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Annalee Newitz and Matthew Wray What is "White Trash"? Stereotypes and Economic Conditions of Poor Whites in the U.S. "White trash" is, in many ways, the white Other. When we think aboutrace in the U.S., oftentimes we find ourselves constrained by categories we've inherited from a kind ofessentialist multiculturalism, or whatwecall "vulgarmulticulturalism."^Vulgarmulticulturalismholds that racial and ethic groups are "authentically" and essentially different from each other, and thatracism is a one-way street: it proceeds out of whiteness to subjugate non-whiteness, so that all racists are white and all victims of racism are non-white. Critical multiculturalism, as it has been articulated by theorists such as those in the Chicago Cultural Studies Group, is one example of a multiculturalism which tries to complicate and trouble the dogmatic ways vulgar multiculturalism has understood race, gender, and class identities. "White trash" identity is one we believe a critical multiculturalism should address in order to further its project of re-examining the relationships between identity and social power. Unlike the "whiteness" of vulgar multiculturalism, the whiteness of "white trash" signals something other than privilege and social power. The term "white trash" points up the hatred and fear which undergird the American myth ofclasslessness. Yoking a classistepithet to a racist one, as "white trash" does, reminds us how often racism is in fact directly related to economic differences. As a stereotype, "white trash" calls our attention to the way discourses of class and racial difference tend to bleed into one another, especially in the way they pathologize and laywaste to their "others." Indeed, "subordinate white" is such an oxymoron within dominant culture that such a social position is principally spoken aboutin our slang, where we learn terms like "white trash," "redneck," "cracker," and "hillbilly," just to name a few. We don't say things like "nigger trash" precisely because "nigger" often implies poverty to a great extent. Are some African-Americans called "niggers" because they are black, or because they are poor? There is no hard and fast answer to this one—it's difficult to distinguish between race and class when discussing the derogatory meanings of "nigger." In this way, "nigger" is a term like "white trash." This conflation of race and class in America often mixes us up quite a bit, as most ideologies which perpetuate injustice tend to do. When people are kept guessing about what kinds of social forces oppress them, they are less able to defend themselves. Naming the connections between 58the minnesota review racial identification. White trash lies simultaneously inside and outside ofwhiteness, becoming the difference within, the white Other which inhabits the core of whiteness. Finally, the term "white trash" reminds us that one of the worst crimes of which one can accuse a person is poverty. If you are white, calling someone "white" is hardly an insult. Butcalling someone "white trash" is both a racist and classist insult. It's worth asking why this is so. Perhaps the scar ofrace is cut by the knife ofclass. This is not to say that race is in any way reducible to class. Clearly, the knife cuts both ways. Yet all too often in discussions of racial identity class is ignored, dismissed, and left untheorized. We argue that leaving class out of anti-racistcriticism not only creates a theoretical blindspot, but can also play into class prejudice. We cannot understand many types of social injustice without deploying theories which wed anti-racist agendas to anti-capitalist ones. Analyzing white trash is one way to begin launching , and ultimately popularizing, such theories. Some Definitions of White Trash Historically speaking, the earliest recorded usages of the term "white trash" are found in references to "poor white trash," which date back to the early nineteenth century. Historical dictionaries of Americanisms typically ascribe origins of the term to black slaves. If we are to believe these dictionaries, the term originated as a black on white labeling practice and was rather quickly appropriated (by 1855) by upper class whites. Both terms appear to have remained in use by blacks and whites throughout the nineteenth century. Today, although "white trash" seems tosee more frequentand widespread usage, the term "poor white trash...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 57-72
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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