April 28, 2009

What is White Trash?

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Do you know who Levi Johnston is? When I heard the name recently, I had no idea who he was. Turns out he’s the baby-daddy of Alaska Governor Sara Palin’s grandson. As you may recall, shortly after Palin was announced as Senator John McCain’s running mate, she disclosed

that her 17-year old unmarried daughter, Bristol, was pregnant. The teenagers ended their engagement shortly after the birth of their son.

Some news reports state that Governor Palin is blocking contact between the young parents because she does not want her grandchild around “white trash”. Many have used this term pejoratively to describe Johnston. He even mentioned on the CBS Early Show that the biggest misperception about is family is that they are “white trash”.

What is white trash? Who is white trash? Sociologist Max Weber referred to whites who did not own enslaved Africans as “poor white trash”. The Wikipedia definition of white trash is “an American English pejorative term referring to … economically or culturally disadvantaged Caucasians. It may also be used self-referentially by white north Americans with higher socio-economic status to jokingly describe limitations they sense in their culture…” How does this definition fit with what you know of the term? White trash is a term related to race, class, and culture.

White trash, differentiates poor white people from other white people – the "real" white people – the ones who are not poor. The term white trash presumes that they are a different race or ”breed” of people. It’s interesting that whites who don’t fit our stereotype of whiteness—being financially wealthy—have to be separated out and named differently. As with most such stereotypes, this one is meant to be a short-hand description of how a certain group of people behave: White trash live in certain places and behave in particular ways.

The highly popular television show Roseanne aired from 1988-1997 and starred comedian Roseanne Barr. The focus of the show was a white working class family. Take a look at the “White Trash Christmas” episode of the show. In that episode, Roseanne and Dan (her TV husband) say that they are setting themselves apart from other white trash families because they have two daughters in college; in other words, white trash people don’t go to college. In that episode, the family’s Christmas decorations are outrageous and tacky: the wreath they place on their door has beer cans, the lights are garishly bright, and the figurines depict lewd behavior.

Essentially, in thinking about white trash, we are forced to think about whiteness. White trash people are not quite white. What is white, then? Who is white? How is whiteness, as a race, socially constructed? As much as we talk about race in the U.S., little is discussed about what constitutes whiteness. This much is clear about whiteness. It’s somewhat invisible in that it’s the norm and everything else is different. Being Black, Hispanic, Asian…being “other” is different from that “whiteness” norm. And so are white trash. They are so different from that norm that they have to have their own name.

As I looked at and thought about the stereotypes of white trash, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between characteristics ascribed to white trash and those ascribed to minorities. And many stereotypes about African Americans and Latinos conflate race and class; in other words many of the stereotypes about African Americans, for example, not only generalize about a race, but stereotype that race as poor. “Black trash” or even “Latino trash” would be redundant based on these stereotypes, so we never hear those terms. Think of a stereotype of African Americans. (I’m avoiding naming too many stereotypes of any group, but I’m sure you can summon some images.)

Does it even make sense to think of that stereotype while also thinking of middle class African Americans? Or upper class African Americans? How well do the two fit together in your mind? And just as some perceive poor African Americans as existing within a culture of poverty, so our ideas about “white trash” are informed by stereotypes about a particular culture. The culture of poverty thesis states that the poor are not just like you and me, but…well, poor. This idea is that the poor have a different culture, different values and norms that serve to keep them poor.

Why might someone like Levi Johnston be called white trash? Why might his family be called this name? (His sister also responded to what both obviously perceive as a slur.) As you think about teen pregnancy, single parenthood, what images come to mind? Are those images related to any particular race or class? How much of what has unfolded with this young couple is what we expect of whites? What can we learn about whiteness by thinking about who or what is described as white trash?


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Very good Blog! To me, I see white trash as someone who isn't necessarily poor but just no good, worthless. Someone who doesn't take responsibility for their actions. To others, it may mean that they live in the slums and can't earn a living. But I do think that the term white trash has all meaning do to race. Some whites are very well brought up and respectful and know how to earn their living but those who get into trouble with the law and make mischief, to me are considered "white trash".

