yourself. All men were created equal, after all. Sure, the Catholics, Irish, and Jews were disgusting, and certainly no hillbilly would ever be allowed into the manses, but still, pursuit of happiness and the land of opportunity and all that jazz.

Then came along people who pointed out that they were not being treated equally because of their race. Racism became not only a "thing," but a "bad thing," because it violated the very principal of all men being created equal. So the courts banished it. And the women were fighting to be created equal as well, thereby identifying sexism as not only a "thing" but a "bad thing," and all during this time the Catholics, Irish, and Jews did a pretty fine job of asserting themselves as being equal.

So all seemed well, to preserve this social fiction. With racism and sexism out of the way, we were now able to truly state that all people of all colors were created equal, and should be treated as such. Except, just because the courts said racism was illegal, it still existed, and just because the courts said sexism was illegal, it still existed.

Since the sexes coexist no matter what, dealing with sexism was more of a constant and in-your-face deal. It was not quite as touchy as race because everybody knows at least a few men or women, whereas not everyone can honestly, truly state that they have many close friends of other races. Then people became insecure about actually talking about racism, for fear of appearing racist, so people erected huge walls around how they spoke, but still generally trying to act nice to one another. This made race a national obsession, in its own way, just as not saying something is roughly equivalent to screaming it at the top of your lungs.

And yet somehow "white trash" lingered. In some circles, people would even say things like, "you know, it's funny how not all white socioeconomic achievement is the same." They were white, which means they SHOULD have all the advantages of your typical white person. Except they don't. So it was decidedly tacitly, by the culture, that it was somehow their fault for being so poor and backwards, and it became (or rather, remained) acceptable to mock them for being dirty, inbred, uncultured hicks.

This was because, as much as race is a national obsession, people are even more repressed when it comes to class. It's fair to hypothesize about how advantaged or disadvantaged you are because of your race, as you cannot control it and no one pretends you can. But not many people truly stop to think about how Billy Bob from Appalachia and Darrell from the Marcy Projects have exactly equal chances of becoming wealthy - roughly zero. And yet, since we've recognized some of the very real forces working against Darrell, it's (correctly) seen as uncouth to hold him responsible for being all poor-like, and maybe even for acting in ways we wouldn't approve. And there's still that lingering social fiction, on some subconscious level, that when someone asks you what you do for a living - "me? I'm a lawyer" - that you did so entirely by your own sweat. Therefore, if this poor guy is 30 years old and working two shit jobs, he must be a dumb guy who doesn't work as hard as me. Very few people literally think that - well, maybe not VERY few - but even in educated, enlightened circles, there's still that assumption in the back of your head that Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel doesn't deserve much more than he's got.

Even if we know intellectually that poverty is a cycle, and that Billy Bob's Scotch-Irish family has ALWAYS been poor and has NEVER had any real power, and that in all likelihood his ancestors were property at some point, it's still somehow OK to have movies like Wrong Turn where hillbillies are horrible mutants out to eat Eliza Dushku.

Do we still have to be apologetic when we admit it that, yes, some white people are so very poor that it's almost like they're - gasp! - disadvantaged at birth? And that, in fact, the majority of those so deadly poor are white people. And then people wonder why they get huffy when they're told that they're ignorant, backwards, ugly, and yet still racially privileged.

Because we correctly identified that racism was a giant problem, except people forgot about class. The two had always been intertwined, and now that we're making gains with regard to sensitivity and earning levels between races and genders, it's coming to the surface that, hey, maybe making fun of Billy Bob isn't being, you know, sensitive.

Anyway, it's not like I'm offended by the term or "hurf durf why can't I tell all my awesome black jokes." But it is a sign that, since white trash are still seen as an acceptable target whereas other people are not, that certain economic issues are getting repressed here, even by proud liberals who like to think they're above such things.

...

Sorry for the rant.

tl;dr shit sux
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:50 AM on May 19, 2007 [14 favorites]


violated the very principal

I meant "violated the very principle," of course, although it would also be tragic if anyone violated my principal. I always liked her.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:52 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


If I acted ugly when I was little, my mom yelled at me to stop acting like white trash. OK, she got the switch out too, but that is another post.

