White Trash Is an Un-claimable Pejorative
White trash 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.
The term white trash does not have the collective positive acceptance that the term redneck (a term I may explore some time later) does. On a white middle class approved, endorsed, promoted and maintained hierarchal level, a redneck is superior to white trash, even if that redneck is a known bigot/racist and the white trash is not. Bigotry (perceived or otherwise) does not taint the white middle class’s image with the same magnitude that white trash (perceived or otherwise) does, therefore, the redneck is given the higher status.
If there is a policing phenomenon in white middle class ideology as I suspect, then being labeled white trash is the metaphorical equivalent of being shot unarmed while reaching for one’s wallet. Note the word metaphorical before concluding that I am saying a phrase is equal to an actuality. The white trash must be removed in order to keep the perceived purity of the whiteness. There are white people who will go to great lengths to fight all perceptions of being seen as white trash and avoid every possible association with people labeled white trash. There are people of colour who will freely use/assign the term white trash in a way that suggests that everyone, even people who have been historically and systematically oppressed have no scruples sustaining a system that relies on a dominance hierarchy. The very act perpetuates our (Western) hierarchical system because it continues an inferior/superior structure. Nevertheless, the white middle class (along with the upper classes of course) do it more often because policing the trash is advantageous to the predominant players, more specifically white males.
In 1994, I worked with a white woman; she was a twenty-two year old graduate of Texas A&M and had a bright future. She was heterosexual, thin, blond, blue eyes and belonged to some sorority that was big on social networking and remaining in close contact. A sorority that was obviously an unapologetically haughty one, judging by the stories she told about having to wear a girdle to events even if the member was a size 0 or 2 as she was (not that anyone above a 6 was admitted, I suspect). What stuck out most in my mind when she talked about her sorority stories were how most of their rules were geared toward fighting any possible perception of being white trash. Acrylic nails were white trash. If a member had to have acrylic nails, she could only have them short with a French manicure (natural pink with white tips), no colour. If her hair was highlighted, it had to look professional, natural, no dark roots and no split ends. They could not engage in verbal tiffs in public, especially with people who were beneath them, this included heated debates in classes with hot button topics, such as politics, feminism, multiculturalism, etc; instead they were not to verbally participate and reserve their opinion to essays. So public displays of protest was clearly a no-no. None of that would have registered had it not been for working with her the whole time she was planning her wedding. The guiding force she considered when choosing a florist, a caterer, a location for the reception, her wedding dress, her bridesmaids dresses, her hair style, was if it would make her look like white trash. She spent more on her caterer than my parents spent on buying our childhood home. In addition, I know for a fact people of colour never entered into her consciousness and if they did, she would conveniently utilise the double points technique that politically so-called progressive men have perfected, –she knew when to use benevolent yet supposedly empowering terminology, and at the same time subtly separate the exceptional ones from the collective. “Oh, I don’t mean you. You had a disadvantage. I own my privilege. wink wink. I do. I really do.”
Nevertheless, people of colour were those people over there, not her, not her family not her fiancé. Being secured in this fact, she was able to keep a distance. Being white trash or not does not allocate the same distance because the same skin colour is shared. Proving she was not white trash was the end all to be all. It was the goal in life. It was her life defining necessity. That is another reason why I say, until the white middle class (and people who identify with its ideology) become aware of, and, own acts of relegation in their own race (be it socially assigned or not) they will never tackle and successfully dismantle a system that is set up to disadvantage other than white people.
Apparently seeing people as individuals and judging them by the content of their character is too much of a stretch for some people who are too obviously different in situation and skin colour. Therefore, baby steps are necessary to move along the scale, and a good beginning would be, I believe, to stop using pejoratives that send racist, classist and sexist code to one’s readers/listeners. Using the phrase white trash (and all of its derivatives, such as Female Resident of the Methamphetamine Mile Mobile Homes) does just that.