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Why You Should Trash the Term White Trash

Some people tire of more don'ts to add to the so-called politically correct list of things not to say. For me, I think it's important to be aware of what the language you use implies — what it means, who it might hurt, the power behind words. Political correctness (for lack of a better term) is just etiquette on a larger social scale.

Which brings me to the term "white trash." This has always bugged me, and many have weighed in on why it's an awful term.

On the most basic level, calling anyone trash is just plain cruel and dehumanizing. When you think of it from a racial perspective, there's the implication that it's such an unusual event for white people to be "trash" that there needs to be a special category. Political theorist bell hooks, in her book Black Looks, says that white trash is basically a code term meaning, "as low as black people." To hear more thoughts on the term white trash,


Then there's the class discrimination involved. People considered white trash are almost always poor, or from poor backgrounds. I don't need to explain how messed up it is to trash people for being poor. That, I think, is classless.

White trash has become so casually tossed around, in spite of attempts by critics to call attention to it — even Heidi Klum and Seal had a white trash-themed wedding when they renewed their vows recently, and I bet they didn't intend it to be offensive.

Have you ever casually used the term white trash? Does it bother you when you hear it?


Join The Conversation
appolgurl appolgurl 8 years
Sorry Anonymous, right now, and for the past 300 years, maybe more, white people have been the only people able to truly discriminate a minority based on their prejudicial thoughts....and were truly able to create a system that disadvantaged minorities. anybody can be prejudice. it's defined as an attitude in the social psychological world. Racism is an umbrella term people use interchangeably whether they mean discrimination, prejudices, or stereotypes. so. Everybody can be prejudiced and have stereotypes, but to really disadvantage people you need to discriminate. and to discriminate, on a large scale, you need power. Like most white people did (could vote, could be elected, etc)..but it's obviously beginning to turn around.
Well, I have to say, I read some of the links provided, and one of them basically stated that if you're white, you're a racist - - whether you know it or not. White = Racist. Not to bring this conversation down to an unacceptable level, but...that's craptastic.
organicsugr organicsugr 8 years
Looks like I won this argument.
mguy414 mguy414 8 years
Symphonee: I wouldn't those people white trash, I would call them despicable! You seem very classy, especially to call those people just white trash, and not many, many other words that come into my mind. And I must say, the picture that came into my mind when you said "thrown around in the South as fighting words" was very Jerry Springer-esque.
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
I appreciated the points made by lilkimbo and Sloane. I have to disagree with the some of the information given as to the context and meaning of " ____ is the new black". I have heard the term used years ago in a racial context and consistently since then. I, and this is my personal opinion, believe that those who are consistently degraded and oppressed, consciously or unconsciously, tend to see things in a racial light before others will.
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
I have called people "white trash" before. I called the guys in the car who spit at me and screamed "n**ger" that name. I called the white girl who called me a "ghetto whore no better than my momma" that name. I have only used it in reference to ignorant white folks because the term to me means a classless,ignorant, Caucasian. Just my personal beliefs. I, like others, have seen it thrown around in the South as fighting words. I believe in listening to the context of what people say more than the words.
telane telane 8 years
Oh my. There are so many other things I could say here, but I will refrain because I am in absolutely no mood to be nit-picked. I agree with lilkimbo, Michelann, and Chouette, among others.
Segat1 Segat1 8 years
Sorry, what are we talking about again?
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
And I'm not trying to goad you into pm'ing me. Wow, you really are good at trying to twist things around! Are you a politician? If not, you should be.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Ah, thanks Margo! I definitely see where you're coming from. Sloane :oy:
Michelann Michelann 8 years
And I still think it's bizarre that, despite a clear cut definition from the dictionary, Sloane refuses to recognize that both individual racism and institutional racism are valid definitions of the term 'racism'.
Michelann Michelann 8 years
Margokhal, I agree with the things you said. What I was disagreeing with was Sloane's statement that only white people can be racist, which she seems to have changed to only whites as a group can implement racist institutions. Which I still disagree with. Obviously whites have the most power, but that doesn't mean nobody else or no other group has any power at all. It's an oversimplification, and like you(Margo) said, it's complicated.
margokhal margokhal 8 years
@ lilkimbo - I found a Wikipedia entry entitled "The new black" but the more general definition of the term is "X is the new Y' [insert anything for your X and Y variables]. Here's the article I found: I did learn that the term originated in fashion. However, I merely stated that when the statement "bitch is the new black" was made by Tina Fey on SNL in reference to the 2008 Election Primaries, the social commentary about what it meant focused on race, not fashion. This, I still believe, was because there was already a black male in the running for President, but Hillary Clinton seemed to receive more flak and jabs, more discussion about how she looks and acts, rather than her policies. What the social commentary I saw implied was that being female had replaced being a minority [Black, in particular, because being Black/African-American has had a longer and deeper history of discrimination and de jure and de facto racism levied against it in the US than other minorities] as a default negative or detraction. Therefore, the popularity of the statement, at least among the groups that I saw, was an empowerment protest. Though I would see, if it was merely meant as in the context of the fashion statement, it would be an empowering phrase to use. That wasn't what I saw - and there wasn't any countercommentary correcting anyone who thought it was an issue of race. I don't think it was an