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White Trash

The other day I got into this discussion with duskfrog about stereotyping people into various social classes. I don't know if we ended up agreeing, disagreeing or agreeing to disagree. I often come away with that feeling when I discuss controversial topics with her. Any way, she said something about rednecks and I said that what most people think of as rednecks are white trash anyway. And then she got a little upset at me for labeling someone white trash. I think I finally explained myself well enough to her but I've been thinking about it now for a couple days and have come up with a little better definition for myself anyway. I'll leave the "white' part out and simply refer to these people as trash. Basically they can be anyone of any race in any social class. The definition is not based on how much money they make, what kind of car they drive or where they live. It's more how they act towards their families and society in general. It's more about priorities. And I realize there are a myriad of reason why people might do the things they do to have themselves end up as part of this definition. I'm certainly guilty of judging before I look at the whole picture sometimes. It just seems to me there are certain responsibilities we have to our families and to our society/community before we think of ourselves. Another factor is choice. A lot of people live a certain way because economically they have no other choice. Sometimes you have to choose between food or a light bill. Between buying new shoes for your kids or trying to make repairs to the old ratty ones they've been wearing for years. I've got all the respect in the world for people who earn very little money and yet manage to raise a family.

The people I consider trash and don't have any respect for are those who basically neglect the needs of their families and their responsibility to their community in favor of acquiring material goods or pleasures for themselves. These people exemplify the concepts of sloth and greed.

If your house is always a trash pit, your kids run around without a shred of discipline, you advocate your parental responsibilities to your neighbors or other family, You have money to pay your bills but instead buy beer or go out drinking every night, you have money to pay your house payment but instead you use it to put new chrome rims on your pickup truck, you have a wide screen, high def TV and a sattelite feed but you owe the day care center for the last three months, you buy your kids all the junk food they can swallow but never bother to prepare a proper meal for your family, you max out credit cards on impulse buys you will never use with no intent of ever paying them back because worst comes to worst, you can just declare bankruptcy, you'd rather watch the soaps or Monday Night Football ( I know it's history) rather than spend one minute interacting with your kids or your family, you live in squalor when you have the means and opportunity to make life better for yourself or your family. This to me gets you labled as trash. The bottom of the barrel. Priorities screwed up and I'm sorry, I just don't have any time to spend worrying about your sorry ass. And all of that probably doesn't matter to you because you are so immersed in your new DVD copy of the Dukes of Hazard that it doesn't even register.

But at least that clarifies my definition.




( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 12th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
You should write a book. You enjoy the opportunity to use $2 words don't you? Plus the structure of your questions is just like the end of chapter questions in most school textbooks. Remember, my major in grad school was communication theory so I do understand what you are saying even if I don't have the opportunity to use those expressions in my present environment. I knew you were not upset with me.

To answer your underlying question, the reason it bothers me so is it does not remain separate from my life. It falls to the rest of the community or extended family to make up for the holes they create by not fulfilling their social or familial responsibility. In the specific reference I stated for you the other day, because they refuse to give their kids any sort of guidance or discipline and indeed refuse to even take on the most basic of parenting skills, it falls to neighbors, parents, grandparents and other relatives to do it for them.

Second, by not paying thier house payment, eventually, their house gets repossessed and guess who they go live with and who ends up supporting them for the rest of their lives? Family.

Third by choosing to acquire useless material goods and intangible pleasures, not paying their bills, maxing out credit cards with no intent to pay and not paying bills to local merchants it makes it more expensive for the rest of us to live in the same community. And if your sloth and greed affects my income and operating expense then I think I do have the right to point out that there is a problem.

Family patterns may be resillient but people don't live in a bubble even in small communities like mine. They can see examples of other family dynamics around them and make the decision to break out of the patterns they find themselves in. I've known plenty of people who have come from highly dysfunctional families who have made the decision to not repeat those patterns and then have worked to form very functional families who work to enrich each others lives and the lives of people around them. The people I'm describing in my post have simply made the decision to not take any responsibility for their lives.

If they lived out somewhere on the prairie by themselves and their actions or lack of action had no effect on me then I could care less how they lived. I wouldn't give it a second thought. But I do have a social conscience. I volunteer and have worked professionally for youth serving organizations so when I see a child's life being affected by abuse or neglect (in the case of my post, it is neglect) then I find it very difficult to stand idly by and just let them go their way and I'll go mine.

Disrespecting someone and having no respect for them are two different things. I'm not in their face, beating them over the head verbally about what a crappy existence they are leading and the horrible example they are setting for their kids. Do I see them as somewhat less than other people on a social scale? Yes I do, because they have made the decision to not accept the responibilities that everyone else must accept to live in a society. They feel that the rest of us somehow owe them a living.