To me, white trash is someone who is poor but isn't clean, or doesn't follow the rules and the laws. There may be nothing you can do about being poor, but you don't have to act like white trash.

So white trash is...wearing too much makeup, wearing inappropriate clothing, going to the store and being dirty from work still, not saying yes ma'am and no ma'am, not keeping your yard and house clean, being loud and just calling undue attention to yourself.

Recently I explained to my son that egging someone's car is acting like white trash.

Redneck describes everyone I am related to.
posted by gminks at 12:22 PM on May 19, 2007


There's a big difference between the phrases "white trash" and "redneck." One's a slur, mostly, and one is worn as a badge of honor.
posted by Bookhouse


You're making a sweeping statement that isn't true in many cases. Many southern people would consider it an insult to be called a redneck. Country? Sure. Redneck? No.

You do have some that rally behind the name, but it's often a case of taking back a name they're labeled with anyway. If you have a southern accent, drive a truck, and watch nascar you're thought of as a redneck by many people.
posted by justgary at 12:23 PM on May 19, 2007


grobstein, I'm not sure I even disagree with anything you said. In an idea world, no, we wouldn't call anyone "white trash." However, I am irritated when clearly advantaged groups (and poor whites are advantaged--compare them to poor blacks or poor Native Americans) make a big deal about how oppressed they are.

"Men's rights" groups are similar.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:31 PM on May 19, 2007


So it was decidedly tacitly, by the culture, that it was somehow their fault for being so poor and backwards, and it became (or rather, remained) acceptable to mock them for being dirty, inbred, uncultured hicks...

...But not many people truly stop to think about how Billy Bob from Appalachia and Darrell from the Marcy Projects have exactly equal chances of becoming wealthy - roughly zero. And yet, since we've recognized some of the very real forces working against Darrell, it's (correctly) seen as uncouth to hold him responsible for being all poor-like, and maybe even for acting in ways we wouldn't approve.
The problem I have with this argument is that poor ≠ dirty, inbred, and uncultured. Plenty of people can actually tell the difference. It's not fair to generalize that everyone lumps those characteristics together.

I don't care if Billy Bob is poor his whole damn life. I don't judge anyone for that. But I can judge him for not choosing to bathe. I can judge him for leaving rubbish in front of his trailer, and for screaming at his kids and smacking his wife in public. That's trash.

You can make the argument that Billy Bob is held down, and doesn't know to choose couth, because of his background. I disagree. I grew up in a tiny rural town, and I knew plenty of mamas who had no education, no culture, and no money, and they still knew to raise their children to act right.

You don't have to be in the socioeconomic middle- or upper-class to have pride of property, dignity, and cleanliness. Couth is free.
posted by pineapple at 12:39 PM on May 19, 2007 [2 favorites]


I don't think "white trash" in the current vernacular refers to income level, but rather the class of whites who lack all sense of taste or proportion. McMansions reflect white trash culture, as do Britney and Paris as well as those who hang on their every exploit as related in People magazine. [Notice of potential conflict of interest: My ex-wife was (and still is) white trash: she is currently milking the system by "retiring with a disability." She has lower back pain and so can't be a social worker any more. Guess those SCUBA diving trips to Cozumel are therapeutic.]

Anyway, those who want to characterize the term as some racist epithet are hyperventilating PCerasts, IMHO. But there are other points of view...
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:43 PM on May 19, 2007


However, I am irritated when clearly advantaged groups (and poor whites are advantaged--compare them to poor blacks or poor Native Americans) make a big deal about how oppressed they are.

