White trash/Old Talk

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I think this page represents an interesting phenomenon--not the phenomenon of so-called "white trash," but the phenomenon of what Wikipedians feel emboldened to write about. On the one hand, for all I know, the notion of "white trash" is actually studied by sociologists and cultural anthropologists (yep--[1] and [2], for example--look at his dissertation topic). So, books have been written about it. People have sweated over dissertations about it. Anyway, I am just guessing that Matt Stoker wrote about the topic simply because he is a very active, intelligent member of American society, in which the notion of "white trash" is sometimes bandied about. In writing about it, he has simply codified what an active, intelligent member of the society can explain and infer about the concept. I just think this is interesting, in that it illustrates just the sort of phenomenon that makes the notion of "white trash" interesting from an anthropological point of view in the first place.

I will leave it up to those who know more about the topic to pass judgment whether the current article is unbiased or not. --LMS

Actually, I saw an uncreated link to "White trash" on the Married with Children page and thought, "What the heck, why don't I get the ball rolling?" Besides, I needed a break from writing about things I really know something about, such as Phases of matter, Gibbs phase rule and the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution. BTW, prior to writing the initial entry I did take a look at [3], but most of the thoughts are my own, so if there are any sociologists out there, please make corrections as needed. --Matt Stoker

From the outside looking in (I'm Australian, have only visited the states briefly), your definition seems overly broad - I considered that the term usually implied people who were living in very poor conditions with unstable homes, violent relationships, alcoholism and drug use, long-term unemployment, and so on. The Simpson family - to take a fictional example - while certainly not wealthy have a husband with a steady and respectable job (safety technician at a nuclear power station), a stable, loving, and equal relationship, attend church regularly, and while Homer drinks to excess on occasion it does not overly damage his relationships or job performance (such as it is :), and yet you are placing his family as "white trash". -- Robert Merkel

Actually, in the episode with Reverend Lovejoy's daughter Jessica, she refers to Bart as "yellow trash". It is common for the Simpsons to make reference to peculiarities of animation such as four fingers; this was obviously meant to imply "white trash" in a medium where white folks happen to be yellow. --LDC

I don't think "white trash" implies such a state of abject poverty, just that they are poor and not upwardly mobile. Admittedly, the Simpsons would be near the upper limit for "white trash", but I still think they qualify. I hope others will join in and state their opinions on the matter. Are the Simpsons white trash? If not, do any other characters in the mentioned television shows qualify? For the record, I included the Drew Carey show because Mimi frequently refers to herself as "Trailer park trash". -- Matt Stoker

"White trash" to me has always implied both poverty and squalor, but that does not mean it's necessarily correct. We should probably be careful about drawing inferrences from fiction; perhaps the screewriters and / or the actress playing Mimi also have a poor understanding of what "white trash" is, according to sociologists. --KQ

What's of interest to anthropologists is not just the life of people who are sometimes insulted with the epithet "white trash" but the very phenomenon of people using the epithet. That's probably as important and interesting as anything you might mention about the lives of poor rural white folks. --LMS

IMO, Larry is dead on here, speaking as a native of Tennessee.

Fair enough.

The tone of the article suggests that the writer does not count any of these ``white trash people as personal friends. A far more simple definition of white trash would be someone who believes that dismantling automobiles, and leaving dismantled automobiles (possibly for decades), in one's front yard, ain't nobodies business.

But this coming from someone who understands the value of a trailer in the ozarks vis-a-vis a loft in downtown San Fran.

Growing up I had plenty of friends in the lower economic classes (at least if you count 8+ kids in a single wide trailer or our neighbors who used to feed us Twinkies and Ding-Dongs, which they got out of the dumpster behind the day-old bread store), but I never regarded any of them as "trash", so perhaps you're right. -- Matt Stoker

Jimbo Wales here --

I grew up in Alabama, I own a 12 gauge shotgun, and my granddaddy was a sharecropper. I feel qualified to speak with some authority on the subject. (I also collect fine wine and own a Ferrari, so maybe my credentials don't count for much here.)

The Simpsons could be white trash, if only Homer Simpson would be a little less diligent about mowing his lawn.

- The Simpsons are sometimes called yellow trash.

Hank and Peggy Hill of The King Of The Hill are most decidedly not white trash. Hank, after all, is a successful salesman of propane and propane related accessories, while Peggy is a substitute teacher in Ess-pan-yole at Tom Landry Middle School. They are upstanding members of the community, and not even a particularly disfunctional family. (Perhaps the author is not familiar with the show and jumped to a conclusion?)

Admittedly, I'm not very familiar with "The King of the Hill", but I was under the impression that some of Hank and Peggy's friends, who are significant characters on the show are "white trash", in which case the listing would still be appropriate. Is this not the case? -- Matt Stoker

Al and Peg Bundy of Married with Children are almost certainly white trash, even though they are yankees from Chicago as well. They've probably never eaten possum, but only because one never died on their front porch.

Drew Carey in The Drew Carey Show is solidly middle class. He is (or was) a manager at a department store. He owns a home. He isn't wealthy, but he surely isn't poor.

Actually, I agree with you on this one. As stated above, I only listed the show because Mimi constantly calls herself "trailer park trash". I don't think any of the other characters could be considered as such. -- Matt Stoker

Cheers? Good grief, no. These people live in Boston! They are barflies, to be sure, but not white trash. Norm was an accountant. Cliff is a postal worker. Ted Danson's character (forgot the name, egads!) is a retired professional athlete. Maybe Karla has a white trash background, but her story is hardly the focus of the show. I never saw a shotgun or chewing tobacco once.

