is a pejorative
term targeted at lower social class white people
with poor prospects and/or low levels of education. To call someone white trash
is to accuse a white person of being economically, educationally and/or culturally bankrupt
. White trash
should be differentiated from the more socially acceptable term Redneck
, as each has an unique historical etymology and context in modern usage. While white trash is most commonly used as a pejorative, low- to middle-income rural whites often self-identify as rednecks.
The term white trash
originated in the Baltimore
and Washington, DC area during the 1820s post-revolutionary war reconstruction boom. During that period, many poor people migrated to the area, and white and black semi-skilled workers were competing for the same jobs, resources and marriage partners. The term white trash
first came into common use in the 1830s as a pejorative used by upper-class
United States southerners of all races against poor whites. It was synonymous with the slurs sand hiller
and clay eater
. White trash were hyperbolically assumed to farm ineptly on poor land, and therefore resort to eating clay
in order to survive.
In 1854 Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the chapter "Poor White Trash" in her book A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe tells the reader that slavery not only produces "degraded, miserable slaves", but also poor whites who are even more degraded and miserable. The plantation system forced those whites to struggle for subsistence. Beyond economic factors, Stowe traces this class to the shortage of schools and churches in their community, and says that both blacks and whites in the area look down on these "poor white trash". Sociologist Max Weber described white trash as "[those] not owning slaves".
- In Sherwood Anderson's 1920 novel Poor White, a Southerner who thinks of himself as "poor white trash" makes his way as an inventor in a small Midwestern town.
- In Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel, and later the movie by the same name, Gone with the Wind, the term is used several times, always pejoratively, by both the black and the white characters. Neighbor Emmy Slattery is described by Mammy as "poor white trash" when Ellen O'Hara goes to midwife her illegitimate baby.
- In Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the Ewell family is referred to as "white trash."
- In Maya Angelou's 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she mentioned that the "powhitetrash" kids would come from down the hills and cause trouble at her grandmother's store in Stamps, Arkansas.
- In Chuck Palahniuk's novel Diary, the character Misty thinks of herself as "white trash".
- 1939 Gone with the Wind, Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel warns Scarlett O'Hara and her peers not to do certain things as it may associate them with "white trash."
- 1991 The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter refers to Agent Clarice Starling as poor white trash: "Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling?" referring to her West Virginia origins and accent.
- 1992 Siberia
- 1993 What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
- 1997 Gummo
- 2000 Joe Dirt
- 2001 Poor White Trash
- 2002 8 Mile The protaginist, Jimmy (Eminem) is viewed by a gang as white trash.
- 2004 Million Dollar Baby, Maggie (Margaret) Fitzpatrick came from a white trash family in the Ozarks, which she ran to Los Angeles to escape from.
- 2007 Gone Baby Gone
- 2007 The Simpsons Movie, Bart Simpson says: "Poor Yellow Trash"
"White Trash" jokes, stereotypes and images relating to the topic can be found on the TV comedy series Roseanne
(Barr-Arnold), another TV comedy series Blue Collar TV
comedian Jeff Foxworthy
and the animated series The Simpsons
features a poor rural white man Cletus and his wife/cousin Brandine. Many white trash stereotypes are also present in the sitcom My Name is Earl
- Berger, Maurice (2000). White Lies: Race and the Myths of Whiteness. ISBN 0-374-52715-6.
- Goad, Jim (1998). The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies Hicks and White Trash Became Americas Scapegoats. ISBN 0-684-83864-8.
- Hartigan, John Jr (2005). Odd Tribes: Toward a Cultural Analysis of White People. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3597-2
- Mickler, Ernest Matthew (1986). White Trash Cooking (Spiral-bound). Ten Speed Press. ISBN 0-89815-189-9
- Pitcher, Ben (2007). The Problem with White Trash - Review of M. Wray (2007) Not Quite White, Duke University Press. ISBN 0822338734. darkmatter journal
- Sullivan, Nell (2003). Academic Constructions of 'White Trash' , in: Adair, Vivyan Campbell; Dahlberg, Sandra L. (Ed.) (2003) Reclaiming Class. Women, Poverty, and the Promise of Higher Education in America. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-021-6
- Webb, James (2004). "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America". Broadway. ISBN 0-7679-1689-1
- Wray, Matt and Annalee Newitz, eds. (1997). White Trash: Race and Class in America. ISBN 0-415-91692-5.