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Introduction



For most middle and upper class Americans, the disgraceful epithet "white trash" conjures up visions of aluminum-sided double-wides, yards bedecked with plastic waterfowl and discarded auto-parts, and overweight men and women stuffed into velour jogging suits with cigarettes glued between their index and middle fingers-- perhaps even an Elvis impersonator or two. Regardless, popular media and stereotype maintain the idea that white trash is a legitimate though distasteful class that resides in the lower brackets of the social order; a self-perpetuated culture whose members can be pin-pointed by their genetic affinities for cheap make-up, beer, velvet paintings, monster trucks, Graceland, and wall-to-wall shag carpeting. Despite such popular beliefs, the origin of this so-called white trash can be traced back to an era far earlier than trailer parks and Seven- Elevens. Social history in the Antebellum and Reconstruction South reveals a class of poor whites whose particular blend of economic inferiority and racial superiority results in an unstable position between the white haves and black have-nots in the regional caste system. Eventually, this uneasy and somewhat threatening role gives rise to stereotypes of lasciviousness and indecency created by their white superiors and black inferiors. As a result, this class initially defined by economics and racial prejudice is maintained by the powerful safeguards of social ostracization and stereotype, the remnants of which persist in the contemporary American imagination.

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