A few years ago my knee-jerk answer would have been; no, of course not. Then I tutored several black students and my response changed. One of the students remarked on how humorous it was that white folks were calling each other “white trash” on Facebook. She asked me to explain it and immediately understood the stereotype. She seemed satisfied after explanation and we left it at that.
A week later I realized what had me so un-nerved about that situation; if they are trash, what the hell does race have to do with it? Just call them trash! In other words, why specify they are white unless it is assumed that all other races are trash already.
So, that is what I use now as a blanket term for trashy people - trash.
Is there any evidence that “white trash” is intended to carry some racist element?
It would be “racist” if a racial group outside of White Americans used it as a term to describe White Americans. However, it’s simply an insulting term when White Americans use it to describe their opinion of other White Americans.
According to Wiki:
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’”
Pretty much racist & bigoted. However, many racial terms are somewhat accepted if used by that group to refer to themselves. Much like some black people will call each other jocularly “Niggah” , but that is something few whites can use, except with a very close friend and again- said in jest.
So, “I had a ‘white trash’ themed party since we sold the trailer and moved into a real house- we served Twinkies, white bread balony sandwiches, Bud, etc”- this could be OK in the right audience who understands you’re joking around.
I have Japanese friends who refer to their bikes as “Riceburners” and "Jap bikes’ but again, this isn’t something you’d use if you were saying it outside their circle or in a derogatory manner.
I understood the “racist” issue to not be against the white people you’re calling trash, but the fact that you have to add the term “white” to trash to differentiate it from the usual “trash” that isn’t white.
That is a common misconception but it isn’t true and never has been. ‘White trash’ refers to a very specific and real subculture of white people. It has nothing to do with anyone of any other race or ethnicity. The whole world could be white and the term would still apply to some. In fact, there are plenty of other trashy white subcultures that do not fit the label of ‘white trash’. The phenomenon is real and deserves a name IMHO. The only thing misleading about it is the name that leads some leftists and bleeding hearts to read more into it than anything that was ever implied. As noted, the term was invented by black people and justifiably so. It may make some over thinking political types more happy if a different term was chosen but it doesn’t change the reality and we can’t change the origin of the term.
The term is very specific and demonstrable in real life. It is also not universally derogatory. People that fit the description often use it to describe themselves or their families. I can give you plenty of examples of that as a cite if you want.
‘House nigger’ is a a derogatory term mainly used by people outside of the family. They were the highest ranking slave class or social class for working black people after slavery. It may have been used as a term by outsiders but almost never by the people that employed them. They were basically members of the family although not true equals - more like extended grandparents.
‘White trash’ is is about 10 levels below a valued black member of your family circle. If one of the white trash people threatened them, you protect your black pseudo-family members at all costs. I grew up under this system in rural Louisiana. I had a black nanny that helped raise me from infancy all the way through college. She took care of me and I took care of her when she got really old. She seemed ancient when I was a baby and only died 4 years ago at 92. I was devastated but that is the way things work in the South.
We had plenty of white trash people too. Many of them were proud of the label. You never want to get into any extended dealings with a white a white trash family. They are 100% bad news. For popular references see Honey Boo Boo’s family and My Name is Earl. Those people really and truly exist. It has nothing to do with any other social or ethnic groups.
Why don’t we not call people trash? As someone whose childhood could conceivably be called at least partially white trash, I appreciate not being subject to that whole set of expectations, and it’d be awesome if I could relate to and share those parts of my family and childhood- as beautiful and as flawed as anyone’s else’s- without shame or embarrassment or the feeling that people are going to think less of me because is that association.
I know, I know, some people are trashy. But white trash is used primarily as a term to describe families- and therefor kids- and that’s a nasty label for a kid to pick up just by being born on the wrong side of the tracks.
It would never fail to make me laugh to see someone on Huff Post say,“I see from your profile that you’re from the South. I would expect nothing less from stereotyping, redneck white trash such as yourself.”