If every American thought about class instead of race for only five minutes a day, some revolutionary things might happen.

Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto

The derisive treatment of working class whites by middle and upper class whites stems from two emotions within themselves: fear and guilt. Working class whites are the embodiment of uppers worst fears..fear of slipping in the class system, fear of social isolation and fear of this socially unstable class that retains an emphasis on physicality rather than intellect and moral judgements rather than ambiguous relativity.

Since the Civil Rights movement, white Americans have shouldered a lot of well deserved guilt about centuries of abuse toward minorities. Coupled with this guilt, there exists in most people a basic craving for absolution. The desire to feel forgiveness and move forward. This need is a strong force in society today. The white man does not know how to deal with his past as master and racist. He did not own slaves, maybe no one in his lineage owned slaves, but the color of his skin has made his heritage privy to power and control over other men's lives. How does one accept, change and go forward with such knowledge? Particularly when one is constantly confronted with the struggle of black and brown peoples who are attempting to make strides past the trappings of their abused past.

One option is to take the worst historical attributes of whites and placing them on those whites who are most powerless and isolated in society. Then you can blame and hate them for their crimes against humanity and your own. Upper class whites can join with blacks and other minorities, thereby alleviating their guilt, taking attention off themselves and bonding with minorities against poor whites. Uppers are still pitting the two groups against each other; they have merely switched sides. For proof, just take a look at recent voting patterns. The liberal, well educated white votes alongside minorities against politically conservative working class whites.

Think of the difference between the treatment of a black executive or politician who does not support gangsta rappers singing about rape and murder -- he is considered a sellout to his race. But if a white doctor is embarrassed by a television interview after a bout of domestic violence at the local trailer park, the world joins in throwing stones at the ignorant rednecks. Treason to whiteness has become a battle cry of devotion to humankind.

The history of race relations surrounding working class whites is complex. Due to their ambiguous social position, they were historically a favorite villain on both sides of the country. A prime example is during the postbellum period when defenders of the Old South used generalized "white trash" characteristics to justify retaining power in the hands of the gentry and plantation owners. The immoral, degenerate and violent scapegoating of the poor whites was used as an example of the need for the elite to protect others from this underclass who did not have a "role" in society. At the same time, northern abolitionists villify "white trash" to show the result of a slave system on whites as well as blacks. They were the terrible white results of a slave economy. (Cook, 9)

Saying that working class whites were in a tough spot, is never to deny their role in debasing blacks in society. However, the relationship between poor whites and slaves, or poor whites and poor blacks is a multi-layered one. Poor whites and poor blacks historically and presently have much more in common than either class with uppers. Historically, particularly after the Civil War, poor whites and poor blacks held a similar position in society. They typically worked as sharecroppers and tenant farmers, with no possibility for land ownership or education, constantly under the control of land owning wealthy whites. The upper class whites were and still are aware of the power that working class whites and blacks would have if they were to join forces in political and social affairs. Therefore it has been beneficial to upper class whites to encourage animosity between these two groups of people. With the obvious racial distinction, it was not difficult to do.

For the first two hundred years of American history, wealthy white employers and white churches constantly reinforced the poor whites' ideas about their superiority over blacks due to the color of their skin. Desperately desiring some power in society, poor whites gladly claimed this role, despite the obvious flaws in this argument. In Origins of the New South, C. Vann Woodward writes, "it took a lot of ritual and Jim Crow to bolster the creed of white supremacy in the bosom of a white man working for a black man's wages" (p.211) Poor whites and blacks share similar religious doctrines, family ties and community loyalty; yet have remained separated by racial animosity.