OK, I'm done ranting for now too.


(Deleted comment)
Jan. 12th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
I think I was like you when I was younger. I've gotten a lot more conservative in my later years as my liberal social theories have run up against the reality of the way people actuallu live and conduct themselves. I'm not happy about it. But I think I'm realistic about it. I'm not saying that you are not realistic. How you see the world may work for you. I'm just dealing with my own reality.

Is Seattle like the hotbed for liberal social thinkers?

poke poke


I think for me the big thing that it comes down to is that even though I'm not a parent, i realize we have very few chances to influence the livces of the next generation in a positive way. And It seems such a waste to do nothing when you see parents treating their children like this. It's not so much the economic toil their lifestyle takes on my ability to earn and acquire things. It's what happens to the kids.

The village does indeed raise the child.

I love you too.

Jan. 12th, 2006 11:29 pm (UTC)
SO, what ARE YOU doing? --besides casting your generalized judgments at "those people"?

(and please refrain from casting them at me.)

How would it feel for me to say that I used to feel like you when I was younger, but now I'm more experienced and more aware of the effects of these kinds of generalizations on my ability to HELP people? -or their ability to HELP themselves? or If I were to insinuate that (you must think the way you do because) the midwest is a hotbed of narrow-minded bigotry?

I mean come on! It feels like you're trying to discredit me so that you can continue to focus on your currently held beliefs. You seem to be ignoring the questions I did ask and refocusing on making generalized statements (about me now) and restating your own beliefs. I don't want to debate you, in fact I find debate harmful in most situations, I'd rather have a discussion in which we actually consider what the other has to say rather than defending our own view points again and again. THUS the point of the questions.

I use words that get my meaning across, not because I want to sound a certain way or impress anyone.

I ask the kinds of questions I do becaue I prefer it to telling people MY answers to the questions - or lecturing, or tying to debate or convince anyone of anything. These kinds of questions are used in textbooks because they promote critical thinking and open-mindedness, which is my intent as well. -which you seem to be resisting by simply restating in more detail the reasons behind your already held beliefs rather than considering any alternatives based on my questions.

damnit. I should've trusted my instincts and left this post ALONE.

The real point of this discussion FOR ME is not about liberal or conservative, it's about REAL EFFECTS of ways of thinking/perceiving on ACTION. I am a (social) healer, as are you, and we both know that ways of thinking and thoughts create energy fields that have a very real effect through both time and space on both subject and object. I am concerned that your cognitive constructs are keeping you from being truly available for "those people" in any helpful way. In order to change (help or heal) a thing (person or dynamic), it must be understood and accepted, from beyond a place of judgment, or do you disagree?

The bottom line is, it's not them I'm worried about or defending, it's YOU. In fact, I have never once disagreed with you that the behaviors you describe (and attribute to "those people") are harmful to everyone involved. That's not the point of discussion here. I have two. 1)A case in point would be that I know lots of people who self-identify as white trash and have very different opinions about what that means, just as you know that what most people consider redneck is not how you would describe yourself. This is the danger of stereotyping in ANY form. 2) acceptance vs judgment in the realm of ACTION or healing potential.

damnit, drew me in again. I just can't keep my mouth shut.

Jan. 12th, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC)

3) there is a big difference between labeling someone as XXXX
and saying that they exhibit XXXX behaviors.

the former is dehumanizing and limiting
and the latter gives them room to be human
and to change if given the opportunity.

This may seem like a minor distinction, but as I said above,
(and as I think you know from experience)
thought patterns have direct tangible effects on people and situations.
Jan. 12th, 2006 04:00 am (UTC)
Couldn't agree more!
Jan. 12th, 2006 04:36 pm (UTC)
Ah so you know the people I'm talking about as well?


Jan. 12th, 2006 06:04 pm (UTC)
Boy do I ever!
Jan. 12th, 2006 06:09 pm (UTC)
I think I've seen you post about it before. Unfortunatley they are in my family too. What is most disturbing about them is the ycome from such wonderful, giving and loving parents who certainly didn't teach them to be like that. In many cases in my family, the ones who live like this have brothers or sisters who are completely responsible people. Reflections of their parents.

Jan. 12th, 2006 05:57 am (UTC)
Great post, and good points. However:

"you advocate your parental responsibilities to your neighbors or other family"

I think the word you're looking for is "abdicate". Just a suggestion.

