Labeling someone as a
"poor white" is a paradox -- juxtaposing connotations that are at polar extremes in American
rhetoric and thought. It is a label that is uncomfortable for those using it as well as those
identified by it. The original derisive term was "poor white trash." Rather than abbreviating
to "poor white" however, it has become "white trash." This takes the emphasis off of the
economic difficulties of the class, and places the importance on the moral qualities of the people
that make up this social group.
But the truth is, working class whites have no choice but to work, and to work in thankless,
jobs which society's habits necessitate, but no one wants to perform. These jobs are looked
upon because they require little education and they place one in the lower level of social
hierarchy. The job complaints of these men do not center
around board meetings, not making junior partner, who got the nicest company car, or even
paying off college loans. Their problems are on the job injuries and deaths, explosions, shift
year after year, no opportunity to ever receive a promotion, protecting their seniority, and
providing health care for their families....not to mention paying the bills.
This class should theoretically be
reasons. But our capitalist society teaches that we all get what we deserve
-- the rich and the poor. This is further complicated if one is white. The cultural baggage of
skin includes the myths of power, education, wealth and opportunity.
If one is white and does not succeed there
are no social excuses, though they exist for all other marginalized groups. The implied
problem must therefore be laziness or stupidity. Yet the marginalization of this group is not so
different. The folks also live within a social
construct that teaches different values and offers no visible option for a path different from that
their family and social structure. And there are no social organizations offering "poor white"
scholarships, or "poor white" loan programs, nor are wealthy whites willing to mentor the
working class white's children by helping with college or job training. Being white, in some
sense, actually harms their chance of receiving aid or encouragement if they chose to pursue
education or a different lifestyle from that of their families.
When America thinks of the poor, the instant assumption is black or hispanic. The percentage of
the black or hispanic populations which fall into the poorest class is certainly higher than the
percentage of the white population. Yet when considering the actual number of poor of all races
in America, 48.1% are white. Most of the poor people in the country are white and their
incomes have been in outright decline for more than twenty years, particularly compared with
minority and women's incomes which have risen steadily (Wray, 183). That is not to say that the
narrowing of the gap between racial incomes was not needed, but what about some narrowing
between the incomes of the employer versus the employee. The
white CEO's are quadrupling their incomes, no need to worry about them. However, Asian
Americans, since being included in Census data starting in 1987, have the highest income of any
ethnic group (Wray, 179). Doug Henwood's "Trash-o-nomics" explains these statistics and
economic trends in detail.
image is of the lines of workers during
the great depression as they
marched on Washington to get early WWI benefits paid to them They were later beaten by
One of the clearest places to see where America has turned her back on the working man may be
in the treatment of the history of unions. Which is to say the missing treatment of the
history of unions. The ignorance of labor history allows another generation of children to grow
up thinking we can all be doctors and lawyers and allows the demonization of the working class
with no knowledge of their historical struggles. As Goad puts it in his Redneck
Manifesto, "We continue to flog ourselves over cowboys and Injuns, but we feel no guilt
what railroad companies did to rail workers. A second won't pass when someone doesn't reloop
film reels of white cops clubbing black guys, but you'll never see footage of Pinkerton guards
machine-gunning coal miners" (102). Instead, the political left that once
supported workers' rights has become the left that paints working whites as the last stronghold of
"warmongering, bigoted junior partners of empire" (Wray, 178).