Americans, whether you like it or not,
and whether you admit it or not, this book review is about our family. White
Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016) by Nancy
Isenberg is a book so necessary that it compelled reviews in “The New York
Times” and “The Wall Street Journal” because it finally gives White Trash
the place in American history that they have always been denied.
After all: “The tenant farmer with his
mule and plow is not a romantic image to remain in historic memory.”
In the book’s final paragraph is a
pithy historical summation of America’s contempt and disregard for White
Trash: “They are not who we are.”
Any good history book allows the reader
to draw parallels with the current age. “They are not who we are,” also aptly
describes the raging combat in the United States between the Trumper and
What was the book’s goal?
“If this book accomplishes anything it
will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have
disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the
founders’ ingenious plan, or that Jacksonian democracy was liberating, or that
the Confederacy was about state’s rights rather than preserving class and
racial distinctions.” (My emphasis)
Lack of social mobility and preserving
class distinctions: keeping peasants in their place – the ultimate goal of
aristocrats and today’s anti-Trumpers.
What this book does is to prove how
poor Whites have systematically been denied land, opportunity and a voice just
as much as Blacks and women.
There has never been social mobility
for all Whites – just rich Whites – and this will be the bursting of a major
myth for many people who believe America is, or at least used to be, “the land
If you are not dissuaded of that myth
at the end of this book review all I can say is: Read this book.
This book has been criticized by some
reviewers for ignoring Blacks.
Well, it’s a book about Whites, and I
see no reason not to study this ethnic group. I also see no reason to delve
into race wars in this column either, so I guess I’m a racist too, or whatever.
As a communist, I view all race war as
a legislatively-correctable absurdity, anyway.
Instead of discussing race politics, I
argue that this book proves we absolutely must reject the anti-Trumper’s
contention that the current schism in the US is a cultural divide and not a
The White Trash Revolution (WTR), a
theme of mine which gained a foothold with Brexit, has always been about class
and not race. How else could someone named “Ramin Mazaheri” be one of its
But elevating race in order to deny
class is what Americans always do, and that’s why the author decried this
systematic class unconsciousness on the book’s very first page:
“It is as though in separating from
Great Britain, the United States somehow magically escaped the bonds of class
and derived a higher consciousness of enriched possibility… The very act of
migration claims to equalize the people involved….”
It does not, so give up your racial,
gender and sexual politics. Let’s get to the down-and-dirty of it all – class.
The foundation of the US is White Trash
and you know it
What is trash? Above all, it is waste.
16th century England was obsessed with
waste, and that certainly fits in with the stereotypical view of an obsessive
English person who can’t waste a thought, much less a minute and even still
less a New World of “wasted” natural resources.
The author relates that it also meant
“waste people” – i.e. the poor.
So-called “peoples’ history” books such
as these are so great because events like Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, “one of
the greatest conflicts the colony ever witnessed,” are restored from obscurity
to show that class was always from Day 1 in America.
There is, “…ample evidence to show the
participants made it about class warfare… It is important that we understand
that Bacon’s Rebellion for what revealed: the most promising land was never
equally available to all.” (Author’s emphasis)
And imagine if America’s kids
identified with the true situation of their 17th century counterparts? You’d
have a nation of budding communists: “Waste men and waste women (and especially
waste children, the adolescent boys who comprised a majority of the indentured
servants) were an expendable class of laborers who made colonization possible.”
Such books also remove the luster of
historical figures, which is probably why Arkansas is considering a bill to ban
the books of Howard Zinn’s, such as “A Peoples’ History of the United States”.
The deconstruction of Thomas Paine is
especially interesting as he was the main propagandist of the American
Revolution. As a journalist who is regularly accused of being a propagandist,
I’d like to note the already-clear differences between him and me: “His
overarching argument was that European-descended Americans were a new race in
the making, one specially bred for free trade instead of the state machinery of
Critically, the Englishman Paine had
been in the US for just a year when he wrote “Common Sense”. He clearly
had only a very superficial level of understanding of how America actually
worked, and I can only imagine how false my analysis of France was after only
my first year here.
However, Paine did make a true
democratic contribution: He destroyed the godly aura of monarchy and openly
revealed its parasitic nature – this anti-authoritarian idea was indeed
But his outlook was inherently
aristocratic: “(Paine argued) Therefore, if the leadership class did not seize
hold of the narrative, the broad appeal for political independence would be
supplanted by an incendiary call for social levelling.”
Despite the historically-revisionist
claims of today’s jingoists, social leveling was thus not a goal in 1776.
The West as a White Trash dump
The US had so many advantages and
possibilities to build a true Utopia, and yet their unparalleled geographical
richness has been squandered by capitalism and imperialism.
Beginning with Jefferson and the
Louisiana Purchase, the West became a hugely-effective safety valve for class
discontent but it was never the hugely-effective producer of social leveling
that people assume.
“The western territories were for all
intents and purposes America’s colonies,” and squatters, crackers and poor
White Trash would flee to the frontier to escape the indentured servitude of
However, they were rarely able to stay
there for long, much less for generations: At best, early settlers would clear
the land for the “real farmers”, i.e. rich farmers with connections to land
speculators, who had government contacts that would sell them the best farmland
as each new region turned into an official state.
The lack of social mobility is evident
in the name given to these squatters, such as “swampers”, and good luck raising
good crops there. “Tarheel”, “bogtrotter”, “briar-hoppers” and “tackies” are
all both insults and descriptions of the lousy land they lived on. In 2017 even
“trailer trash” is a term to describe someone who lives on a bad and small
patch of land isolated from society.
“By the 1850s, poor whites had become a
permanent class. As non-slaveholders, they described themselves as ‘farmers without
farms’…. Whether they stayed put or moved west, poor whites occupied poor
‘Biology is destiny’ means Trash stays
In the 1840s and 1850s, as Europe was
discovering Marxism, the US was only discovering a reactionary social science
known as evolutionary biology. This ideology made biology destiny, and in the
1850s the term “White trash” became widespread. The author repeatedly stresses
that the term mainly connoted physical defects, and not just a culture of
poverty and a character marked by frontier wildness.
Poor whites were now labelled as a
degenerate class, biologically induced to crime, immorality and even incest.
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s humanistic and moral “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (praised by
Tolstoy) had a 2nd book that was as anti-white trash as the first was
anti-slavery, per the author.
By promoting evolutionary biology
instead of Marxism, America employed such great ideas like the right to
exterminate all the Indians, mulattos being defects, Hispanics being unevolved.
Sweet, righteous Anglo-Saxons could not even live by Indians.
But let’s forget all that, because such
racism is already well known.
What this book focuses on is the
widespread belief of the time that – much like undocumented immigrants lowering
wages today (sidebar: that solution is total amnesty and open borders) –
slavery was something which was ruining not just the allegedly-perfect DNA of
whites, but the living standards of poor Whites.
“In barring slaveholders from the
territories he (the Republican presidential nominee of 1856 and ‘Free Soil’
supporter) would prevent northern white laborers from being reduced to virtual
slaves in the West.”
What? I thought the US Civil War was to
free the Blacks?
Admit it, American: You already knew
that the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t issued until 1863, two years into the
war. Why do you suppose that was?
They never gave us a satisfactory
answer, but it’s – as usual – class and not race.
(To be continued…)
Courtesy The Saker
2008-2013©copyright, All Rights Reserved. Vijayvaani Publishers.
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