White trash/Talk

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I'm afraid that the new, improved version strikes me as an overblown, long-winded, largely irrelevant (to the subject) exercise in politically correct WASP-bashing victimology. -HWR

I utterly disagree. In fact, I'm impressed by your ability to be "overblown, long-winded, [and] largely irrelevant" in only one sentence. What an ugly abuse of the English language: "politically correct WASP-bashing victimology". Try using something other than buzzwords some time if you actually want to make a point. --TheCunctator

Oh, I think you got my point. But perhaps not. Obviously the author is so committed to the "whiteness is privilege" mantra that he cannot see the absurdity of claiming that "white trash" are "non-white". -HWR

I'm fine with someone disagreeing with what has been put forward so far, but what is the alternative to it? It's not like "victimology" (a great word, by the way, like Delillo's "Hitler Studies") doesn't come from somewhere. That is, people really were victimized by upper class people who specifically identified themselves as White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. They explicitly excluded anyone who wasn't that. And they implicitly believed that to be WASP was to be chosen by god. That was as true for the puritans as it was for Henry Ford.

But you are right, HWR. There isn't an easy answer, even if WASP bashing seems like it should be so true. Most abolitionists were WASPS. And even if Henry Ford was a fascist and desperately afriad of all of the "colored" people of the world, be they black or Italian or irish or german, his son and grandson established some of the most progressive and powerful charities in the western world.

So, I say again, what is your alternative? And more generally, how should we deal with these entries that are so clearly not about fact in the sense that we normally imagine in an encyclopedia. 100 years ago, they would have pretended or not been aware that a controversy even existed. I can't count the number of antique encyclopedias I have read which talk of the "five races of man" --the black, the white, the yellow, the red and the brown-- with a complete sense of authority and "factuality". I mean, how do we construct useful, factual entries about important concepts which are, by their very existence, controversial and opinionated? I personally reject the quasi-journalistic minimalist approach of saying only what is absolute fact as being both too dictionary like and generally useless. Rather than dealing with a problem, I feel that such an approach just avoids it. And avoiding these issues, letting them fester, is its own kind of action and therefore judgement. By saying noth we are expressing an opinion and affecting the debate.

But what should we do? --trimalchio

Debate that was in this space has been moved to racism/racial and ethnic slurs

My biggest beef with the article right now is that it refers to a previous Wikipedia article as such, which is not likely to be regarded as having much significance to anyone but Wikipedians. The same point can be made by referring to a "stereotypical" account of white trash, or something like that.

I think it would be great if we could get that Berkeley dissertation writer, or someone similar, to comment on the article now. --LMS

Change made... though the original entry is preserved (and could use some cleaning up I guess) it is contextualized as a common definition. I have tried to remove any other Meta-Wikipedia commentary from the article. Please point out any more errors if you see them. My writing style can tend toward the stylized, and that is problematic for an encyclopedia article. Thanks, Larry. --trimalchio

Trimalchio, would you be willing to move general discussion that's in this entry to a more general page, such as Racial and ethnic slurs or Racial epithet or something? A lot of the discussion in the entry (which is great) is not specific to the history of "white trash" but is a more general discussion of the nature of ethnic slurs. I'm hesitant to do it myself because I'm not sure what the entry should be called. --TheCunctator

Moved it. Not sure if it would be better in Wikipedia commentary, but racism is where it is at right now. Good idea. Thanks. --trimalchio

I'm not sure that any of the arguments I've seen here are all that valid. First, I've never seen the term white trash used in a "white, but not WASP" way. That said, I do believe that many of the original recipients of the title tended to be of Irish and Scots-Irish descent, and were mostly day laborers on farms or later, in the mines. More recent usage has much less to do with race or economics, however, than with a certain type of behavior. That behavior is not synonymous with Redneck behavior -- the folks on King of the Hill are definitely rednecks, but not white trash. Where I come from (Washington by way of CA and GA), you're considered trash if you don't keep up your home (rented or owned), if your animals are better off than your kids, if you have any motor vehicles parked in the front yard -- especially if they are in parts, but not if they are being actively repaired, if you don't dispose of your empties properly (that is, if you throw them in the bushes or the back of the truck), and if you don't keep yourself up properly. It also might include types of favored dress and behaving in public as if you are in private. It often includes a high level of general ignorance, but I have known very well educated people who acted like "trash." For foodservers, there is a special category -- people who use eating in a restaurant to run the servers ragged, jack up a high bill, and don't tip. These people usually order filet mignon butterflied and cooked extra well. Too much makeup and hickies are often considered a sign of trashiness...so...I guess i'm trying to say that this is just way too subjective a subject for a NPOV JHK