MPDSEA, I like you, I generally like your comments, and I love your username. But I beg you to please reflect on what poor whites, blacks, and Native Americans all have in common - they're all poor. I have no idea why mocking a poor white (s/he's advantaged because s/he's white, after all) is any more acceptable than mocking a middle-class black (s/he's advantaged because s/he's middle-class, after all).
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:44 PM on May 19, 2007


im not particularly offended by it, but i might if i were poor, white, and living in an impoverished area.

it just seems to me that if you have ever advocated equality between the races, you can't say "except white people. Let them fend for themselves."
posted by nihlton at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2007


Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America - if social advantage is the metric by which we(you) decide who can be mocked and degraded, can I call rich black people niggers?
posted by nihlton at 12:47 PM on May 19, 2007


See, I think of redneck as more of a regional thing. Being from San Diego, we just had our white trash. Never considered anyone rednecks in our area, that term seemed to apply to people in other states with drawly accents. (Like, those people in the South are totally not like us, dude!) Truth is the people considered to be white trash in SD would probably be called rednecks in the South.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:52 PM on May 19, 2007


It took me a while to get used to the New York usage, where everyone from people living in dilapidated rural shacks to middle-class people who like fruit salad at picnics can be called white trash.

Pretty silly, because New York is not nearly as cultured as it appears to think it is.

Also, unexplained carets are automatically shitty links. Use real text.
posted by oaf at 1:11 PM on May 19, 2007


Very interesting that people here think that being white and poor is better than being black or native and poor.

I grew up dirt poor. To the level of monthly welfare cheques (Canada), trips to the food bank, no toys, powdered milk instead of fresh, and clothes that the neighbours gave us, while we lived in our trailer in the rural outskirts.

The natives in the reservation nearby were way better off than us, having been given aid specific to their skin colour and not having to pay sales tax on many things that we did. Those that chose to graduate high school and go on to university had it paid for, whereas I didn't go because there was no way we could afford it.

Now, admittedly, this is Canada, and not the US, so we're talking about different systems and in any case this is anecdotal. But we never called the natives names (except in jest to the ones we were friends with), while I remember being called white trash pretty often, by then and by other whites.

I think that white trash tends to get looked down at a lot because of the racism of other whites. WT is, in their eyes, worst than BT or NT, because the whites have so much 'potential' for better, based on the colour of their skin, but don't use it (ignoring the massive challenges that anyone who is poor has in climbing their way out of it).

Some here say that WT have the advantage of being white. It didn't get us jobs (or better jobs), more money, or more respect. I wonder what those people think the advantages are.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:11 PM on May 19, 2007 [3 favorites]


Dang, I spent 5 minutes trying to articulate my point rough-drafting in Notepad while hoverboards... and Stitcherbeast already did it perfectly. Anyhoo...

"White trash" doesn't bother me because it's directed to poor or lower class caucasians; rather, I'm pissed off by the racial distinction which implies that it is expected and even acceptable for natives, blacks, or whatever other minority to live in poverty, and that white folks who do are deserving of particular contempt and scorn for letting "the team" down ("Way to disappoint your race, luzer!").
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:12 PM on May 19, 2007


Mental Wimp:
I think white trash has more to do with income level than you think. First, the pictures at the top of the article in the first link show Britney and Paris. Britney, from a Mississippi-based family of Southern Baptists (albeit ones with apparently huge stage-parent egos), could very well have been white trash at some point. She at least saw a few people that were white trash. This would explain at least some of her behavior and fashion sense. Paris Hilton, who has never worked a real job a day in her life, is slumming it. The distinction being that Paris is from a family that has money, loads of it, and therefore was probably never near actual poor, rural people until that stupid TV show she was on. She may have the fashion sense, but there's no way in hell she's white trash when she could buy an entire small town, possibly county, and name it after herself.

It's a combination of uncouth and poverty that defines white trash.

Or, in politics, you could say that W could never be white trash since his father ran the CIA and his grandfather was rich, no matter what kind of crap Texas accent he has. Karl Marx, however, could be white trash since he never had a job, borrowed all of his money from friends, and supposedly had really horrible bathing habits. I think all he needed was a half shirt that said "I'm With Stupid" to be full on.
posted by sleepy pete at 1:13 PM on May 19, 2007


I think of redneck as more of a regional thing. Being from San Diego, we just had our white trash. Never considered anyone rednecks in our area, that term seemed to apply to people in other states with drawly accents. (Like, those people in the South are totally not like us, dude!) Truth is the people considered to be white trash in SD would probably be called rednecks in the South.

