Search Box

Friday, June 7, 2013

White trash

Look up "white trash" in the Free Online Dictionary and they give the following definition:

n. Offensive Slang
1. Used as a disparaging term for a poor white person or poor white people.
2. Used as a disparaging term for a white person or white people perceived as being lazy and ignorant.


The Urban Dictionary gives the following definition:

Slang term for white people that usually live in a trailer park. With low incomes that spend their tax returns on things like big screen TV's instead of clothes for their kids. These people tend to be mouthy and fight frequently. Generally these people are uneducated and have little concern for personal hygiene. To see these people at their best watch Jerry Springer.
"What happened on Jerry Springer today? Oh, the usual. Some White trash ho beat down her white trash boo because he was getting freaky wid the white trash neighbor who is married to her father."


There is an equivalent expression, "trailer trash," which means basically the same thing.

There are, of course no such equivalent expressions for the other races. (Have you ever heard of yellow trash, brown trash, or black trash?)

The etymology is surprising. According to Wiktionary.org, the expression is:

A shortening, first attested in 1850, of poor white trash, which black slaves in the Southern United States were said to call white individuals who worked in servile positions (for example as butlers).

What would be the reaction if a white person called an African-American "black trash"?

(Somehow I doubt that the term "yellow trash" would bring the same degree of censure: a description of Korean-Americans as "lazy and ignorant" just wouldn't set off the same kinds of alarm bells.)

Yet the phrase "white trash" is not at all taboo. If you type it in the search bar of the NYTimes.com, it returns 9520 results. Then again, if you type the n-word into the same search bar, you get 13,000 results, although most of those articles seem to be about the use of the word itself, whereas "white trash" is mostly just used as a reference to a certain class of people.

What are white trash, exactly? They are people who live in trailer parks or other poor areas, like Appalachia. They are uneducated, go on welfare, have babies out of wedlock, drink and smoke more, occasionally become addicted to meth, have illegal guns, and become violent more frequently than the rest of the population.

Substitute housing project for trailer park, inner city for Appalachia, and crack for meth, and you have another sector of the population. Yet there is no such expression as "black trash."

Is this yet another example of the usual double standard which allows endless criticism -- the trashing, so to speak -- of white people, but not a bad word about brown or black people?

When you think about it, the existence of the phrase "white trash" and the lack of an equivalent phrase for blacks is almost "racist" against blacks: whites who are termed such require such a designation because they are apart from the norm for whites. Is the reason no such designation ever developed for other races because it would more often be redundant?

I suppose you could be offended by the term for whichever reason you choose: because it is insulting to a certain class of white people, or because of its implied insult to black and brown people.

12 comments:

W O D said...

Where I live there are some areas that if you walk through you will be shouted at 'White c..." garanteed.

They are also the first to protest for racial dicrimiation and their protests are full of pure hate

The australian aboriginals.

John Craig said...

W O D --
It's always those who scream "racism" the loudest who are the most racist themselves.

Anonymous said...

"When you think about it, the existence of the phrase "white trash" and the lack of an equivalent phrase for blacks is almost racist against blacks: whites who are termed such need such a designation because they are apart from the norm for whites. Is the reason no such designation ever developed for other races because it would be too often redundant?"

That's the long and short of it. The obverse of "White Trash" would be something like "Well-Spoken Negro". There is a need to differentiate the outlier from the norm.
If I ever heard the words "yellow trash", I would immediately think of a banana peel (though most banana peels, when they are trash, are brown). In my teens, we hosted an upper-class Japanese exchange student, who once asked me what perjorative we use for his people*. I told him "nip or jap", and he said it was alright if I called him "nip". Big mistake. I had no desire to call him anything, but once given the invitation, it was "Hi, nip. How's it goin, nip? How was school, nip?"
It only took a couple days to annoy him, at which point he begged me, "It's okay to call me nip, but you have to call me jap sometimes too."

*I asked him the same question, to which he replied, "Um, nothing." His body language indicated he was lying, and logic told me the same: if you don't use perjoratives or slurs, why would you ask - out of curiosity - if someone else does?

John Craig said...

Anon --
That's a funny story. I'm not sure what the insulting term Japanese use for whites is, but you're right, there must be one.

Anonymous said...

re: brown trash... I notice lots of people will refer to "a mexican guy", when "a mexican" will sufficiently describe the person. Mostly they do this around mexicans, but it's a weird implication that calling someone "a mexican" is a self-contained slur, and changing "mexican" from a noun to an adjective softens the insult.

John Craig said...

Anon --
I've noticed the same thing with other ethnic groups. Saying "a Jew" rather than "a Jewish guy" is supposed to be insulting, I'm not sure why. People used to say "a Chinaman" but you never hear that anymore; now it's more likely to be "a Chinese guy." Maybe it has something to do with the fact that if you use the ethnicity as a noun, that somehow implies that the ethnicity is the sum totality of the person, all you need to know about him. I don't know.

Anonymous said...

John,
so true about the Jews. ADL advises people who are interested in them to google search "Jewish people" instead of Jews because searching Jews brings to the top some "hatesites" filled with all sorts of hatefacts about the tribe.

After unsuccesfully threatening google to remove the offending sites from search results (couldn't be done because of calculations that go into positioning pages) they settled for a warning to all users to change their search terms lest they be considered Nazi-loving white supremacists.

