White Trash Deconstruction

A conversation with some friends in Los Angeles this weekend taught me something about the term "White Trash".  We talked about how the word "trash" implies the notion of being unworthy, thrown out, not normal, and how combined with White it reminds us of the normative way of White privileges.  It has a derogatory ring, but interestingly it continues to perpetuate the stereotype that it is abnormal for White people to be poor, underprivileged, at-risk, marginalized.  You don’t hear Black Trash, Asian Trash, Latino Trash, Indian Trash, etc…which in the context of the widely known White Trash term reinforces the expectation and acceptance of poverty of People of Color.

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6 responses to “White Trash Deconstruction

  1. I hate the term “white trash.” Not only is it classist, but it seems to imply a sense of backwardness. White folks use it when they want to look down on each other. While there is no “black trash” there are other terms that signify similar meaning (e.g. “ghetto”). Among immigrant communities, people who were “fresh off the boat” were frequently mocked.

    Basically, the idea seemed to be that anyone who was “failing” at the American Dream (living wage, home ownership, fashionable clothes) fell into these derogatory categories.

    I went to a predominantly black, middle class elementary school that had an influx of Haitian refugee children. The first wave of kids who arrived were picked on for their (mostly) dark skin, attire, hygiene and accents. Later, as other kids from Haiti trickled in, the Haitian kids who’d been around for a while picked on them, calling them “dumb Haitians” and “FOBs.” The first group of Haitian kids felt they had assimilated enough with the black American kids to make fun of the “new” foreigners.

  2. “…continues to perpetuate the stereotype that it is abnormal for White people to be poor, underprivileged, at-risk, marginalized.”

    Statistically, how accurate is that stereotype? Aren’t communities of color in the bull’s eye? Aren’t there more people of color in lock down? Doesn’t that term actually normalize that non-whites are trash regardless of educational or capitalist attainment?

    It’s important to eliminate offensive monikers: but it’s also important to not minimize the oppression of others.

  3. Ken – i think we’re saying the same thing. I’m highlighting the fact that White Trash language ultimately reinforces White Supremacy…and minimizes People of Color.

  4. I don’t get how “po’ white trash” minimizes POC or their concerns because said members of the white underclass don’t register on anyone’s radar.

    America’s failed them, and nobody’s mustered any concern for their welfare. Their status is often depicted in terms of moral failure: a pitiable condition that should be condescended or ignored. Stereotypes are almost absolute, particularly among those whites who are only a generation or two from “there but for the grace of God . . . .” “They” could have been “me.” Because it got close to home, I was taught to whisper the acronym PWM with a certain sensitivity that bespoke upwardly mobile white Southerners. (Likewise, racial slurs were completely unacceptable in my immediate family, with members of my extended family demonstrated as bad examples.)

    So can I ask that we get out of using academic jargon when referring to America’s (or the world’s, another subject) abandoned — whether they’ve been subject to social experimentation in the urban core, used and forgotten at coal mines, or constricted and neglected on reservations?

  5. scott – i agree that it is an academic exercise to some extent to examine the language that is used to describe the oppressed, and that they are still the oppressed, yet it still says something about white privilege and supremacy in general…the pernicious evil.

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