White trash

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White trash is a derogatory American English racial slur referring to poor white people, especially in the rural South of the United States, suggesting lower social class and degraded standards of living. The term suggests outcasts from respectable society living on the fringes of the social order, who are seen as dangerous because they may be criminal, unpredictable, and without respect for authority whether it be political, legal, or moral.[1] The term is usually a racial slur,[2] but may also be used self-referentially by working-class whites to jokingly describe their origins or lifestyle.[3][4][5][6]

White trash vis-a-vis cracker, hillbilly, Okie, and redneck

In common usage, "White trash" overlaps in meaning with "cracker" (regarding Georgia and Florida), "hillbilly" (regarding Appalachia), "Okie" (regarding Oklahoma origins), and "redneck".[7] The main difference is that "redneck," "cracker", "Okie", and "hillbilly" emphasize that a person is poor and uneducated and comes from the backwoods with little awareness of the modern world, while "White trash" emphasizes the person's moral failings.[8]


The term White trash first came into common use in the 1830s as a pejorative used by house slaves against poor whites. In 1833 Fanny Kemble, an English actress visiting Georgia, noted in her journal: "The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as 'poor white trash'".[9][10]

In 1854, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the chapter "Poor White Trash" in her book A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe wrote 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".[11]

By 1855, the term had passed into common usage by upper-class whites, and was common usage among all Southerners, regardless of race, throughout the rest of the 19th century.[12]

White popular culture

Scholars in the late 19th and early 20th century explored generations of families whom the authors considered disreputable, such as The Jukes family and The Kallikak Family (both were pseudonyms for real families).[13]

Ernest Matthew Mickler's White Trash Cooking (1986) enjoyed an unanticipated rise to popularity. The cookbook, which is based on the cooking of rural white Southerners, features recipes with names such as Goldie's Yo Yo Pudding, Resurrection Cake, Vickies Stickies, and Tutti's Fruited Porkettes.[14][15] As Inness (2006) notes, "white trash authors used humor to express what was happening to them in a society that wished to forget about the poor, especially those who were white." She points out that under the humor was a serious lesson about living in poverty.[16]

By the 1980s, fiction was being published by Southern authors who identified as having redneck or white trash origins, such as Harry Crews, Dorothy Allison, Larry Brown, and Tim McLaurin.[17] Autobiographies sometimes mention white trash origins. Gay rights activist Amber L. Hollibaugh wrote, "I grew up a mixed-race, white-trash girl in a country that considered me dangerous, corrupt, fascinating, exotic. I responded to the challenge by becoming that alarming, hazardous, sexually disruptive woman."[18]

Black popular culture

Black people use the term as an attack against whites.[19][20] Use of "White trash" epithets has been extensively reported in African-American culture.[21] Black authors have noted that blacks, when taunted by whites as "niggers," taunted back, calling them "white trash."[20] Black parents taught their children that poor whites were "white trash".[22] The epithet appears in black folklore.[23] As an example, slaves (when out of earshot of whites) would refer to harsh slave owners as a "low down" man, "lower than poor white trash," "a brute, really."[24]

In literature

  • Evelyn Greenleaf Sutherland's play Po' White Trash, published in 1900, exposes complicated cultural tensions in the post-Reconstruction South, related to the social and racial status of poor whites.[25]
  • Zora Neale Hurston's Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) explores images of 'white trash' women. Jackson (2000) argues that Hurston's meditation on abjection, waste, and the construction of class and gender identities among poor whites reflects the eugenics discourses of the 1920s.[26]
  • In the self-deprecating, humorous usage, Ernest Matthew Mickler's cookbook White Trash Cooking, containing recipes from the American South East, was published in 1986.[27]
  • Jim Goad's Redneck Manifesto (1997) explores the history of the pejorative term "White trash", as well as detailing the history and class issues related to the impoverished European diaspora in North America.
  • O Henry's short story "Shoes" (1907?) refers to the male protagonist "Pink Dawson", which the narrator consistently confuses with "Dink Pawson", as "Poor white trash".[28]

Pink Dawson! — a world of contempt would be in Johnny's tones — poor white trash!