Karla was definitely white trash. Woody's background was white trash. Cliff might be, but more because of his disfunctional relationships than his economic status. At first I thought he definitely was, but now I'm not so sure. Misfit? yes. White trash, maybe not. Norm was usually not white trash, but may have become such during a few episodes while he was unemployed. The other characters definitely weren't. Despite a cast that was primarily not "white trash" the show did frequently deal with or at least make fun of "white trash" issues through the characers of Karla and Woody. -- Matt Stoker

From some of the above posts, I get the impression that many people feel that "white trash" applies predominantly to people in the south or in rural areas. For me (originally from rural Washington State) "white trash" does not cannote a specific locale and can be applied to both urban and rural dwellers. On the other hand the terms "redneck" and "hillbilly" do indeed imply a rural or Southern locale. Do others agree or are all three terms synonymous? -- Matt Stoker

Redneck refers to the actual state of a person's neck as a result of spending a large amount of time outdoors, whether it be bustin sod or running cattle. Plenty of these in Montana, Iowa, Tennessee, Vermont, etc.

Hillbillies: lots of them in the Sierra Nevada racheer in Callyforny.

White trash don't mow the yard (ain't much to mow these last 10 years, what with all that motor oil out there under the sugar maple), or clean up the dog piles from the Blue (Red) Tick operation in the side yard. (Speaking of which, Jimbo, the most impressive Red Tick breeder I ever saw was outside of Paint Rock. He had at least 40 hounds chained up, 35 of which were standing on their damn dog houses howling when we drove by. Cool.) Regular country folk build kennels, down by the barn.

But these are really fine hairs to split here on wikipedia, where most people would not care to know either 1. any such people, or 2. the difference between them.

The emergence and popularity of these shows likely reflected the economic trends of the time, during which rapid growth and prosperity in the stock market greatly benefited the upper classes, but left many in the middle and lower classes feeling left behind and somewhat hopeless. Thus the average American could sympathize with the situation of the "white trash" characters, while at the same time feeling slightly superior themselves.

This is more of an op-ed than a neutral POV. I'd be happy to see it reinstated if anyone could provide actual data suggesting the poor and middle-class have not enjoyed economic gains in recent decades.

Agreed, I'm just glad the page has gotten such a response. Admittedly, I'm not an expert, so please wiki-on everyone! -- Matt Stoker

Continuing in the op-ed vein, my hunch is that the economic prosperity enjoyed by the lower-middle to working class is more related to not being laid off lately, rather than enjoying increasing earnings potential.

Economists prefer data to hunches. If this hunch is true, you could probably find lots of economists who have already proven it with the data. But you won't.

From 1984 to 1994, the percentage of poor American households who possessed a washing maching rose from 58.2 to 71.7. Dryer - 35.6 to 50.2. Microwave - 12.5 to 60. Color TV - 70.3 to 92.5. VCR - 3.4 to 59.7. Personal computer - 2.9 to 7.4. Telephone - 71 to 76.7. Air conditioner - 42.5 to 49.6. One or more cars - 64.1 to 71.8. For many of these items, ownership among the poor had surpassed the national average from 25 years earlier.

The data support the view that the benefits of economic expansion are indiscriminate.

Those same data might also support the view that credit is being extended indiscriminately.

The question is whether the economic expansion benefitted only the rich, or whether it also benefitted those that were not rich. Comments, to be relevent, should touch on this question.

The comment is relevant, thank you; it points out that there is more than one way to interpret the data that you had assumed had only one interpretation.

I would say that the data address the wrong question. Few would argue that the lower economic classes didn't benefit at all from economic expansion, but the real question is how did the benefits to the lower classes compare to those for the upper classes? If middle and lower class incomes rose by 10% and upper class incomes rose by 1000% then "average Americans" may still have felt "left behind".--Matt Stoker

Economists. Data. Harumph. Lot's of ways to interpret economic data: the right way, the wrong way, and my way...

Was it Mark Twain who said that economists are right behind thieves, used car salesmen, and politicians? or was that statisticians? -- mike dill

Twain came up with lies, damn lies, and statistics

Sounds like Twain (who also, in his later days, said something to the effect that God shouldn't expect any gratitude for creating humanity, since no one asked him to). I think his bitterness nearly outraced his wit.  ;-) --KQ

Am I the only one who questions the notion that they are politically conservative? While many may staunchly guard their right to own a shotgun or hunt, how many of them are pro-union? How many vote for democrats that support the "working man"? It seems to me that most of the conservative values they might uphold are more of the type of "rural" values that either party might have subscribed to in the past. they are more cultural remnants of a stagnant social class than adherence to a political motivation. Another example might be the confederate flag issue. that's more of a southern thing when you get down to it than a left-right thing.

Additionally, many people I might classify as "white trash" don't espouse any sort of religious doctrine (though some might occasionally to justify some personally held belief). Not because they are atheist, but because they are too scummy to put up with the rigorous moral upkeep of religion, and too dumb to read the anything, let alone the bible.

Being a leftover "rebel" that treats his wife like a servant and loves his shotgun doesn't make him necessarily a conservative, it just makes him a hick.

Yup. White trash is no more likely to vote one way or another, if they vote at all.

The Stars 'n' Bars thing is a riot: How many pickups in West (By God) Virginia don't fly the flag (note to non-usians: West Virginia went Union. They had virtually no economic ties to the Tidewater slave-owning gentry). Same in East Tennessee, a strongly pro-Union region. And it is a southern thing (American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God, etc), not a left vs. right, rich vs. poor, white-trash vs. decent-country-folk thing.

It would be really cool if someone could extend the main page more, with more than anecdotal writing. It's likely that usian white trash shares a lot of common traits with people of similar mentality in other cultures, and this would be fun to read about.

Subsequent discussion moved to racism/racial and ethnic slurs