I thought that this blog was very informational. White Trash for me is someone that it's going anywhere, a person that doesn't want to get up in the morning and go to work or a person that isn't willing to do anything or provide for themselves as well as their family. It's interesting to read the blog and notice what they were talking about expecially about Palin's daughter and about the father of the child. It just shows that everyone has their own problems.

Extremely good post. I think white trash means not necisarily someone who is poor, but it also means someone who does not take care of themself, or does not care about anyone/anything. When i think of these kind of people i see trailer trash, shotgun, and lots of beer and skigs.

Two words. Britney Spears.

I think of white trash as the Caucasian equivalent to the stereotype of a 'ghetto' black person.

In my experience, "white trash" often implies being uneducated and ignorant, religious (usually Christian), very socially conservative (regardless of their actual behavior and lifestyle), and racist, in addition to poor. But I'd be curious to know what low-income people in, say, rural, socially conservative, mostly white, Christian towns would consider white trash.

I've also heard (and probably used) the term "rich white trash", which to me implies someone who is rich (usually new money) but has no no class, taste, discipline, is ignorant and uninformed, etc.

To me, the term "white trash" generally has little to do with income or "class". It mostly has to do with people who don't take care of their property, fight in the street, deal meth or crack from their homes, leave garbage in their yards and generally have little respect for other people. Living in an "up and coming" neighborhood some of these people are my neighbors. Alternately, I also have many neighbors that may be considered of a lower "socio-economic" class, that do not exhibit any of this behavior, and are very good people.

This article makes a lot of sense. What makes a person white trash and what makes a person simply white? I think th at people with less money have always been considered more likely to be white trash. I however do not think thats fair. I think that there is a stereo type "white" person and those who do not fit the stereo type are considered white trash. Well then I think that 99% of all white people are then white trash. Also I don't see how it is anyone's right to judge and classify people. Who gave anyone that right, and who says you are any more of human than them. I think that all people have a way of living their life. And if you think your better of then keep it to yourself. Obviously Bristol saw something good in Levi for her to actually have a kid with him. Their is something good in all people and though some may not seem "classy" it does not make them worth anything less and especially does not make them trash.

On a related note:
- I have been thinking/reading about the term "white trash" and "redneck" for the last little bit - the thing that most catches my attention is that both the terms are being reclaimed, much in the same way homosexuals have reclaimed "queer". Just a cursory listen to contemporary country music will show you my point. So what does it mean when you take a obvious slur and make it a badge of honor? (so to speak). The people around me who identify with the redneck/white trash tag (and I live in a teeny tiny western town) feel it is a term(s) of disparagement that was put on them because they were poor and/or lived in an isolated region or (and this is the big one) because they were out of step with "modern times" (read:provincial) - they feel uncomfortable in the world they see in the media and in there thoughts, "if that makes me a redneck, then I guess I'm a redneck". - Sort of like the whole "in a world they never made" mentality. What do you guys think about this?

I think that its stupid that Sarah Palin is calling Levi and his family white trash. They obviously have their reasons but would you not think of Bristol as white trash too after getting pregnant at 17, and doing the same white trash thing, like breaking up with the boyfriend, not letting him see the baby, and making a big deal deal out of nothing. The term white trash is being used to undermined Levi's authority as the father of the baby because he is "poorer" than the Palins. There is definitely a link between social class and name calling yet there is also this double standard when it comes to someone from your family messing up because one wouldnt consider their family anything lower than expected and people will go out of their way to protect them. They need to get over themselves because chances are that other people in the country think of the Palins are also white trash, liars, pissy people.

