The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement. They were alternately known as "waste people", "offals", "rubbish", "lazy lubbers", and "crackers". By the 1850s the downtrodden included so-called "clay eaters" and "sandhillers", known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.
In White Trash, Nancy Isenberg upends assumptions about America's supposedly class-free society. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early 19th century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ's Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty.
We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation's history. With Isenberg's landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well.
©2016 Nancy Isenberg (P)2016 Tantor
"This is breathtaking social history and dazzling cultural analysis at its best." (Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me)
From the African American perspective, I was drawn to this book by it's mere title. By the end of the first chapter I found myself engrossed in the historical foundation of America's diabolical institutions of race and class.
Quite astoundingly, I was amazed to discover that social Darwinism has not only been relegated to race although it has been known to me and my fellow humans of the Black race, that all are guilty of holding onto family and regional pride.
What does seem to be inevitable in these days of "occupiers" and "All Lives Matter", Equality here and there is...nothing will change. What has been confirmed for me is that human nature is so deeply ingrained that what seems to be rigged, is rigged indeed.
Exploring the history of America's White underclass is helpful in understanding the political climate we find ourselves in today. As the attention of progressive politicians turn understandably to issues of racial justice, it's become easier to see why the members of America's disaffected White working-class, who feel increasingly forgotten, are willing to turn to demagogues who promise a return to an American middle-class Utopia that for the most part never really existed.
The author painstakingly chronicles the trials and tribulations of, and attitudes towards America's White underclass; from our colonial beginnings, through to present-day. It is an eye-opening read, that helped me understand both my own family history and the attitudes of those I disagree with politically.
I was drawn to this book because I wanted to know why this group keep voting against their own interest. The author took me on this journey. Though I don't get the phenomenon, I understand it better .
Overall an excellent history, well researched and informative. Some bias becomes more evident from the Nixon administration forward, and the final chapters feel rushed. The conclusion of historical trends is well supported, but the assertion that a consciousness of "breeding" is still prevalent today is mostly supported by extrapolation rather than a thorough assessment of the modern status. Much recent research has examined the role of family and cultural lessons (as distinct from status) on economic outcomes of children. This is largely overlooked and as a result some potential remedies, such as teaching economic literacy and office soft skills in schools are left out, which weakens the final chapter of an otherwise excellent book.
The author's account of Classes in America is done in a chronological manner from Jamestown and early New England settlements up through early independence, the civil war, turn of the 20th century, WW1, WW2, LBJ, and today. The book was based on the writings of influential writers, forefathers, politicians, Hollywood and Presidents of the times. The topic challenged the very notion of American exceptionalism.
It is well researched with documented facts that support the reality of Class in America
How easily the European system of class was implemented into the New World and that poor white people don't realize they are victims of class the same as Black people and other minorities.
I have not.
Should be required reading for all high school students as they prepare to go out into the world of American un-equality.
Why should people relegated to the outside care about the opinions and class structures maintained by those on the inside? White Trash is a survey of history's outcasts in England and the USA. It is not a deep exploration of how these outcasts came to be nor does it offer remedies for their inclusion. You must accept that the indentured servants of Colonial America ended up in the South with slave labor prior to the American Civil War. Little attention is given to waste people anywhere else including the more modern US Rust Belt. White Trash is a worthwhile read if only as a reminder that we live in an unfair world and that Fairytales are rampant in USA history.
"Rather than an exposé on "white trash", the main thing exposed is Isenberg's contempt for southerners"
Isenberg's purported attempt to explore the origin, trajectory and existence of white trash seemed primarily a tool to perpetuate her unabashed disdain for the southern population. Although this skewed line of thinking made it difficult to finish this book, I did complete it because I hoped a more enlightened, less prejudiced perspective from the author would eventually emerge. Disappointingly, it did not!
As an educated, highly-accomplished southerner with tremendous love and respect for my country, culture and fellow southerners, I was left with an intense desire to correct the many fallacies she portrayed. Though the south and its people are not without flaws, there was absolutely no mention of even one positive word about southerners in the hundreds of pages she used to so freely disparage them as she made her case for the varied causes of the socioeconomic misfortune of the white trash.
I found it extremely disheartening that in modern times and with the benefit of advanced education, Isenberg displayed such ignorance about and contempt for the south. I am incredulous that she would squander an opportunity to extol real knowledge, instead relying largely on the outdated stereotypes that most educated members of society have moved beyond.
Her bias and contempt are shockingly apparent though; so I suppose I should congratulate her on being an author capable of delivering a clear and concise message!
The focus is on the southern white, to the extent there is a focus. Perhaps the author believes that they are the only "trash" and Northerners are something else? It's hard to tell. Some of the great examples of "by their own bootstraps"are dismissed. Perhaps the author believes that the exceptions prove the rule. There are certainly some interesting historical facts, but they seem to be raised selectively in a liberal effort to prove the south deserved to lose the war. Yes, I stand when they play Dixie, when anyone is allowed to play Dixie anymore. But still, a little more balance would've gone a long way.
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