Saturday, December 22, 2012

Poor whites in the USA

The redneck is white America's scapegoat. For centuries, rich whites promoted racism, first to separate slaves and indentured servants, then to separate workers. Jim Crow laws were not a demand of poor whites—they were promoted and enacted by the South's defeated rich who still wanted to justify the "peculiar institution" and thereby escape their responsibility for the nature of their wealth.

Jim Goad said in The Redneck Manifesto, "These days, we hardly ever see the redneck as anything but a caricature. A whole vein of human experience, of potential literature, is dismissed as a joke, much as America's popular notions of black culture were relegated to lawn jockeys and Sambo caricatures of a generation or two ago. The redneck is the only cardboard figure left standing in our ethnic shooting gallery. All other targets have been quietly removed in deference to unwritten laws of cultural sensitivity. Instead of Amos-n-Andy, we have Beavis and Butthead. The trailer park has become the media's cultural toilet, the only acceptable place to dump one's racist inclinations."

The Poorest Part of America:"Virtually all of the 20 poorest counties in America, in terms of wages, are on the eastern flank of the Rockies or on the western Great Plains... There are two unusual things about the deprivation in this region. First, it is largely white. The area does include several pockets of wretched Native American poverty, but in most areas the poor are as white as a prairie snowstorm. Second, most people do not think of themselves as poor."

Sherman Alexie alluded to that in Diary of a Part-time Indian. mentioning a place that's
...filled with the poorest Indians and poorer-than-poorest white kids. Yes, there is a place in the world where the white people are even poorer than you ever thought possible.
Dale Maharidge Interview: Covering The Economic Pain Of Real Americans: "Four-fifths of us who work for salaries or wages make less than $20 an hour. This is a poor country. We're a nation of the working poor, and it's something that people don't want to acknowledge."

Op-Ed Columnist - The Roots Of White Anxiety -
...which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

This was particularly pronounced among the private colleges in the study. For minority applicants, the lower a family’s socioeconomic position, the more likely the student was to be admitted. For whites, though, it was the reverse. An upper-middle-class white applicant was three times more likely to be admitted than a lower-class white with similar qualifications.
White, Poor and Ignored? | Poverty in America |
If we assume that poor whites are more likely to populate these rural communities, statistics point to a disproportionately low amount of money being distributed to assist these areas. For example, The Ford Foundation, which purports to be active in rural development, made just $68 million in active grants and loans to rural areas in its fiscal 2006, out of $360 million overall in the U.S. Also, according to a study by the Foundation Center, North Dakota was awarded $3.3 million from foundations, South Dakota $3.2 million and Montana $10 million — compared with $3 billion for New York and $2 billion for California in 2005. While North Dakota may experience the lowest unemployment rates in the country, residents there still must deal with growing poverty and homelessness.

The poet Emma Lazarus once said, "Until we are all free, we are none of us free.
Possibly of interest: white trash names


  1. When I was in high school one of my best friends was the most radical person I've ever known. He was even then a member of the IWW, and went on to a life of anarchist activism. I recall one day using the word "redneck" in the standard dismissive, sneering manner, and he upbraided me for that term, as a slur on white, working class people. I never forgot that.

  2. (((All other targets have been quietly removed in deference to unwritten laws of cultural sensitivity.)))

    Spoken like a man who has never seen an episode of "Jersey Shore." Ok, technically I'VE never seen an episode of Jersey Shore, but I still call shenanigans. There are plenty of remaining cultural targets.

    Also, I'm married to a guy from the south with lots of stories about what poor whites he knew did to the gay kids, the ugly girls, the black kids who "tried to be white" and anyone THEY felt superior to. Trust me, making fun of them sounds pretty nice in comparison.

    Every group feels marginalized and every group does their best to take it out on every other group. It's a crap world that way.


  3. CC, he's not denying that rednecks pick on other groups. He has a fair bit to say about how people with no opportunity for good education and meaningful work can be as bigoted as anyone. He's saying--and I agree with him--that in liberal culture, the only group it's okay to diss are working class whites.

  4. (((He's saying--and I agree with him--that in liberal culture, the only group it's okay to diss are working class whites.))

    Ask a chubby woman about that or a short man or a scientologist. I know you meant socioeconomic groups, but still. I feel like we've been hearing "We're the LAST GROUP society feels ok making fun of" from a variety of groups for years and it is a pretty boring refrain.

    It's sad to know that making fun of people who buy McMansions and drive their SUVs to expensive grocery stores would be considered unacceptable by liberals. The liberals I know seem to do it all the time. Actually, making fun of rednecks themselves is pretty out of fashion. Jeff Foxworthy had his moment in like 1995. At least among my friends, that moment is way over.