I think that a huge reason Levi Johnston is labeled with a title like "white trash" was because he is a teen parent. Being a teen parent in our society is associated, for the most part, with other circumstances that aren't viewed positively. Teen parents are assumed to be uneducated about contraceptives or maybe they just don't have money to pay for them. Usually being uneducated and poor are associated with being minorities, and it's stereotypes like that that produce the title of white trash. Because not all white people are wealthy and educated they created a term to describe the people that aren't to make them seem of lesser value.

When I hear the words "white trash" I think of low income families who live in a very run down home or even a trailer. There are probably more mouths to feeds than there is food. Also, I feel like white trash also is associated with people who don't value educating yourself. I don't just mean education about math and english, although they are very important, but also education on how to take care of yourself properly. A lot of times I feel that people who aren't even particularly poor, but are just total slobs and don't take of heir bodies are usually also considered white trash. In the case of Levi Johnston, I feel he was unfairly labeled. I think that the Palin Family prestige had something to do with him being judged so harshly. Because it was the daughter of a political candidate, no one really judged her other than as a young girl who made a mistake. Johnston made the same mistake, but because the Palin family lashed out against him he got labeled with this harsh name.

I think that the blog was right on the money. There could have been a faew changes as in their behavior. You couldve talked about how some people think that they also behave in a rude way and they dont care about their appearence to much.

I have heard the term "white trash" before, but I had no idea that Sarah Palin referred to the father of her daughter's child as white trash. Everyone probably has their own definition of the word, but to me, a person that is white trash is someone who is lazy, doesn't abide the law, and doesn't try to provide for their families. Mainly, people who do not have any positive impact on our society.

I think that in order to understand the term 'white trash' you need to actually observe the so called 'trashy' people in their element. Recently talking to a friend of mine from Orange County I told her about my childhood during which time my family lived in a mobile home park. Her response to my history was one of amazement: "Wow...huh, sorry, I just have never been friends with someone from a trailer park." Now, I would by no means classify myself as 'white trash' but to an Orange County girl, my childhood home might ascribe me that label.
'White trash' is a difficult label to define because (as seen in above comments) everyone has a different definition. There are those who blatantly have titled themselves as 'white trash' I say that we start our studies with them!
[If anyone had read the article that this author had posted about a Palin woman calling Johnston 'white trash', you might see that it was a MISS Palin doing the name calling not a MRS. It seems to me like it's just like any other breakup when one bitter party attacks the other one through name calling.]

This week we've been reading about social statuses in my sociology class. I think the status these unfortunate white people are demoted to is wrong and self-racist. Honestly, I think it's just another way found to put other people down when black people stopped taking it. It is not right to categorize anyone in this way.

This was a very good post. Ever since the begging of America, Whites have always been seen as the upper classmen in society. Obviously this is all changing and equality, fortunately is now prevalent more than ever. But where does the term white trash come from. Is it just a white person who doesn’t have much money. Or is a white person who has no money but also lives a poor life and who is unintelligent and unsophisticated? These questions were answered for me in the blog. For me white trash is definitely someone who is white, poor, uneducated, unsophisticated and who is a low member of society. White trash people don’t contribute anything helpful to the world. Watching the video made me realize that the Palin’s were a little stuck up. Just because they are white trash doesn’t mean you should hate them or be embarrassed of them. They are what they are and unfortunately he is now part of their family whether Sarah Palin likes it or not.

The problem I have with the term "white trash" is that people are not trash. However, I think it came about as shorthand for a group that is not just poor, but morally poor in their life choices, perhaps due to lack of self respect, lack of good examples in their life, or lack of education. If you are poor that is not your choice. If you lie, cheat, steal, fight, sleep around, scam the social welfare system, get drunk all the time, and don't take care of yourself, your family or where you live that is your choice. That's why we need to give hope and a way out for young people because they can be whatever they can dream if they have an education and good role models. Even so, young people make mistakes and they need support not a label. White trash is not where you live or what you own it's how you act repeatedly.

Great post! I have always heard of white trash as the same thing: poor white people from small towns. I have heard some many people in my life call others white trash and horrible things that were about the same. I have grown up in a small village with not even enough people to be considered a town. The village is surrounded by fields of crops and therefore is just a typical small "redneck" town. I believe that "white trash" people are those who just don't do anything to help with society as a whole. They are the ones that are unemployed and don't care to even try to get a job. Also, they are the ones that have nothing planned in their future; They only plan to not get a job and just live off of other people. People shouldn't base white trash on where someone lives or what they have grown up into. It is just one huge stereotype.

There is a legacy of theft in this family. Mom used to steal supplies and had for DECADES!!! Despite the existing legacy from prior generations, to maximize damage they likely told her to and why::::::To establish this legacy so they can justify pushing me into stealing, ensuring indifference from society's elite who will be positioned to be involved in this Situation.
They offered him the temptation of maximizing the prices he commands by pushing people into buying at above market value. And I suspect his selling history will attest to this. Not to mention the two $20 Starbucks gift cards ($30 left) he stole out of my car.
Don't forget::There are no secrets with this technology!!!
Think this will shut the tough guy up? Because I can go on about his schitzophrenia and how it makes him more likely to be a recidivist pediophile. But this isn't necessary because he'd obey when they'd tell him to.
His parents were both good but became corrupted. As a result, he is good as well. Unfortunately, he subscribed to evil and has been for years. The result is this internal battle of good and evil that he experieces as schitzophrenia.
And, like so many of you, he will do EVERYTHING he is told. The difference is they will ask him.
Just like mom::::She lit her own house on fire intentionally.

Thank you, all of you, for stealing my jewelry. I wash my hands of you all. And it was very interesting how you corrupted your children to play a part, sitting them down to divy up the costume jewelry. Or how they scurried upstairs, as if by cue, when that lush was screaming in my face.
They stole from me. They suggest about $25,000 in jewelry, $6,000 which represents my share:::No man buys that $10,000 rock, $7500 strand of pearls and nothing more.
May I remind you they flew to the Far East and the SouthPacific during the 50s in the context of their employment. Access to nice jewelry cheap was likely at their disposal.

I don't care what color you are you are white trash has no color. I hate people who have no kind of ambition, think they are entitled to everything. They think they deserve to have food stamps, free insurance, very reduced housing. Who the hell do they think they are. I don't even want to hear the excuse about them not being able to get a job due to the economy. Hell they didn't even work when the economy was doing good. They are the first ones in line for handouts. Get all there kids christmas gifts free from different organizations. They are the first one to think they know everything, think they can solve everyone problems, live on drama. Most of us decent people if we want insurance, food, have our utilites paid we have to get up in the morning and go to work. They are the first skanks to complain about others having more than them How about working. Oh, wait they might miss their soaps or their cartoons. What the hell do we always have to have a sob story about how they were raised. I'm sorry I'm not a bleeding heart. Before anyone thinks I make alot of money I don't. Never married, two children, make around $13.00 and hour. Own a home take care of my own children. Never had a handout. Was it hard at times? Yes, but I am frugal and I'll be dam if I have others pay for my choices in life. I work full time and work for my Aunt every two weeks to have a little extra money. I'm I bragging myself up. NO! I just get sick and tired of people always giving excuses for people who don't want to work or for their lifestyle. Don't want to call them white trash than just call them trash. I have one in my family and he wasn't brought up like that but I get sick and tired of his mouth about how the system is. Typical example, says he can't work because he lost one leg. BULLSHIT! He couldn't keep a job with two legs. So guess who on SSI? Not only that we are supporting his girlfriend and his three kids. Gee, our taxes are paying for their food, insurance, housing, christmas presents, and if their heating bill is to high they get it paid for. Why should they budget? Hell it's handed to them! Starting next year Medicare is not going to give any money to this program for two years! What the hell most of these older workers worked all their lifes and when they get older they get penalized! Why don't they cut some of welfare, mostly trash who never worked in their life. I hate trash never will like them and I know some of you bleeding hearts will not like this but tough.

The words "white trash" being connected to working class families is ridiculous. This stereo-type is used far too often and has no clear definition. People who feel they can just throw it around are wrong, this is a demeaning term that really has no meaning. Some of the best people come from lower incomes and smaller towns, they are the people with dignity and hard work ethic. By using this term, Sarah Palin as shown her stupidity and disrespect to the public eye. It is being judgmental and degrading someone for all the wrong reasons.

Well, I would disagree with Ms Inniss' definition of "white trash" as being simply "poor whites", because it's not so much about "poverty" alone, as it is about a 'particular group' of poor whites, and their unique values. So "White Trash" (aka Trailer Trash) usually refers to the chosen tastes and "lifestyle" that defines this distinctive group, most of whom can trace their ancestry to the Scots-Irish that first settled mainly in the South. James Webb describes them well in “Born Fighting, How the Scots-Irish Shaped America”.

To be sure, there are also poor Italians, Polish, Hispanics & other groups of poor whites. But culturally they bear little resemblance to the "white trash" culture and tastes often associated with poor whites of "southern" and "scots-irish" ancestry. This stereotypically includes things like anti-education & anti-intellectual "hillbilly culture", C/W music, "NASCAR", methamphetamines, alcohol, tattoos, obesity, and smoking, as well as what's sometimes described as an obsession over "God, Guns & Gays". By contrast, these particular values usually aren't associated with other poor whites.


The term poor white trash was created by the slave master and his slaves in the South. It was used by both groups to describe a group of people who worked their ass off on land they did not own just to survive. Both the slave and his master looked down on the PWT.

White trash doesn't just have to do with being poor and anyone who thinks it does hasn't seen white trash. White trash people are not just poor, but morally bankrupt. A perfect example is someone who keeps having children when they have no job (not due to the economy) because they don't want to work, scams the system, chooses to spend their money on alcohol when their children need clothes, has no ambition, lies, cheats, and/or steals. White trash is a mindset. A lot of people are poor. It doesn't make them white trash. White trash people are ignorant. White trash people are the type of people who have their kids taken away because they were addicted to meth and two years later they still can't understand why they don't have custody.

If you want to see and know white trash up close and personal. Vist North Beach Maryland. Nuff said.

responding on sheri Foster's post i wouldn't classify "white trash" as someone who is poor but someone who doesn't care about their own life or how they live it, i would classify it as someone careless, and selfish. These people may be lazy and careless but no one can really say that they are white trash because in my mind we are all equal no matter what color, rich , and or poor we all can be considered "white trash" , even if people don't want to admit it we've all had our lazy days where we don't want to take the responsibility of our action's or maybe were just feeling rude that day and think that it's alright to call a person "white trash", this was a very good blog. makes people think about what really is white trash.

The term "white trash" as i have come to understand it means; lower class,trailer park living, wearing pajamas on the street,beer bellies,dirty house,dirty cars, bad hygiene, maybe even a couple of missing teeth.In this category somebody in that household definetly owns a stained flannel with a couple of holes in it and it is a couple of sizes to small.This social class is not to worried about careers,appearance,or status. Instead they are worried about a fridge full of beer,some drugs, and how to do the least amount of work in order to keep these things that have become their lifesyle.

thats funny how you say that irish and scotts are white trash, im both haha coming from orange county buena park and coming from a family that has been in gangs,bikers,dealing drugs, and shit like that ect. and living in a highly hispanic neighborhood mostly just mexicans a place known only as the..... barrio, but to me thats normal life so if im white trash, being lower then middel class i guess it feels natural, so whats up, there nothing to observe just people trying to live life

“White Trash” a person of low moral and/or ethical standing, poor or rich simply refers to economic status of the individual.

White trash is white trash is white trash!White trash has no color barrier. White trash knows not between poor or rich. White trash is the baby breeders. White trash are ignorant who think they know everything. White trash are the drug addicts, the people who have kids and don't put them first. White trash are White trash.

