White Trash

White Trash

eBook - 2016
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The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement. They were alternately known as "waste people," "offals," "rubbish," "lazy lubbers," and "crackers." By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called "clay eaters" and "sandhillers," known for prematurely-aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds. Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, history professor Nancy Isenberg upends assumptions about Americas supposedly class-free society -- where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics - a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJs Great Society and they now haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group 2016.
ISBN: 9781101608487
Characteristics: text file
1 online resource


From Library Staff

As the United States moves closer to a non-white majority and our politics become more chraged by race and class, it's a perfect time to read Nancy Isenberg's book. Isenberg quickly moves through history to destroy the myth of the U.S. as a classless society. From founding fathers who regarded po... Read More »

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Cynthia_N Jul 31, 2017

Interesting read! I think the author really liked the term "cracker" because for the first half of the book it seemed to the word she used the most! It cracked me up when she stated if someone wanted a relationship "on the down low" they would first go to a "trailer trash" girl. It was long but I enjoyed it!

Jul 18, 2017

Well worth reading, "White Trash" explains much about American history that was left out of your high school courses. I felt that I got more of an idea about how the educated classes felt about the poor than I did about how they themselves felt. But this is likely a function of literacy. The upper classes had more opportunity to write about everything and thus leave historical documents. The section on the Civil War was especially revealing of how class and race conflicted regular people who had to choose a side. Among the more recent examples of lower class whites, the author includes Dolly Parton, the Bakers (Tammy Faye & Jim), LBJ and Elvis Presley. I missed some others she might have included: Loretta Lynn, Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson. She mentions "Li'l Abner" without explaining that Al Capp, the creator, was a son of Jewish/Latvian immigrants from New York. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that current political strategies involve exploitation of these class and race differences in order to attempt to bamboozle the less educated once again.

Jul 13, 2017

Isenberg has some interesting information, but she twisted or omitted facts that didn't support the points she wanted to make. That is unsound scholarship.

Jun 26, 2017

Clearly this is a book that attracts an...interesting diversity of opinion. Even the professional critics are confused (see reviews above. My favourite is the one that complains that in a book about white people, in a chapter about white sharecroppers, there is little mention of black sharecroppers. WTF, NYT?) Poor, and perhaps narrow and bigoted white people are simply to be ignored and despised -- aren't they? As others have noted, the style and quality of writing in White Trash varies, from the scholarly to the personal, and often, the maddeningly repetitive. However, the author is a pioneer, who is also writing from the heart, and it seems to be necessary to be extremely clear, since the poor of all shades are still the political football they have always been. There is a lot of room for future authors to research this very broad and deep field.

May 15, 2017

White Trash is an excellent history of class in America, written by an academic historian. Her study focusses not on all poor people or the many immigrant groups who arrived, and who, by and large, succeeded economically, but on an old white underclass from the British Isles, a great many of whom still live in conditions that put the lie to the American Dream. In this thoroughly researched history, Isenberg shows that the earliest American colonies, Virginia and Plymouth, were founded on a class system, with the poor have limited rights and few opportunities for land ownership -- among the slaves in America's early days were numerous whites. Much of the westward push of settlers, was driven by these people looking for land, denied them by their "betters" (of course, resulting in genocidal war and land theft from the inhabitants). With copious references, Isenberg shows that in many ways, this underclass still exists near the bottom of the social order.

She explains that class tension in the USA, regularly arises in the political environment. Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton were among the few presidents who rose from the underclass. All were divisive leaders, hated by the upper classes and popular with the lower. Many of Andrew Jackson's supporters liked this brash, outspoken backwoodsman, and loved that his spoken English was unsophisticated. Speaking of Jackson in the 1820's, Isenberg says that he was portrayed "as an outsider, a man of natural talents…, who was capable of cleaning up the corruption in Washington. His nomination provoked 'sneers of derision from the myrmidons of power at Washington,' wrote one avid Jackson man, who decried the 'degeneracy of American feeling in that city.' Jackson wasn't a government minion or a pampered courtier, and thus his unpolished and unstatesmanlike ways were an advantage' (124)." The same words could have been written two centuries later, about Donald Trump though this book was completed before his election campaign.

White Trash isn't a page-turner, but is an important book for anyone interested in American culture, history or politics. Isenberg is a first-rate researcher, who has given considerable thought to her argument. She provides the evidence to allow us to follow the development of her thinking, so that we can understand how she reaches her conclusions. In so long and thorough a book, we can nitpick and find something we disagree with, but her basic point, that American (US) society always contained a despised underclass with limited opportunities, can't be refuted. The book is important to Canadians, not only in understanding our neighbour, but because we were settled under somewhat similar circumstances -- one of our first post-contact migrations was of Loyalists, refugees from the American Revolution -- and share many values with Americans. (If you don't believe that class is an issue in Canada, think of how you react to people saying either "to whom" or "Can yous come here?")

