20. White Trash

“One of the most memorable films of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), a classic portrait of the legacy of slavety and racial segregation in the South.”

White Trash, Nancy Isenberg

In my continuing quest to figure just what the eff is going on in America, (see e.g. Hillbilly Elegy), I decided to read this book, which, is, as the title suggest “the 400-year untold history of class in America.”  Again, not exactly what I want.

What I want, it seems, is a book that doesn’t just describe what for lack of a better term “trash people” are like, nor a book that delineates this history of said people, but a book that really explores what causes people to continue in that lifestyle today.  This book has some of that - understanding there has always been, again, for lack of a better word an “underclass” in America, and how policies were and have been put in place to keep people in that situation.  But I am fascinated by the cultural elements - why certain people in this country live by a very different set of codes and values than the ones I see where I live, and I haven’t yet found a book that explains that to me.  If you have suggestions, PLEASE let me know.

That having been said, this is a pretty fascinating read. It is basically a history of class in America, focusing on lower class people - what the author calls “trash people” - not that she thinks they are trash by ANY means, but rather, that is how others thought of them.  Starting with the pilgrims, basically, and going through the present day, she discusses what sort of people have been thought of as “trash” and why.  She focuses mostly on “hillbilly” type people, and much of the history centers on rural people. I think another whole book could have been written about, say, tenement “trash people” , the racial component, etc.  I mean, she touches on that, but really the focus is on rednecks through out history.  I read this book often wanting more - but this is such a big topic, I think about thirty books could be written about it - and, again, I can’t fault Isenberg for writing the book she wanted to, instead of the one I wanted.

Unfortunately I read it a while ago (oh, did you all not notice I took about two months off this blog?).  And so, while the inside cover of this book is covered with my scribbled notes of things I meant to comment upon in this blog, I totally forgot all of what I wanted to say since I read this in January.  I did, however, note what I think in this thesis of this book, and if you are interested in this, I think you’d like White Trash:

pg. 309 (hardcover)

A corps of pundits exist whose fear of the lower classes has led them to assert that the unbred perverse - white as well as black - are crippling and corrupting American society.  They deny that the nation’s economic structure has a casual relationship with the social phenomena that they highlight.  They deny history.  If they did not, they would recognize that the most powerful engines of the U.S. economy - slaveowning planters and land spectulators in the past, banks, tax policy, corporate giants, and compassionless politicians and angry voters today — bear considerable responsibility for the lasting effects on white trash, or on falsely labelled “black rednecks,” and on the working poor generally.

The book leads you to this thesis, and I for one think it is worth reading.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017