The white trash question, that is, the question that a white person from a marginalized background, whether in Western Europe or in the United States, tends to end up asking themselves at some point in their life, is as following:
If black people ended up as an underclass because of systematic discrimination based on visually distinguishable characteristics, how did we end up as white trash exactly? Do we just have inferior genes?
That question is never really addressed in popular culture. The effect this tends to have is that it creates a rift between white trash and black people. White trash end up feeling threatened by black people, because they see a society emerging in which upper and middle class white people can solidify their economic and political power by presenting themselves as guardians of black people, against the evil Trump supporting resentful white trash who secretly can’t wait for the South to rise again.
If you’re born as white trash, almost every attempt by upper and middle class white people to pay lip service to social justice ends up feeling like a punch to the gut. Every time that these people emphasize how black people ended up impoverished because of systematic discrimination, the implicit message you receive as white trash is that in contrast to black people, we did it to ourselves. When I see Black Lives Matter protestors who insist on segregating the bourgeois white girls I don’t think to myself “that’s really racist”. Rather, I think to myself: “Thank God they manage to see through the insincere virtue signaling by these girls.”
In contrast to being born as black, being born as white trash is something you’re just not supposed to acknowledge, because in contrast to race, it’s something you can often get away with hiding. The problem is also that in contrast to race, where the cause of generational impoverishment tends to be relatively easy to document in a twenty minute video when you bother looking at history, as John Oliver recently did, there are many different ways to end up as white trash.
As an example, I can look at my own situation. Why do I have no real desire to hold onto a job? Why did I have no real desire to find a job? Part of the answer is that’s what I grew up with, my parents had no jobs. Why did I grew up with that? My mother received no real education, so she had no desire to work after marriage. My father saw a guy gored to pieces in the factory where he worked, so he has some degree of PTSD that he simply never acknowledged to himself. Again, middle class white people go to the shrink when they’re feeling down. White trash, particularly white trash men, don’t go to the shrink. You just run into them one day in your local Walmart parking lot, sitting in their pickup truck, injecting fentanyl into their veins.
If the answer is complex, people are not going to learn about it. Greta Thunberg can wear a T-shirt that says “why be racist, sexist or transphobic when you can just be silent?” but one buzzword suspiciously missing from that shirt is “classist”. And why is that? Because classism is much harder to fit into a one hour history lesson in school, or a 140 character tweet on Twitter, so Greta never learns about it.
Again, there is no single simple answer, there are many. If you’re born as white trash, the answer often goes back multiple generations. My grandfather never talked to his own father, because his father sent all his children to the orphanage when his wife died. He sent all the children to the orphanage, because he had too many. The fact that he had so many children, also means they all ended up inheriting basically nothing, meaning that poverty passes down another generation.
The stereotype of white trash is that they waste their money on drugs, alcohol and tobacco. But there again, a crucial piece of the puzzle is missed. All of these are coping mechanisms, that people tend to use when faced with psychological stress. A lot of poor people end up spending a large amount of their money on tobacco, because the government came up with the genius solution of trying to discourage white trash from smoking by making it too expensive for them.
What sort of psychological stress do you end up facing as white trash? Well, a good example is sexual abuse. This is particularly common in broken families, where the parents have divorced and the mother lives together with some other guy. Girls who are sexually abused tend to develop low self-esteem. How they are treated by others, ends up affecting how they perceive themselves. And so you end up with the phenomenon of white trash girls, who become easy lays for middle class white guys with happy childhoods, who shudder to think of the idea of ever introducing them to their parents.
These cycles perpetuate themselves. When such a girl grows up to be a young woman, she will often drink, smoke or overeat, to cope with the stress. If she then becomes pregnant, the child already starts out with a disadvantage. Alcohol exposure, tobacco exposure, and prenatal diabetes all have the effect of reducing a child’s cognitive potential. Epigenetic changes from trauma seem to have the effect of causing her children to have low self esteem too.
If you’re born as white trash and have the severe misfortune of developing an IQ above room temperature, you can try to become a bourgeois social climber. But most of the time, that just means selectively blocking information from your mind. As an example, I have sensitive teeth. Why do I have sensitive teeth? Well part of the answer must be that I didn’t go to the dentist for years. Why didn’t I go? Because my parents considered it too expensive. I could theoretically get a Phd, become a multimillionaire and marry into an aristocratic family. What it won’t do, is make my teeth less sensitive.
Another example that I discussed with my brother a while ago is the mysterious phenomenon of going out to eat. Because we both grew up as white trash, for us this was an alien concept that we discovered in college. I had an intuitive dislike for it, which ended up causing a bit of a rift between me and a bourgeois girlfriend (who, incidentally, never introduced me to her parents).
And this in turn is why I can’t find myself to support the concept of reparations based on racial ancestry. The effect that would have is that it merely furthers the rift between those who ended up impoverished for reasons that are easy to document and those who ended up impoverished for reasons that are more opaque. My grandfather could never get a good job, because he lost his leg as a child by playing at a construction site owned by the government. Because of this he couldn’t pass on any real inheritance to my parents, which in turn means they can’t help my brother buy a house. In today’s era, that would have resulted in a massive lawsuit.
None of this is meant to diminish the injustice that black Americans went through after the second world war, which had the effect of causing generational impoverishment. The problem however with selectively addressing injustice, is that you end up generating new injustice in the process. And so, if Democrats end up turning reparations into a real thing, they might succeed in halting the move of black people into the Republican party, which is rapidly transforming into the political party of the working class. What they won’t be doing, is healing the racial trauma embedded in American society.