Yeah, the new entry is overblown. Reads a lot like someone who has ever actually met any white trash. Or at least never drank a case or two of Texas Pride with any white trash. I might change it later. Too busy right now. Oh yeah, since cunctator doesn't like hyperbolic prose, here it is in plain english: the new entry sucks.

That's useful commentary. --TheCunctator

I'm trying some bridge building here. I have placed on the entry page an abstract and a specific version of the definition. I have also placed a concrete historical beginning for the term (from the OED) I have moved the contextual article off page for people to review and improve. I personally believe it to be essentially factual (though some points might be moved one way or the other) but I recognize that contextual analysis cannot by definition have an empirical basis, and so therefore may not be capable of becoming fully NPOVd. So, people who are all for the Common Definition should improve that part of the article. People who are for the abstract definition (the Racial Slur abstraction) should work on that. Historical facts can be reported at the bottom, and the contextual analysis can be improved off page. Perhaps for any of these entries (religion, folklore, racism) we should consider creating a subpage for analytical context. On the one hand, such context CANNOT be empirically proven (at least in my opinion) but on the other hand it is essential to any synthetic understanding of the whole meaning and history of a concept that is cultural and therefore ephemeral. I think what we are seeing here is the limitation of the encyclopedia as form. It was created by people who believed that only one, complete statement was necessary to pin down the knowledge of Man. But the very idea of doing that for non-empirical knowledge is prejudicial. All kinds of biases are inherent in that approach. Any single statement about concepts such as these, which are by definition multiply interpreted and subjective, would be essentially biased. I don't see how bias is avoidable, frankly (I know there are ideas about reporting the nature of the debate and all... but even that has biases...)... Anyway, here is my olive branch. --trimalchio

Very good points. I think the whole issue boils down to a simple definition of white trash: "I know it when I see it". Obviously, this won't hold water outside a church social. Perhaps a good compromise would be to briefly explain the difficulty at the beginning of the article, then provide "high brow" (academic) and "low brow" (colloquial) definitions immediately. The academic definition will need to be heavily wikified to allow non-academic sociologists, anthropologists, whatever some insight into the material, and will need to explain the unavoidable bias in the material. The common definition can be condensed from the existing work. Jimbo nails it pretty good on the Old Talk page. The current page is heading this direction, but not there yet. The previously material (that sucked :) should certainly be kept, somewhere else.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to say this, but White trash/context is (1) very poorly named, and (2) not neutral point of view at all--it reads like an essay (which it might very well be--someone's college essay or a column). That said, it seems to me it makes a lot of important legitimate points that need to be made. I also don't understand why it isn't part of the main article (except that it was an easily-chunkable part that someone didn't want to deal with, which I can totally relate to). --LMS

I am working on integrating White trash/context into the main page. There's good here, but it won't be easy.
Yep. Lots of chaff to winnow.

It's interesting to see how this article has been developing. I am not sure the anonymous reviser's version is that much better than the one he or she started with. I wish I could work on it more, but I did want to comment on one thing:

The term gained wide popularity during the nineteenth and early twentieth century because of the much narrower (compared to modern late twentieth century) definition of "whiteness". During the early years of the Republic, a white person could more accurately be defined as a white land holder, usually of Anglo-Saxon heritage and always protestant. Because of this narrow definition whiteness, a sizeable portion of the country was, in some sense, considered non-white.