May 02, 2017

Don't mistake this for a history book just because it was written by a historian. She misuses and distorts history to support her political views. Instead of writing about the past in its own terms, she judges people and circumstances of the past in the light of her own politics. For example, she says Ben Franklin was not a self-made man because he rose by the support of influential patrons. But the 18th century was a traditional hierarchical society and that is how poor men rose in those days! Alexander Hamilton was a poor orphan working a company on a small Caribbean island and some businessmen sent him to New York because they felt he had potential. She says she is writing about "class" in America, but she ignores the millions immigrants from the original colonies and abroad who moved into the midwest and became independent farmers. And the inhabitants of the housing developments that grew up around American cities in the post world war II era? In the New York area at least they were inhabited by the children and grandchildren of the poverty-stricken, much maligned Jewish and Italian immigrants who flooded major American cities 1890-1920--a perfect example of the American dream coming true. Read Joyce Appleby's " Inheriting the Revolution" and "Is America Different?" edited by Byron Shafer if you want to learn some real history.

Feb 10, 2017

The commentator above who feels insulted by this book may be right. I learned in history of Canada class in college that when freed black slaves came over to Canada from the USA, they were given lands to cultivate, lands full of rocks, not fit for agriculture. And that land was given them on a repayable loan, and they were not given full rights in Canada until they repaid it. The American and Canadian Elites were created by the Crown by giving them lands and good Gov. jobs. In Canada they speculated by selling parcels of it to new immigrants. The Canadian working class was formed from the Irish immigrants in the 1840-50s; those of them who did not have money to buy land from the Elite or to find work, were called "squatters" or "violent paddy," because they often rebelled. Thousands of them died of privation and abuse (the Protestant British military beat them with bare swords, sometimes chasing, forcing them this way into waters to drown even), and their orphans, thousands of them were adopted by Quebec Catholic families. And the Canadian Elite and Middle Class developed a "social genetics" theory that the poor and the workers are born inferior, that's why they are poor. Social inequality always existed, Elite groups and slaves too, and to the American poor the hope of the "American Dream" was given, so often they even vote for the Right Wingers, and hope that someday their kids will become rich, if the free enterprise system is maintained. The "white trash" is persistently surviving thru privation, and they even multiply, so eugenics was invented to explain why they should be gotten rid of, using diverse means. First they sterilized the "inferiors," and they planned using other methods too, e.g. starvation. Read Charles Galton Darwin's book: "The Next Million Years." The latest new method is genetic modification, to create a new worker slave breed of the future. The Elite will remain as it is, because they are "superior." This plan has four main points: 1-Intervention in the infants (the ovule); 2- Increase individual performance (increase the memory and reduce sleep); 3- Create an ageless body (for the Elite); 4- Create peace of mind and psychic happiness (obedience). These humanoid working bio robots are to replace the "trash," acc. to plan. In 2016 a whole page article appeared in the Vancouver "24hr" paper, titled: "Custom Babies Not Far Off." Obviously, employers will prefer the "improved" humans, so the "old type" humans will become jobless. Therefore, mothers will agree to their ovules being modified, and in a few generations the present commoners will be phased out. Now, about the Elites. An American author, persecuted for his documentary work (I won't tell his name here, he was framed and jailed too) researched the nearly 50 USA Presidents so far, and found this: 25 of those Presidents were distant cousins to each other; and 25 Presidents had British Kings in their ancestry. Therefore, ancient Elite ruling dynasties continued to rule over the crowd in the Free World too, but now inside the game of "Democracy." The world never changes since millennia; it only changes shape but not content.

Histmrs1 Feb 07, 2017

Illuminating, a totally different way of seeing the American populace.

Jan 25, 2017

From Nancy Isenberg's Title: "White Trash. The 400- Year Untold History of Class in America," I thought I would learn about what games the poorer people (early immigrants) played in early America.
I never realized (until now) that there also existed a relatively large underclass of very poor people (even outside the mainstream) in America, who arrived with others from Britain. This underclass was referred to as "White trash" - along with other names. They continued their harsh existence for centuries. Seem that no games such as baseball or related games could be played in less desirable places such as in the mountains (by hillbillies) or in the swamps ( swamp people or rednecks).
This work was an-opener for me that class does exist in America and it provided such a better understanding of the people of America.
This is an excellent work and the scholarship is most impressive. The text, chapters, documentation, footnotes and index all enhance this work to make this Nancy Isenberg untold story solidly proven.

In tracing the roots of baseball, the histories of the peoples from Britain and Continental Europe were investigated.* It was found that class structures existed in, for example, early Celtic (pre-Roman) Britain. The four major classes were the nobility, the priesthood, the military, and the ordinary people (tradesmen, peasants etc). One harsh punishment for those who did not observe the laws of the early Celtic societies, was ostracism and that was often international (inter-nations or inter-kingdoms), thereby creating an outsider group or class. The people of early Britain and continental Europe were Indo-European people who moved Westward. The creation of classes, sub-classes and no classification (out caste) or pariahs is well documented for ancient and modern India and its consequences are still felt today. The existence of class (or caste) has deep roots in our past.
Seelochan Beharry,
*The Prehistories of Baseball, 2016.

Jan 04, 2017

A great read. I look forward to future books from this author. This book was easy to read, well cited sources, and thought provoking. I appreciate that the Library has provided this book for it's patrons.

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