Home/Rod Dreher/The Invisible Poverty of ‘Poor White Trash’

The Invisible Poverty of ‘Poor White Trash’

James Miller would like to know why nobody gives a rip about the desperation of white people who live in chaos and poverty. Excerpts:

The racial privilege status of white trash makes them unattractive to the media because being penurious and pale-skinned is not respectable. While poor minorities are viewed with dignity and sympathy (as they should be), the same doesn’t apply to Caucasians. The white working class is, as Baptist minister Will Campbell put it, “the last, the only minority left that is fair game for ethnic slurs from people who would consider themselves good liberals.” Since the Progressive Era, the U.S. government has made it a goal to forcefully equalize society between races, classes, income scales, and gender. But to Campbell, “poor whites have seen government try to make peace between various warring factions but they have not been brought to the bargaining table.”

The result is pockets of despair in many parts of the country, most predominantly the South. And while it’s true that poor whites have always existed in America, the callous disregard for their difficulty we see by blue bloods in the Acela corridor is new. People like Kim Konzny have been stripped of dignity and left to fend for themselves without the assistance of the media or Washington elites. Unlike impoverished blacks who hold tight to faith and community, they are without an honorable sense of identity. If they cling to the Bible, they are seen as brainless, flat-earth bumpkins. If they somehow succeed in getting out of the trailer, they are demonized and told they’ve earned nothing because of “white privilege.” If they try to stick with their own kind, they are called neo-segregationists.

It’s a lose-lose for poverty-stricken whites searching for solidarity. So instead they anchor their life to cigarettes and booze. They are taught to hate themselves, to think that life in a dirty, dented trailer is all they should expect, and to not have a stake in their future because the rest of the country doesn’t want them.

Read the whole thing. And if you haven’t yet, read Stephanie McCrummen’s amazing WaPo narrative “An American Void,” and Kevin Williamson’s equally amazing, but more polemical, National Review piece on “The White Ghetto.” 

This morning, I had a conversation with a college teacher who lives in a rural part of Texas, an area where there is a lot of white poverty. There are a lot of methheads, he said, and despair. There are also white working class people who are doing their best to keep it together. The teacher said that in his conversations with the people in his area of late, they reveal a deep distrust of and hostility to the media, and to the American establishment. They believe that the deck is stacked against them, profoundly.

They will never be part of the meritocracy, these bitter clingers. And nobody cares, or even feels the need to pretend to.

I’m thinking of the atrocious “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” that now-cancelled reality show that highlighted the trashy antics of a working-class white Southern clan. Can you imagine a similar TV show whose raison d’etre was poking fun at poor or working-class black or Hispanic grotesques? No, I didn’t think so. Why do you suppose that is?

UPDATE: Several readers tell me that there are such shows. I had no idea. Depressing. I’m so glad I’ve checked out of popular culture.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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