Friday, December 27, 2013

Catholic Stand: Talking white trash

People of a certain age ought to remember the routine that made comedian Jeff Foxworthy a household name. And I’ll give just one example: “If you mow your yard, and you find three cars and a couch, you might be a redneck.”

What Foxworthy was describing, though, wasn’t really a redneck. No, there’s another name for the ignorant, slovenly boors Foxworthy’s jokes painted in such garish colors: white trash. We could go less race-specific and use the term I heard growing up — trailer trash. Either name makes the egalitarian-minded liberal shudder; and yet, while progressives are good at talking populist, when the crunch comes they can be as elitist as any Porcellian among the Boston Brahmin.

The term white trash has been popping up here and there since the infamous Phil Robertson GQ interview; understandably, since Robertson used it to describe himself and the people he came from (post-WWII, pre-Vietnam rural Louisiana). Peter Lawler, in the blog “Postmodern Conservative” on First Things, remarks:

The phrase “white trash” is, in fact, one of the most unattractive features of aristocratic Southern Stoicism. The Stoic, aristocratic (not to mention gay and racist) poet-philosopher William Alexander Percy disparaged “white trash” far more than southern blacks. And we see that same sort of stereotyping in To Kill a Mockingbird, where the white trash are really, really trashy — so trashy that nobody minds how cruelly Stoic attorney Atticus Finch deconstructs the pretensions of their way of life in the service of justice for a noble — if simple — black man. And of course the white trash jury was too trashy to keep an innocent black man from being convicted. …
When a Stoic Walker Percy character says that the behavior celebrated on our talk and reality shows is that of white trash — of people who don’t know how to act because they don’t know who they are — we can’t help but want to agree. … White trash, any real Southern Stoic would say, describes a way of living not confined to the impoverished or the South. (Here I refer you to the novels of Tom Wolfe.)
Read more at Catholic Stand!