See also


  1. Matt Wray, Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness (2006) p. 2
  2. John Hartigan Jr, "Who are these white people?: 'Rednecks,' 'Hillbillies,' and 'White Trash' as marked racial subjects." in Ashley W. Doane and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, eds. (2003). White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism. Psychology Press. pp. 95–111. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lamar, Michelle and Wendland, Molly (2008). The White Trash Mom Handbook: Embrace Your Inner Trailerpark, Forget Perfection, Resist Assimilation into the PTA, Stay Sane, and Keep Your Sense of Humor. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Mickler, Ernest (1986). White Trash Cooking.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Morris, Kendra (2006). White Trash Gatherings: From-Scratch Cooking for down-Home Entertaining.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Marbry, Bill (2011). Talkin' White Trash.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Wray (2006) p. x
  8. Wray, Not Quite White (2006) pp. 79, 102
  9. Fannie Kemble, Journal (1835), p. 81
  10. Wray suggests that the term may have originated in the Baltimore-Washington area during the 1840s, when Irish and blacks were competing for the same jobs. Matt Wray, Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness (2006) pp. 42-44. The quote from Kemble is reprinted in page 41 of the book.
  11. Wray (2006), pp. 57-58
  12. Annalee Newitz; Matthew Wray (1 July 1997). Mike Hill, ed. 'What is White Trash?' printed in Whiteness: a Critical Reader (pdf)|format= requires |url= (help). NYU Press. p. 170. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[1]
  13. Nicole Hahn Rafter, White Trash: The Eugenic Family Studies, 1877-1919 (1988)
  14. John T. Edge, "White Trash Cooking, Twenty Years Later", Southern Quarterly 2007 44(2): pp. 88-94; Smith (2004)
  15. Ernest Matthew Mickler's White Trash Cooking (new ed. 2011); excerpt and text search
  16. Sherrie A. Inness, Secret Ingredients: Race, Gender, and Class at the Dinner Table (2006) p. 147
  17. Erik Bledsoe, "The Rise of Southern Redneck and White Trash Writers," Southern Cultures (2000) 6#1 pp. 68-90 in Project MUSE
  18. Amber L. Hollibaugh (2000). My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way Home. Duke University Press. pp. 12, 209.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. William Julius Wilson in Ernest Cashmore and James Jennings, eds. Racism: Essential Readings (2001) p. 188
  20. 20.0 20.1 Philip C. Kolin, Contemporary African American Women Playwrights (2007) p. 29
  21. David R. Roediger, Take Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to be White (1999) pp. 13, 123
  22. Festus E. Obiakor, Bridgie Alexis Ford, Creating Successful Learning Environments for African-American Learners With Exceptionalities (2002) p. 198
  23. Anand Prahlad, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore (2006) Volume 2, p. 966
  24. Claude H. Nolen, African American Southerners in Slavery, Civil War and Reconstruction (2005) p. 81
  25. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  26. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  27. http://web.archive.org/web/20060909171549/http://www.oxfordamericanmag.com/content.cfm?ArticleID=46&Entry=Extras
  28. O. Henry (1907). "Shoes". The best short stories of O. Henry. Random House. p. 146. ISBN 0-679-601228.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • 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
  • Hartigan, Jr., John. "Who are these white people?: 'Rednecks,' 'Hillbillies,' and 'White Trash' as marked racial subjects." in Ashley W. Doane and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, eds. (2003). White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism. Psychology Press. pp. 95–111. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rasmussen, Dana (2011). Things White Trash People Like: The Stereotypes of America's Poor White Trash. BiblioBazaar.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Smith, Dina. "Cultural Studies' Misfit: White Trash Studies", Mississippi Quarterly 2004 57(3): pp. 369–387, traces the emergence of 'white trash studies' as a scholarly field by placing representative 20th-century popular images of 'white trash' in their Southern economic and cultural contexts.
  • Sullivan, Nell (2003). Academic Constructions of 'White Trash' , in: Adair, Vivyan Campbell, and Sandra L. Dahlberg, eds. (2003) Reclaiming Class. Women, Poverty, and the Promise of Higher Education in America. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-021-6
  • Taylor, Kirstine, "Untimely Subjects: White Trash and the Making of Racial Innocence in the Postwar South," American Quarterly 67 (March 2015), pp. 55–79
  • Wray, Matt and Annalee Newitz, eds. (1997). White Trash: Race and Class in America. ISBN 0-415-91692-5
  • Wray, Matt. Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness (2006)
  • Pitcher, Ben (2007). The Problem with White Trash - Review of M. Wray (2007) Not Quite White, Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3873-4 darkmatter journal

External links