    Anyway, even taking his assessment as correct for the sake of argument, it seems a really strange complaint that the only group that liberals feel they can snark on is poor whites, given the large numbers of groups the self-affirmed "rednecks" I've known felt free to snark on. Given the number of asskickings my husband and his buddies got from guys who assumed they were "fags,"* or trying to forget where they'd come from, I'm still inclined to say this person should clean his own house first rather than making excuses for his own group's intolerance. If any kid who cracks a book and talks about college gets at least teasing if not physical abuse from working class peers about it, then yeah, it's going to seem like nobody has any opportunity for education or meaningful work. ("Meaningful" being your term, I've known some people with blue collar jobs who found their work meaningful.)

    If it's OK to beat the shit out of the nerdy kids, then the nerdy kids are unlikely to succeed, or if they do they won't be inclined to help out the people who mistreated them. IMHO, the way to get better education and more opportunities for working class people is not to focus on what upper middle class people say, it's to take a look at how poor white culture in general treats its own members who are trying to achieve meaningful work or a better education.


    *Something fairly acceptable to be in liberal culture, even in high school liberal culture.

  5. Ps. For another example, when I worked on a newspaper in rural South Carolina for a year, I met a high school girl with a passionate interest in an academic field. I knew some people in that academic field and offered to make some calls for her and get my friends to call some of their friends in the field. She had good grades and had done some decent projects in the field as a high school kid and I thought if a scientist in her field heard about her and talked to her on the phone and liked her, a scholarship to one of the big state schools where her new buddies worked would probably manifest itself.

    She thanked me said she had to go to a local college because she was getting married! Besides, her parents would never be ok with her going as far away as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Like everyone this kid knew was trying to convince her to go to the local school and marry her boyfriend and never leave town.

    Do you have any idea how my middle class parents would have reacted if I'd announced at seventeen that I wasn't even going to apply to the good schools in my chosen academic field because I had to stay in town for college since I was getting married?

    Coercing your kids into forgoing their opportunities is not the same this as those kids never having the opportunities at all.

  6. CC, I understand why anti-racists hate to play oppression olympics, but some things are objectively worse than others, and in the US, that thing is poverty. In the media, it's okay to make fun of white trash; it's not okay to make fun of fat people or short men in the same way, suggesting that they're so vile no one would choose to associate with them. Scientologists get a different kind of treatment, because they're in a voluntary category (though I think of them as victims rather than willful dupes).

    I was one of the nerdy kids who got the shit beat out of him. I spent a couple of decades despising rednecks. Forgiving what was done to me by people who, like most Americans, would live and die in their class required a lot of understanding first.

    You suggest poor white culture rejects education. They tend to live under circumstances and in places where they get the fewest resources. Do you think poor black culture also rejects education?

    There's a lot of blue collar work that's meaningful, and yes, some people can be content doing anything, but you're awfully close to talking about the happy peasants, slaves, and darkies if you really think it's up to the poor to be content with the work that's available to them.

    As for the girl you cite, one of the benefits of a middle class or upper class life is confidence in your ability to succeed. Keep people at the bottom long enough, and most of them will accept the status quo. If that wasn't true, humans would not be able to tolerate a class system.

  7. When you haven't got much, you learn that it's safer not to want. Wanting is what gets you hurt.

    Also, of course, if everybody you know gets married right out of school, goes to the local college, and maybe only moves a few miles away from where they grew up, it doesn't seem like that horrible an idea. Whereas going to medical school or law school doesn't seem terribly scary if you come from a family of professionals, but, you know, getting married right out of high school might. Either way, the people around you may be limiting your choices to some extent.

  8. By the way, Goad sounds like a complete jackass on his web site. I hope the book is more interesting.

  9. So far, the book (his first) is a mix of the great and the gratuitous. I think he could've used a stronger editor. He may be pushing boundaries that aren't terribly useful to push, 'cause he can be too coarse for middle/upper class intellectuals, and too intellectual for working class folk who like coarse. (He's definitely too coarse for working class folk who don't like coarse.) Which is to say, I completely sympathize with him, because that space is hell to be in.

  10. Ah, well. I probably fall into that last box. If I want coarse, I can just hang out on the corner where people seem to think anything with long hair must be a whore. Pretty good political discussion there, too, if you use a rather broad definition of political.

  11. Perhaps this is old news, but it was new to me tonight. Just saw a documentary on the History Channel narrated by Billie Ray Cyrus, on hillbillies. It claimed that the term "redneck" came from red bandannas that unionizing coal miners war during confrontations with the mine bosses in the 1920s. I'd always thought it was for the sunburned back of the neck of rural working people. (Wikipedia cites both.)

  12. serial, having read more, I think it hurts the book, which is a shame, because there's much in it that's excellent.

    DSD, I've heard the bandanna theory also, but I'm inclined to stick with the sunburnt necks. If I remember correctly, Goad claims white slaves sent to the Caribbean were called "red shanks" for a similar reason.

  13. So... if we all had the same priorities as middle class people, we'd all be middle class people? But... but... who'd clean the toilets then?

    (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

    ((I did refrain from making a crack about half the population being able to go to Harvard if they'd just get their SAT scores up. You know, 'cause it'd be easy enough to build another dorm to hold the influx of new students.))

    (((Oh, damn. I didn't refrain after all. *hangs head in shame*)))

  14. CC, I think we're bumping into huge philosophical differences here. I'm with serialbabbler on this one. I think I'll be doing another post today that'll address your points indirectly.

  15. ((So... if we all had the same priorities as middle class people, we'd all be middle class people? But... but... who'd clean the toilets then?))

    People who would have had the opportunity to do something else, but chose not to take it, not because they were harassed or coerced, but just because they made that choice.

    You don't think there are any people who grew up middle class, were encouraged to study and achieve and yet clean toilets now?

    (((I did refrain from making a crack about half the population being able to go to Harvard if they'd just get their SAT scores up.)))

    I thought we were talking about meaningful work here. You don't need to go to Harvard to do meaningful work. As I mentioned above, you don't even need to go to college to do meaningful work.

    But it is good to raise your kids to believe that Harvard is a possibility if that's something they really want, and then help them achieve that if they make the decision that they do.


  16. CC, I dunno if I'll get to the post I was thinking about, so I'll pick things up here for now:

    The Harvard dream is a pyramid scheme. Do the math. It's admirable that you're focusing on individuals within the system, but you shouldn't ignore the way the system works. Even the NY Times admits that class mobility in the US and the UK is about the same. That's not because the poor don't work. It's because they can only work with what they have, and only the few who are both exceptional and lucky manage to rise. Sadly, they then tend to forget about the folks they left.

  17. CC, I've got to teach myself to say "It's that, *and* it's this..." Too often, I sound like I'm denying something when I'm trying to add to it. You are very right to focus on individuals, especially when systems are so strong that nothing can be done about them immediately.

    My friend Bill Colsher has been saying that the private schools are doing much better at coming up with aid now; if it's true that there are financial options for everyone whose academic record meets their basic requirement, I wish they promoted that more effectively.

  18. Bad guidance counselors who don't do their jobs are part of the lower class high school experience. There was a guidance counselor at my second high school who used to deliberately set people up with class schedules that didn't work and/or resulted in them not having enough of the right credits to graduate, for instance.

  19. No. I mean she was deliberately setting up the class schedules so that people had two different required classes at the same time and/or lying about what credits they'd get for a specific class. (It was a Middle College High School, so knowing whether or not a class counted for state requirements could get confusing.) Often this happened because of changes that were made without any consultation with the students about their schedules prior to the beginning of the semester.

    It's different in college because, generally speaking, you get the classes you sign up for or they let you know the class is full and you have the opportunity to sign up for a different class. High school students have much less control. (Or, in any case, that was my experience of college. Your mileage may vary.)

  20. Wow, I would think she would've gotten fired. If I had known about hijinks like that when I was a reporter, I would have gotten a kick out of doing an expose. A pointless waste of taxpayer money like that would have sold papers. (That was the job where I met the girl who liked science, indeed, I wrote a story about a project she was working on.)

  21. Wow, I would think she would've gotten fired.

    That was shortly after the program started and the staff turnover rate was really high. I think they were holding onto any employees who'd stick around regardless of how bad they were at the job. Also, members of vulnerable populations don't typically complain or don't do it very effectively. This tends to get taken advantage of by people who aren't particularly nice.

    In all fairness, there is also the vague chance that she wasn't doing it deliberately and she was just as confused as the students... But, you know, she seemed to enjoy the results.

  22. "But... but... who'd clean the toilets then?"

    That reminds me of an incident at my old printshop. Hank, (senior partner and manager) asked the newly hired computer artist to make a pot of coffee. She, "I didn't get a four year degree in graphic arts to make coffee!" He, "And I didn't invest a quarter million dollars so I could clean toilets, but that's what I'll be doing this afternoon- make the damn coffee!"

  23. Given the cultural meaning that assigning a new, young female employee to make coffee has, I can understand her upset. I personally wouldn't have had the guts to say anything, but I can see why she wasn't happy.

    At the same time, the boss' response at least did indicate that the meaning she might have seen in it wasn't there.