The idea of Middle-Class Studies becomes even more prominent in the late 1990s. Writers like Lynn Bloom, in her article “Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise” began disclosing their middle-class roots in an effort to focus on the “number of major aspects of social class that freshman composition addresses…that will make them good citizens of the academic (and larger) community, and viable candidates for good jobs upon graduation” (655). She discusses how “middle-class standards” sometimes cause discrimination in the classroom. With the beginning of middle-class studies we also begin to see work regarding working-class studies, which becomes more important to the study of the southerner in the classroom. Again, class is important, because the young, rich sorority girl attending Ole Miss encounters different problems from the working-class mother attending the University of Arkansas.
Soon after, Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats came on the scene, demanding respect for his kind, and discussing how Southerners are “Othered”. While tracing the history of poor whites to the beginning of American culture, he insists that all Caucasians not be lumped together into one group, and that poor white southerners should not be punished for the sins of their richer forefathers.
Jim Goad, author The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats, explains:
The stereotypes [of the South and Southerners] aren’t new, just more persistently cruel of late. The Dumb White Bumpkin has always been a stock figure in the American dramatis personae. But fifty years ago the depictions tended toward the benign and comical, from Li’l Abner to Ma and Pa Kettle” (Goad 16).
Goad’s acknowledgement of negative Southern stereotypes such as Li’l Abner pales in comparison with some of the female counterparts on popular television programs.
Goad notes that since the days of the “Beverly Hillbillies,” the stereotypes have gravitated to more dangerous and fearsome (Goad 5). Goad mentions movies such as Deliverance portray poor whites as social deviants who should be avoided, not just generally but at all times (8). If a student is poor and white, from a working class family (as well as from the South), what are the identifiers that spring to mind? By allowing poor whites to be ridiculed, the separation or alienation within the classroom is inevitable. Goad explains:
Referring to “white trash” name calling “What should I call the nontrashy Caucasians? White Gold? The Valuable People? The true profiteers of white imperialism? These are the same class of folks who create negative media images of white trash, the writers who use “redneck” as an adjective. They disparage white trash much as one insults an embarrassingly drunken relative. And in so doing, they shunt nonwhite resentment away from themselves and toward white trash” (32).
Goad’s idea of estrangement of poor whites from their own race is the most significant sort of alienation. Why should they be accepted within the composition classroom, a place where students are taught to communicate for academia, if they are sometimes rejected from their own racial domicile? He continues, “Even within their own race, people seem to need an “other.” It appears impossible for societies to conceive of an “us” without an antagonistic and constantly threatening “them” (32). Within societies, even in a smaller scope like the university setting, the concept of othering and alienation exists.
2 thoughts on “Why is it Okay to Say “White Trash?””
It’s great that you write about Jim Goads excellent book The Redneck Manifesto, but one correction:
“While tracing the history of poor whites to the beginning of American culture, he insists that all Caucasians not be lumped together into one group, and that poor white southerners should not be punished for the sins of their richer forefathers.” What I think Jim Goad writes is that many poor white southerners have poor ancestors who lived under slavelike conditions, the opposite of having richer forefathers.
I see your point! He does write about the poor whites who descended from other poor whites, suffering generations of poverty, many whom were sharecroppers. He does discuss how some whites might have had rich ancestors, but how they did not grow up in the same environment. Goads wants to remind us that the stratification of classes be included in discussions about race.
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