To me, Chinaman sounds more dignified than "that Chinese guy", a Mexican doesn't bring up a good image tho. I'm not American so maybe a have a more positive stereotype about the Chinese.

-rona

John Craig said...

Rona --
Just Googled "Jew," you're right, on the first page there were two, possibly three results that looked negative.

It's funny how some groups change their nomenclature.

The polite term for blacks has gone from negro to colored to black to African-American, but recently "person of color" has come back into favor.

Mexican-Americans used to be called Chicanos, but you never hear that anymore.

When I was young, Jewish people commonly referred to themselves as The Chosen People, but that phrase has fallen out of favor since it highlights their attitude a little too starkly.

Evidently it is now insulting to call an Asian "an Oriental." (I was slow on the uptake on that one.)

I haven't noticed any equivalent changes for whites, or for various European ethnicities. "Polack" and "Kraut" and "frog" all have the sane pejorative connotations they always did, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I've always found this attempt of controlling the thoughts and verbal expression by constantly changing the acceptable terms creepy. Sure, some words fall out of fashion and other pop up but, more often than not, it's a conscious attempt by organized group to guide the thinking of the rest of society from the observed and commonly accepted reality about X to a new, blank-slate way of thinking about X.

I find it unnerving as almost always stereotypes about various groups are absolutely true especially when they come from pattern recognition of millions of individuals.


Terms also tend to go from clear to ambiguous and uncertain.

mentally retarded individual(descriptive of condition, clear) to special, special needs individual.

One of the weirder ones is calling midgets and dwarfs "little people" like they are some different ethnic group who is normally short and not individuals with serious medical conditions that cause their abnormal stature.

So changing polite terms essentially becomes discarding truth as false and ignorant and substituting lies in it's place as correct. It's Orwellian.

I heard that some Americans now use "Canadian" when talking negatively about blacks.

John, as Mexicans go from complete European at the top to mixed (mestizo) in the middle to Amerindian at the bottom of society the correct racial term for most illegal Mexicans in your country would be mestizo. Is this term considered offensive?

-rona

John Craig said...

Rona --
"Orwellian" is the perfect way to put it. Your analysis is completely correct: it is a way of encouraging a blank slate way of thinking about a certain group. I think that use of the new term is a way of signaling that you are one of the modern, up to date, sensitive, superior people who cares about others' feelings.

I'd add "crippled" as one of the terms which has fallen out of favor.

In some of these cases, like the one above, it bothers me less: the new terms are just obvious euphemisms meant to make the afflicted person, who is afflicted through no fault of their own, feel like less of a pariah. But the evolution of racial terminology has a strong element of mind control and also propaganda to it.

As far as "mestizo," I don't think it's considered pejorative; but give it time, it will be.

"Mestizo" is actually what I sort of look like, given that I'm half-Japanese and half-Anglo. I prefer the term "halfbreed," even t hough that too has fallen out of favor. It has a more forbidden, feral, outcast, even outlaw feel to it. (Makes me feel like the badass I'm not.)

Rona, what country are you from?

Anonymous said...

John,

I'm Croatian. Halfbreed definately sounds toughter and cooler than biracial which seems to be popular term now.

As for persons afflicted with some disability or disorder I'm all for treating them with respect, not making a big deal about it and referring to dwarfs as people with dwarfism and cripples as people with disability. The problem is that PC seeks ultimately to destroy very concept of health and normalacy by promoting different disorders as cores of person's identity bundled with values, tastes, political opinions and awareness of opression at the hands of people who just happen to be normal.

It celebrates deviancy of various types and imposes on a healthy individual original sin of "privilege" that carries with it perpetual guilt and for which one must atone by giving in to demands of organized groups of degenerates who have cemmented into law their special status as vulnerable minorities but who will crush you if you do as much as voice an opinion.

It is extremely harmful, not just because it seeks to generate feelings of guilt and uneasiness for being normal and successful but also by normalizing abnormal conditions, diseased and behaviours it prevents people from finding solutions to them.

Breast cancer culture (or cult) comes to mind. So does deaf culture. In both diseases the condition is incorporated into central identity. Breast cancer is treated as rite of passage, an opportunity to become a real woman (stronger and wiser), a survivor. Newcomers must be careful not to show negativity despite the fact they have a horrible disease and are instead encouraged to view this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves (because it's great to be bald after chemo, think of all the wigs you can now wear).

The most dangerous aspect of this cult is encouragement by survivors to newly diagnosed to enter treatments that were show to be of no use and may in fact be harmful. Women at stage IV of cancer get shut out of discussion because they ruin the upper class, happy, strong, fun pink ribbon view of cancer.

The deaf oppose scientific search for cure and early detection of disorder comparing doctors to, of course, Nazis, attempting genocide of "deaf people" (yes, they actually call it genocide).

"Little people", instead of seeking genetic counseling to make sure their children don't have dwarfism are told by PC crowd that they are not abnormal, only different, so they desire disabled children to increase their group numbers.

And what may have been good intentions eventually lead, well, you know where.

-rona

John Craig said...

Rona --
Interesting, thank you for that. I haven't been that attuned to breast cancer culture, but what you say does ring a bell. And I hadn't realized that the deaf were calling the search for a cure for deafness genocide.

It never stops.