Where I grew up (Texas Gulf Coast), "redneck" was a term of grudging pride because if one's neck was red, it was because he did an honest day's work out in the sun. "White trash" was definitely an epithet, for anyone who behaved trashy, but one could be non-trashy and still from a redneck family, which just meant that they were blue-collar. So the two weren't interchangeable in our... ahem... neck of the woods.
posted by pineapple at 1:15 PM on May 19, 2007


I have no idea why mocking a poor white ... is any more acceptable than mocking a middle-class black...

I suspect the orgin of the world comes from a time when "all" blacks were "trash." White trash were whites who were as bad or worse than (black) trash.

It's not an insult to whites so much as it is an insult to blacks.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:39 PM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I had a bit to say but Sticherbeast and sleepy pete seem to have said it for me.

i will throw this out; I'm real goddamn sick and tired of the "faux white-trash slumming hipster shit". Though thankfully, it seems to be on the wane.

Maybe people are starting to realize that PBR sucks no matter how cheap it is, just like they figured out that trucker hats are ugly no matter how ironically you wear them.
posted by erskelyne at 2:39 PM on May 19, 2007


Why do people persist in making such a big deal about this?

It's generally not made a big deal of. It's used all the time by magazine writers and it's in fairly common usage. But if you call a guy wearing dirty trucker cap driving a beat up chevy nova with a roach clip hanging from it's rearview mirror and a bumper sticker that says "shit happens" by the term "white trash" right to his face - it's gonna be a big deal.
posted by Blingo at 2:43 PM on May 19, 2007


The White Stripes still su . . .oh, never mind.
posted by spitbull at 2:48 PM on May 19, 2007


Well, lots of the White Trash in San Diego had red necks. Not usually from doing an honest day's work out in the sun though... well, not unless they were in construction like my family was. More often than not, their red necks were from sitting outside drinking beer.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:39 PM on May 19, 2007


"White Trash" has always, to me, described those welfare lusers who, despite having no mental or physical handicaps, nonetheless live a subsistence life of sloth and grunge. They could do better, but choose to leech off the kindness of our society.

It appears, based on comments in this thread, that my understanding of "white trash" is wrong. I'd no idea that the likes of Paris Hilton could be considered white trash.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:29 PM on May 19, 2007


"White people have such a comprehensive advantage in every area of American life..."

One word, man: Basketball.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:10 PM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think it's interesting how the phrase has been adopted so far from the place (and circumstance) of origin and displaced other similar perjoratives. My father was born in
Connecticut and would have said "swamp yankee" but I think that's dying out now, and the fact that "rich white trash" is in use now is a pretty big change that seems to have happened in the last 30 years or so.
posted by cali at 6:43 PM on May 19, 2007


Please, the correct nomenclature is "classless caucasian"
posted by subaruwrx at 6:48 PM on May 19, 2007


Why do people persist in making such a big deal about this?

I never thought much about it until a few months ago when I overheard part of a discussion about Anna Nicole Smith shortly after her death. A (white) woman was saying she was glad that Smith was dead since she was 'worthless white trash;' when someone said something to her about it she said she didn't care about trash and never would. I don't remember the particulars of the rest of the conversation, but it boiled down to the woman and one of her friends somehow contending (while very carefully not saying outright anything that would be overtly racist) that there was some sort of level of behavior that white people should strive for and that white trash sank below the acceptable level for whites. I've not comfortably been able to hear the phrase since then - the nasty part of it seems to be the way it can underhandedly turn itself back into a slur against non-white people, while the speaker can claim innocence.
posted by frobozz at 8:28 PM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Five fresh fish, I think poor was initially assumed when saying white trash, but at some point the meaning became less specific, hence explicitly stating "poor white trash" (or as a friend likes to say pappa whiskey tango). Progress of a sort I suppose.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:33 PM on May 19, 2007


Please, the correct nomenclature is "classless caucasian"

and you think you're so clever and classless and free
but you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
a working class hero is something to be
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:52 PM on May 19, 2007


I've always heard it as a tremendously classist insult (with weird racial implications). I've also noticed that it tends to be applied over-broadly to poor people, Southerners, Christians, etc., by others who have little experience with anyone in these categories.

