Monday, January 15, 2018

A caveat if you have

read this book or intend to read this book. The title is "White Trash" and it's subtitle is "The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America". It's written by a professor of history at LSU named Nancy Isenberg.

I've become much more aware of how often various sources will work to deny or minimize racial oppression in the U.S. and glanced through this book one day in the library just to see what it was about. It received quite a bit of play in the press when it was released and I wanted to take a look at it. I presumed, based on the title, that it was a book designed to make some money playing off of the theme that was popular at that time which was to blame the presidential election results on poor white people.

It wasn't poor white people who supported Trump...it was white people across all the lines of education and wealth who voted for him. The only demographic segment of white people that a majority of voted for Clinton was college educated white women and they only supported Clinton by a 51 to 49 percent factor. That's pretty pitiful when you consider that Trump had clearly established himself as misogynistic (and racist) by his various campaign statements.

But...to make itself look better to itself, the dominant narrative was pushing the idea that poor and ignorant white people ("white trash") were the reason Trump was elected. It's a "have your cake and eat it too" sort of maneuver. White folks could enact their racist and patriarchal leanings by electing Trump and can disavow the implications of it by blaming "white trash". Except...it's not true. Trump was elected because white people chose him and education and class had little to do with their choice.

This book plays into that "have your cake and eat it too" manipulation by various devices, one that is easily detected is to read what she says about Reagan. On page 285 of the book she writes: "In 1980, Carter lost to Ronald Reagan, a man who understood precious little about southern culture."

I was stunned by the ignorance (or outright deception) exhibited by this sentence since Ronald Reagan made a point of traveling to Neshoba County Mississippi, at the beginning of his campaign for the presidency, and spoke there at the county fair and in that speech he voiced his support for "states rights".

The Neshoba County fairgrounds are located seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi which is where, in 1964, three civil rights workers were murdered by racist white men. It's absurd and misleading to characterize someone running for president who goes there to speak and voices support for "states rights" as a person who "understood precious little about southern culture".

"States rights" has been a code phrase for racism for a long long time in this nation (source one and source two) and since the author of this book is a professor of history she knows full well that this is true...but...I'm presuming that if she had been honest then she would have had a harder time of blaming ignorant white people for Trump's election (and thereby maybe not sold as many books).

I have no idea what her motivation(s) were for writing what she did (I suspect part of it was she was trying to make some money, but I don't know for sure) ...I just know that what she wrote was promoting the fiction that mostly poor and ignorant white people supported a racist and misogynist for president. That's untrue...white people, wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated, voted for him and thereby outed themselves as either being indifferent to misogyny and racism or outrightly supporting these ugly practices.

And...folks like this author help white folks feel better about their deficiencies by blaming "white trash"...even when they have to distort or deny truth in doing so.

Note: when I write "white folks" I'm referring to those who ascribe to and support the ideology of patriarchal whiteness. People don't have to have white skin or be male to buy in to this ideology. Heck, there were Jewish people who fought for the Nazi regime so some "leakage" is associated with any sort of dominant social outlook or regime...what's important to pay attention to are the patterns of the majority...not the strange exceptions. I recently was told by a friend of mine (a Jewish woman) that there are Jewish folks in the Temple she attends who deny that the Holocaust occurred. Exceptions will always occur...they're a distraction.

The way I conceptualize stuff like this is that all behaving and thinking by living beings occurs on a spectrum. What you want to pay attention to is the patterns associated with the majority...it's those patterns that provide a basis for generalizations and will show you what's going on. If you're looking for absolute adherence to any ways of thinking/behaving by living beings (maybe outside of autonomic reflex stuff like breathing and such that are necessary for the maintenance of life) then forget it...there will always be exceptions.

I'm still disturbed with myself that I was mesmerized by the dominant narrative for so long. That narrative encourages us to believe that someone's social group positioning (social identities) have little or no connection to how we think and what we know. It's not an accident that all the major social institutions were created by white men and continue to be controlled by white men and that the national narrative persistently puts forth the fiction that white men "know best". That's neither an accident, nor is it true.

Whenever an unmistakably horrid white man is too prominent to hide then many white folks scramble to explain that presence away (because white people are "good", ya know?). In this book, this explaining away is done by blaming "bad" white people ("white trash").

Anymore, whenever I read anything, I first want to know the social identity(s) of the author (so I have some knowledge about their perspective(s) or standpoint(s)) and, in the case of non-fiction writing, I want to know whether they are aware of the structural oppression that has shaped this nation (and whole hemisphere) since western Europeans first showed up here.

If the author is unaware or apologetic or dismissive or ignoring...of this structural oppression then I'll know I'm reading the work of someone under the influence of the dominant narrative. Here in the U.S. (and in western "civilization" in general) the dominant narrative supports the viewpoint and interests (again in general) of white men. If you didn't know this...well...it's time you did. You have much to learn and lots of work to do if you want to gain some clarity and more accurate comprehension of why (and how) human society operates the way it does.

Mostly...what we call "common sense" isn't common nor is it sense...it's a bending and distorting (sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant) of thinking and perceiving and understanding that works to uphold and promote the interests of (mainly) wealthy white men. Until you get a handle on that (or get your mind wrapped around that truism) then society here in the U.S. (and many other places) won't make much sense to you. 

For fiction I'm a little less demanding of awareness, sometimes a good story is just a good story.

If the author is writing a non-fiction book dealing with social/cultural issues or themes and is oblivious to the history and oppressive make-up of this nation...then their story isn't well grounded and they're writing fiction without knowing it.

Someone probably can write a book like "Windshield Washer Repair for Dummies" (non-fiction) and do a credible job and also be deluded as hell about social issues (I say probably they can, maybe not, I'm not certain about this). However...if their non-fiction efforts have anything to do with social/cultural issues and they're deficient in knowledge about the genocidal and human enslaving foundational structuring of this nation...then their writing is mostly blather and a waste of time and effort.

My rule of thumb for non-fiction cultural/social/historical writing is (and I borrowed and modified this rule from an observation by Robin DiAngelo about movies) that if a white person can read it and still feel good about being a white person after having read it...then it's probably untrue and it works to uphold oppression and white supremacy.

I don't like that it's that way...it pisses me off and saddens me...but we white folks made it that way and unless we lie...then thinking and/or writing and/or talking about it is going to feel bad until we start making a society and culture that clears out the awful stuff and starts following a positive path for everyone.

Maybe then...many years from now...white people can begin to write non-fiction stuff that also doesn't mean bad feelings for white folks...and is founded on truth. For now...it's not that way and blaming "white trash" just evades the truth.




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