The above strikes me just incredible. Very probably, it should be radically revised or, possibly, removed. Is there some sort of evidence from historical linguistics that the word "white" really was used in such a completely narrow sense? I think the point the author is trying to make is that only WASP landholders were regarded as full citizens of the early Republic (which, again, is quite arguable, but a lot more plausible). That in itself certainly would not mean that those people are the only ones to whom the word "white" was applied. Can we have some evidence, please? --Larry Sanger

It is incredible. I left it as a possible future example of academic study of white trash, but it seems kind of ridiculuous to me. No one seems to have stepped in to pick up the slack. Now I will be interested in seeing what Larry comes up with.


A good bibliography on the subject, and also an interesting introductory site on the issue.

And John Ibson's WILL THE WORLD BREAK YOUR HEART is a good book exploring the nineteenth century assimilation of Irish immigrants into white america. Also, Irish-Americans and Anglo-American Relations, 1880-1888 by Joe O'Grady explores the complexities of "whiteness" in the 19th century. Here also is the OED on the linguistic history of "whiteness" (attached below):

Note 1726 where Portuguese are at first identified as white, but then that identification is qualified somewhat. These people are "caucasian" but they are only considered white by virtue of the fact that there wren't any "whiter" people there.

Also note 1896 where "poor whites" are "explained" by being descended from Dutch and French immigrants, in effect distinguishing them as an almost distinct racial class from the well-to-do whites.

Clearly, as written the "context" article steps out a bit and too agressivley approaches its target, but I think that the linguistic and scholarly research opens up a lot of questions. The main point is that a clear understanding of "whiteness" was not monolithic either way, and in fact created many more confusions and abuses then clarifications.

Anyway, it is not fact that "white" was used so narrowly by all people in the nineteenth century. But it is fact that the term was a fluid term, and that it at times was used that narrowly. It frequently depended on the situation of the speaker and the people being observed, as with the case of the Portiguese people being white, but only when compared to Blacks, and only in the sitaution that there were none who were "whiter" at the time of observation.

  • 13. A white man; a person of a race distinguished by light complexion: see white a. 4.

poor whites = `poor white folks' (see white a. 4); also sing. and fig.

    • 1671 Charante Let. conc. Customs Tafiletta 10 After him raigned his Brother Muley Elwaly, who was a White, his Mother a Spanish Moor.
    • 1726 Adv. Capt. R. Boyle (1744) 155 There may be about 20000 Whites (or I should say Portuguese, for they are none of the whitest,) and about treble that Number of Slaves.
    • 1819 W. Faux Jrnl. 28 July in Memorable Days in Amer. (1823) 118 The poor white, or white poor, in Maryland,..scarcely ever work.
    • 1826 J. F. Cooper Last of Mohicans xiv, Red-skins and whites.
    • 1833 in Maryland Hist. Mag. (1918) XIII. 338 The poor whites at the South are not as well off in their physical condition as the slaves, and hardly as respectable.
    • 1879 Sir G. Campbell White & Black 163 A large number of very inferior whites, known as `mean whites', `white trash', and so on.
    • 1886 J. A. Froude Oceana xviii. 326 When he dies, the Maori and the poor whites in New Zealand will have lost their truest friend.
    • 1888 Churchward Blackbirding 7 Having been longer in Samoa than any live white in the place.
    • 1896 R. Wallace Farming Industries of Cape Colony 406 The so-called `poor whites' are chiefly the descendants of French protestant refugees, and, in some districts, of early Dutch settlers.
    • 1934 A. N. J. Den Hollander in W. T. Couch Culture in South xx. 414 In discriminating southern speech, it was not used to include all white persons who were poor... The `poor-whites' were those who were both poor and conspicuously lacking in the common social virtues and especially fell short of the standard in certain economic qualities.
    • 1958 L. van der Post Lost World Kalahari iii. 56 All who worked for my grandfather no matter whether Griqua, Hottentot,..Cape-coloured or poor white, were ultimately held in equal affection.
    • 1974 J. le Carré Tinker Tailor i. 9 Jim Prideaux was a poor white of the teaching community.