Jan. 12th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)
It could be advocate. As in "DON'T YOU TELL ME HOW TO RAISE MY KIDS!" whenever someone suggests that a bit of discipline might be needed. See: suggestions made to people whose kids are pitching the Fit of the CenturyTM in a shopping center.
Jan. 12th, 2006 05:20 pm (UTC)
Deb and I stopped a woman from severely beating a kid in a grocery store one time and she followed us out to our car to give us a tongue lashing and then followed us across town in her car. So yeah, been there.

Jan. 12th, 2006 05:31 pm (UTC)
Yikes. That's cause for a trip to the cornfield.
Jan. 12th, 2006 04:38 pm (UTC)
I think you are right. I misspoke. But Ryl has a point as well.

How does a Chemistry teacher know anything about English? I'm the one with two useless English degrees. Would you like fries with that?


Jan. 13th, 2006 05:05 am (UTC)
I'm a Renaissance man!
Jan. 12th, 2006 08:56 am (UTC)
hmmmm. Hate to say it, but I see a very clear class distinction described here. Maxed credit cards not paid off? owing the daycare? bancruptcy? Sounds like poverty to me, or at least working class - maybe middle.

I also don't see the point in not respecting someone because they don't respect others. That's like hating someone because they hate someone - and you just hate people who hate people. :P

(ignore me.)

Jan. 12th, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC)
Oh you'd be surprised at how many wealthy people live like this. The fact you make tons of money doesn't seem to determine intent to be responsible with that money. I think if you surveyed the credit card companies to find out the average income of those people whose cards are maxed and have declared bankruptcy rather than pay them back, you'd be surprised. And the people I made the original reference to would be considered upper class in their community if you went on salary alone.

As I said before, some people find themselves in dire circumstances because of a series of unfortunate events. I'm not talking about people who end up in poverty because they lost a job, their car broke down and the y couldn't get to work. The auto plant down the road went belly up and the whole community went bankrupt. The whole family consists of small farmers and mega farms are taking over. Im talking about people who simply never had any intention of paying their debts and are content to sponge off the rest of society as long as their immediate material needs are met.

Day Care? Lots of wealthy people have their kids in Day Care. Bankruptcy? Many people file bankruptcy for completely legitimate reasons. But there are also people who see bankruptcy as a viable economic strategy to acquire more and not pay for it.

I went to high school in what would have then been considered an upper middle class community and knew plenty of people who lived like this.

Nope, not going to ignore you.

Jan. 12th, 2006 09:00 am (UTC)
above comment in reference to

anyone of any race in any social class. The definition is not based on how much money they make

oy yoy. stereotypes. . . .don't get me started. I've already deleted two very long comments to this post. yeesh.

(just keep ignoring me)

I love you wander.
Thanks for making me think,
and stand up for what I believe.
Jan. 12th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
Nope, still not ignoreing you. But my fingers are getting tired and they smell like onions.

Not sure what the onion smell has to do with any of this...but yeah.


Love you froggie

Jan. 14th, 2006 05:24 pm (UTC)
I like white trash people . . .
It always seems to me that "white trash" are people who have given up without giving in. To compare/contrast, the working poor tend to be people who have given in without giving up.

I do think the "white" aspect matter. The dynamic is different for those who are not part of the dominant ethnic group. (I'm thinking of the way the ancient Romans associated "blonde" with prostitute.)

I also think the "trash" label is effective, however perjorative. It seems to me that the folks that I know that fit into this category are the mismanaged human "compost" of our social orders. It's the chronic mishandling throughout the whole system that makes it "refuse" As long as our world treats human dignity as a commodity, then essential elements will be forever missing in the refuse heap. We end up with trash dumps where we casually displace stuff we just don't want to deal with . . . the toxic wastes of our interpersonal and social worlds . . . Beyond the obvious problem, the secondary and I think more significant problem is that the "trash" aspect of the earthier elements of our culture hide indemic problems and the upper echelons don't get the appropriate feedback loops to make better choices.

I also think this is the real face of the average american, hidden behind a mask of social respectibility. There's an awful lot of people I know who do all kinds of things simply because they are desperate to keep the line between their lives and "white trash" in place. I've found that once people get the experience of real social inclusion and acceptance -- and once they get over their astonishment that they are at last "in" it's an addiction that they will sacrifice nearly anything to feed.

The selfishness exhibited by the current administration looks to me like white trash with money over generations.

I'm actually more tolerant of white trash than I am of upscale liberal ecotypes who drive around in their SUV's lecturing everyone else on recycling in between excursions to climb fences onto private property "because the land should be free"
Jan. 14th, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)
. . .and rednecks never give up and never give in but are so reactionary that they are fairly easily shed by the culture into little cultural de facto reservations where they can be marginalized to the point they're no real threat.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )