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.
Does this article count as “good vibes”?
I think it’s neutral. Bad vibes is “everything is going to shit”, I want to drop that. Good vibes will come with time
As fellow white trash (of eastern european variety) i agree with what is said …
Well, if your cards are bad you should bluff like in poker. Turn the world upside down and make you the king. Set your own values and aim very very heigh. There is obviously nothing to lose.
Social status is, like the rest of the world, generated in your brain. Therefore I’m sure that there is a hack and even more so because others base their judgement on your own self-esteem.
One trick is also to see the hardship thrown at you as some kind of extra challenge for great people akin the stuff out of which heroes are made.
In grand scheme of things you are a right. Genes are only a small part of the inheritance. And some people just have bad luck from start to finish. But to find a way out, one must adopt another perspective. The world may very well be just an illusion so who knows? Maybe it’s possible to move mountains if one truly believes.
*I added some good vibes for you
Some things can’t be faked.
>Well, if your cards are bad you should bluff like in poker.
Well yeah but there’s the thing. I don’t want to bluff and try desperately to fit in with the bourgeois climbers. I want to own it.
Thanks for the good vibes though. It’s hard for me to produce them.
> 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.
Selectively blocking information from your mind… such as bad vibes?
> Selectively blocking information from your mind… such as bad vibes?
If it hinders your personal development, it may be necessary to block such kind of information. It is truly a strange phenomenon that people at the bottom of the social hierarchy display behaviour which reduce even more their odds of positive outcome. It is as if nature doesn’t like losers and pushed people at the bottom into some kind built-in self-destruction mode.
Low status increases stress in an individual. It is very damaging if chronic.
I usually do not read “self-help” books but I must confess that I have read one called “Psycho-Cybernetics”. It is one of the first popular books in the field and it is very interesting to be honest. The author, a plastic surgeon, wondered why some people wear their scarfs or other features with pride and others try to hide or even want to remove them. In his opinion people have a “self-image” buried deep down their own psyche. The organism tries to actualisze this “self-image” no matter what – that is to say even to the detriment of yourself. The process is automatic and driven by what he calls “servo-machines”.
I think it makes perfect sense. In social situations people often try to undermine the self-image of others and people who deep down think they are useless, ugly or dumb will behave in a way which increases even more this aspect of their personality. It is a self-reinforcing process. But what happens if it is possible to change this self-image? If someone with bad luck in sexual matters for example starts deep down to think of himself as some kind of Don Juan and the servo-machines start to actualize this image? The book offers some approaches on how to change the self-image which is not easy to change since it is associated to a lot of stuff. One way he claims, is to overwrite “bad” memories of yourself by generating new ones in form of visualisation (at least 30min each day). You visualise yourself in conditions you want yourself to be in or think about positive experiences you had. I don’t know it if works but may very well try it. The idea is interesting.
That said, I don’t know why you would like to be a bourgeois climber it is possible to simply look down on them 🙂
If I can genuinely change myself through visualizing different conditions then I would personally rather skip over the bourgeois climber phase and just directly start visualizing spiritual enlightenment.
Why wouldn’t it be possible? The self, be it conscious or unconscious, is certainly based on some neural connections which can be changed over time with some serious repetition. Once you have created new associations through visualization, the connections may very well be as real as those created by real world sensory input.
I have started yesterday so I certainly will know more at some point. I want to see if it works. And no, my aspiration is not to become a bourgeois climber.
Moreover what do you mean by enlightenment? To see the game of life from above and to somewhat disconnect from it (even from yourself)? I prefer the approach of Nietzsche to transform your own life into some kind of artwork.
it’s all about class, man. the experiences of poor blacks and poor whites have been converging since civil rights legislation was passed. the cause of black misfortune has less to do with “systemic racism” and more to do with the fact that after black peasants started losing their land in the early 20th century, they didn’t really have anything to pass down just like white ex-peasants. i’m a black dude from a lower middle class family, and a lot of the stuff you write about and describe for “white trash” resonates with my experiences. i also agree that reparations are not the move, primarily because they wont solve the issue.
my only point of disagreement is here: the republicans are not becoming a working class party. neither party is. the republicans are leaning on small business owners, famers/ranchers, and extractive giants. do not fall for their illusions.
I get your point about the Republicans, but I think we’ll see a point where marginalized
people simply end up taking over the Republican party. I agree that we’re not there yet, but I see it as a process that happens slowly and then all at once. The first signs are already there I think. How does some QAnon woman end up elected to congress? Something has really changed to this party since the Bush years.