Gerald (Jerry) Zezas

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Why is White Trash referred to as “White”?

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I’m reading White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and I can’t help but wonder where that expression came from. I’ve heard it my entire life and certainly know to whom it refers, but why was the word “white” included in the expression as we all know it?

It appears that this expression, although mainly used to denigrate whites, implies that a more common form of trash, that form which did not require the prefix “white”, was the assumptive type, and so did not need to be distinguished by color, whereas the white version did.

Upon reflexion, the necessitation of the word white appears to be tacitly racist not toward whites, but toward blacks.

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1 Comment

  1. Bill Cadiz says:

    I can’t claim to answer this question but in the West Indies the term “poor white” pretty much meant the same. European aristocrats and wealthy merchants were the first colonists in the islands and invariably took over the best agricultural land, usually on the flat flood plains. They brought tradesmen, experts of various skills, baby sitters and either allowed them to stay in the large plantation houses or these people, usually of “lower” birth and not as well educated as their rich masters, bought or were given land in the steep hills and valleys. They struggled to make it, seldom educated their children beyond elementary or church school, and became more like the slaves and servants of their masters, the difference being they could quit if they wanted (which they rarely did). Even today, if you’re from the Caribbean, you can spot “poor whites” even when they have grown into business owners and professionals. My snotty French Creole grandmother would often say, “She’s nice, but she has no class”. You couldn’t call it racism, but it sure as hell was social discrimination, and just as wrong.

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