absolution. The desire to feel forgiveness and move forward. This need is a strong force in
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
thereby alleviating their guilt, taking attention off themselves and bonding with minorities
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.
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
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.