The best way to describe white trash...any non-black individual with a poor values. They have multiple children before they're 20. They are airheads who think they know everything, who make random stuff up just to appear smart. They don't know moderation or just don't care (e.g. heavy smoking, drinking, getting so many tattoos that it looks like they're covered in grime). Most frequently found working in food establishments, gas stations, Walmart, Dollar Tree, and hair salons.

It is possible to sport a mullet and drive a camaro without being a white trash person.

I always thought of white trash people as, not only being poor, but also uneducated and ill mannered. People who smoke cigarettes, have teeth that are either crooked, all the same size, or round somehow, don’t care about physical appearance, have beer bellies, have children very young, do meth, have very tan skin, are loud and just overall crass.

I, however, do seperate this group of people from poor white people who are nice and well mannered enough to not stand out. I think of all races having two categories, poor and not poor (for example, poor black people would be considered ghetto).

I also find it interesting how you pointed out that it would be redundant to say black trash or latino trash. I think this connects a lot to my hypothesis: skin color isn’t the main factor that makes people racist, it’s class. I’ve heard many people say “you’re not like other black people”, when my black female friend acts well mannered and educated. This, to me, means that people just associate presence of color with being poor, and being poor is what they dislike.

White trash: Someone who has never ever done a job in a "neat and workmanlike manner" in their entire life.

MANY examples of the sloppy, messy work that white trash does can be seen driving around in Virginia. Traffic signals and street signs hanging crooked, route signs with mismatching fonts, telephone poles with messy cables everywhere, DirecTV / cable TV installations with unsecured cables flapping in the breeze...

Basically, it's just an overall look that makes it clear: nobody doing this work cares about doing it well.

How about you let poor white trash speak for themselves? If POC get their own voice, let poor white trash do the same.

So, as poor fucking white trash, I'll answer your question. It most certainly DOES have to do with socioeconomic status. You all have a stereotype in your head whether you want to admit it or not: the trailer park, beer cans, poverty, and dirty kids running around while dogs bark.

I live in a trailer park. I'm dirt poor. I grew up dirt poor. I never had the chance to go to college because I had to get a full time job to help support my alcoholic, bipolar mother. Fortunately, I did not have a baby out of wedlock-- I never wanted a kid because I knew my then boyfriend (now husband of 20 years) couldn't afford it on our white trash worthless wages. But birth control fails sometimes, and mine did when I was 32. I now have a special needs daughter (she has autism and adhd). That compounds my white trash status. And, if you do get in trouble with the law (I'm not and have not been, but I know people of my socioeconomic class who have), you WILL get a longer sentence than those of affluent means.

And oh yes, we are treated differently--both by POC and by affluent whites. If you drive an old car in this small city, you WILL get tailed by police. You WILL be followed around in the store if you don't dress in fine, expensive clothes. You WILL be mocked for living in a trailer. You WILL be passed over for jobs. It WILL be assumed you are a racist Trumpster, even if you're a registered Democrat. It WILL be assumed you are an evangelical fundamentalist even if you happen to be atheist. If you have a prescription for allergy medication, the pharmacist WILL call your doctor to make sure you're not a methhead (because, upon seeing your address and knowing it's in a trailer park, that's what they assume) or just outright deny you the prescription, so you have to truck around until you find a place that will fill it. You WILL never be able to afford to move to a nice house--you're stuck with that trailer park and the rising rent that you can't really afford but have to, because apartments are over 1.5k a month in your town and there's no way you can afford that crap.

That's my reality every day. I do not drink, I do not break the law, I do not beat my kid, I am not dirty, and while I never got the chance to go to college, I'm not stupid or even ignorant, I haven't been married 15 times, nor do I have 15 kids by 15 different fathers.

Yet, because I'm poor and live in a "bad" neighborhood, I will always be white trash.

Classism and racism are more alike than they are different. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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