issue of "black people are just too sensitive, they shouldn't think everything is about them" [which we don't, by the way, but there are a LOT of policies and laws that adversely affect black people more than non-minorities, and plenty of covert racism, please believe racism still exists], but within that context, a racial/gender interpretation is perfectly valid. P.S. I understand where both you and sloane are coming from, btw. Lilkimbo is simply saying that the systematic racism, as a sociological issue [and it IS mostly sociological, as race is a social construct, it was debunked as a biological issue and as a psychological issue, is mostly focused on studying the average of individual behaviors and racial attitudes] is part of the social-conflict school of thought. Not everyone agrees that it's a conflict issue. Though I believe, from experience and research, that it's a mix of conflict issues [there IS systematic oppression] and symbolic-interaction [because the oppression comes from MANY people acting negatively towards members of other races over a longer period of time]. @ Michelann, I'd have to disagree to an extent. Because there is a BIG difference between racist attitudes between individuals/small groups and systematic oppression due to racism in a society. Everyone can have racist attitudes - people of any race. But when you talk about on a national scale, there are other things to consider, because it may not be two-way racism, per se, but a action/reaction cycle. [This isn't just for race either] Such as, who is the majority? What kind of interactions have they had with the minority population? If a minority acts in a similar manner towards the majority, is it driven by the same beliefs or is it reactionary? Do a majority of the minorities have the same negative attitude towards the majority? It changes the picture. Every person has social power based on position, but there's evidence to indicate that non-minorities have more social power than minorities, all things equal. It doesn't make logical sense, no, but you have to remember race is an issue that has very deep social context, especially in the US.
Chouette4u Chouette4u 8 years
OK so in the United States, whites obviously outnumber blacks and all other racial groups and generally have more people in position of power in the government (I won't even touch the fact that our president is black). So I guess by these definitions of institutional racism, only white people can be racist in the United States. ...but is the United States as a whole the only institution that matters here? What about individual states, cities, schools, churches, companies? Where I live and grew up, the black population is very small (about 1-5% in most of the towns nearby). However, we have a significant Asian and Hispanic population. In this town specifically, the Asian population is huge and keeps growing. They are mostly very successful people from Taiwan who work in the science and technology fields, and most of them have families. At the local high school, whites have been in the minority for the past 5-10 years, and Asians are the majority, and many of the school board members are also Asian. There is a lot of racism that goes on against white kids at this school. It's not a "hate" kind of racism, but a lot of the Asians look down at the whites as intellectually inferior. Asians tend to only group with other Asians for group projects because they feel like the white kids won't work as hard because the Asian culture is so much more focused on academics. I could give more examples, but trust me, there is institutional racism going on there. So in at least one part of the country, whites are not the only ones who can be racist. I'm sure there are many more examples like this in other places. To me, racism on a school or city level is just as powerful as on a national level. And what about the global level? Whites absolutely do not have the majority. In fact, globally, the white and black population is about the same. The Han Chinese make up the largest percentage of the global population, and if you include other Asian nationalities, the Asian population percentage is quite large. In addition, the Chinese control so much of the economy and is rising as a world power. So does this mean that the Chinese are ultimately the only racist people on the global scale? And if racism on a national level is more important than it is on a city or community level, shouldn't racism on a global level be more important than racism on a national level?
sloane220 sloane220 8 years
michealann-my point was that ANY AND EVERYBODY can be racially prejudiced and discriminatory, but only one group has the social power to implement their prejudices and discriiminations into our social institutions: white people. racism is a system of oppression. the definition of racism can be broken down into a simple formula: prejudice + power.
sloane220 sloane220 8 years
i see you as being self serving because you used a term that wasn't even race neutral, individual racism-which included supporting white supremacy right in it's definition, but tried to make it so to prove your point that there is some phantom race neutral definiton of racism, when there is clearly not. again, i repeat, DISCRIMINATION AND PREJUDICE are neutral, racism is not. any way you slice it. but i've got other things to do, so as i said. i will let my words stand.
Michelann Michelann 8 years
"black people as a group do not have enough social power to effect policy in the united states" But what about black people as individuals? Nobody ever claimed black people as an entire race were racist, but that individual black people can be racist. In the same way, all whites as a group are not racist, but individual white people can be racist. To me, people are more than just a member of a group. Their own actions and beliefs make up who they are.
sloane220 sloane220 8 years
@lilkimbo, you're not going to goad me into pm-ing you. and if insisting on using the the proper terminology for particular situations is being self righteous, then i guess i'll be that. better then being self-serving by diminishing the institutional defintion of a word to meet your needs, and being apathetic apologist for the willful ignorance displayed by others.
TidalWave TidalWave 8 years
i think of it more as "culturally disadvantaged". Because when I describe someone as "trashy" that is what I think of. And, unfortunately, people who are cultured tend to be wealthier than those who are not. Granted, there are lots of wealthy people who are uncultured. I would describe Anna Nicole Smith as white trash; and she definitely is not poor. But her demeanor and lifestyle is pretty trashy. Also, I feel that I use the term appropriately since I grew up in it.
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