I don't use it, because I don't really like referring to anyone as "trash".
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:40 PM on May 19, 2007


I'd have a lot more sympathy for rural whites if they hadn't been the key constituency in propping up the American government over the past 7 years. Still I don't like to use the word myself.

There is an interesting parallel discussion in the Black community over the use of the word nigger between black people. See the Boondocks Martin Luther King episode for an example.
posted by afu at 1:21 AM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not an insult to whites so much as it is an insult to blacks.
Actually, FiveFreshFish, it's my understanding* that the term was initially used by african-americans to disparage poor white folks, as opposed to an epithet from other, bettter-off caucasian-americans.

(*based on my reading of 19th cent. literature, authors of both colors)
posted by Aquaman at 9:19 AM on May 20, 2007


Really! Very amusing, that. Especially if you are indicating that slave negros were looking down on free whites.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:22 AM on May 20, 2007


@ Sticherbeast
// But not many people truly stop to think about how Billy Bob from Appalachia and Darrell from the Marcy Projects have
exactly equal chances of becoming wealthy - roughly zero. And yet, since we've recognized some of the very real forces
working against Darrell, it's (correctly) seen as uncouth to hold him responsible for being all poor-like, a ...

Is that Darrell or his other brother, Darrell ?
posted by _squid_ at 5:55 PM on May 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


there was some sort of level of behavior that white people should strive for and that white trash sank below the acceptable level for whites

That's exactly what I've taken it to mean. You know, you can't expect any better from those blacks, but white people! Honestly.

See the Boondocks Martin Luther King episode for an example.

I loves me some Boondocks.
posted by dreamsign at 12:54 AM on May 21, 2007


FiveFreshFish, that's exactly how I interpreted the usage.

Large populations of africans and african-americans retained their sense of personal dignity throughout the slavery years, and were often very disparaging of the "white trash" that often shared the bottom end of society's resources with them. If poor, property-less slaves and ex-slaves could keep their clothes clean, raise their families, keep their houses and kids in order, and the classless white folks around them, with all the advantages of being white, etc, couldn't, then "white trash" they were.

I wasn't there, of course, but lots of black literature from the 1800's bears this observation out.
posted by Aquaman at 8:49 AM on May 21, 2007


sleepy pete and pineapple have pretty much said everything I wanted to, so I'll just take issue with this bit from the first linked article:

The long and disturbing history behind the term white trash reverberates with meaning today.

I dunno. The author obviously wants the history to reverberate with meaning, but since the history has pretty much been forgotten (who knew the term was first used in the 1820s, in and around Baltimore, by African Americans?) I think today the term reverberates with how people use it today.
posted by languagehat at 9:12 AM on May 21, 2007



Really! Very amusing, that. Especially if you are indicating that slave negros were looking down on free whites.


From the journal of Fanny Kemble, 1833:

"The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as ‘poor white trash.’"

(Kemble was an abolitionist married to a slave-owning husband, and much of her journal details "the dangers and the evils of [that] frightful institution".)

Also, in Thornton's American Glossary of 1836:

" A contemptuous name given in America by Blacks to white people of no substance."

I think aquaman's term of "personal dignity" is very apt here.
posted by frobozz at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Aquaman is correct. Five Fresh Fish: Go watch "Rosewood".
posted by tadellin at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2007


"A contemptuous name given in America by Blacks to white people of no substance."

Note that this definition does not reference economic state and is closer to what I feel current usage is (or at least should be). That is, it should refer to the class of people who pursue trivial and external values such as McMansions, SUVs for SUVs' sake, reality TV, eschewing books and newspapers, anti-intellectual bias, American Idolatry, blow-em-up movies, facile disdain for the less fortunate, primitive fear of immigrants and the change they might bring, mindless opposition to any and all taxes (or pursuit of any common good that costs money) and the all-too-common form of religiosity that lacks a thoughtful moral component (e.g., homosexuality = badness). Basically, it refers to everything I don't like. Yeah, that's how it should be used.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:00 PM on May 22, 2007


Speaking of white trash, I do believe i've found the definitive example. Not only is she white trash, she's a mean bitch to boot.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:09 PM on May 25, 2007


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