To My Fellow Poor White People
I’m told that looking down on a man is worth the misery of poverty. I would need a trial with evidence, a jury, and witnesses before I allowed that notion to go unchallenged. President John Adams said that people would think it was worth it. I just read all about this grand bargain of poverty for white supremacy.
If you guys want a hard core look at our history, read White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg. You get the sense of how most white Americans were viewed, because the bulk of them were “waste people” from Europe. Petty criminals, servants, prostitutes, “people of low reputation,” and the poor were sent to America in larger numbers than anyone else because people wanted to get rid of their junk so they could use them as cheap labor.
As Isenberg writes of people in Europe, “The cream of society could not be shielded from the public nuisance of the poor, in that they seemed omnipresent at funerals, church services, on highways and byways, in almshouses, and they loitered around Parliament — even at the King’s court.” Aha. Take heed. Americans. The English class system, upon which we are based, eventually leads to a society where we will be overrun with the poor. We will need a place to funnel them. Just sayin’. But anyway.
I automatically assumed people got to a land of opportunity. Isenberg disabuses a reader of that notion pretty quickly. You learn about how the English class system was simply imported to the colonies. Then, it was ensconced into our Constitution. Property-owners, of which there were relatively few, got the vote. That’s it.
Think of Ben Franklin as a poor guy? Middle class? How about a social climber who pulled the ladder up after him? Ding, ding, ding. Let me give you an example. In a city of 15,000, Ben Franklin was one of only 84 to own a carriage in Philadelphia when he was living there. This guy was doling out advice as Poor Richard when he didn’t know a thing about how to deal with being poor.
There were never the land giveaways to the poor white communities that I was taught to believe occurred in history. If you’re wondering why your family took so long to earn land or maybe you haven’t gotten it yet, the explanation is in this book. Isenberg writes, “Class divisions were firmly entrenched. The ever-widening gap in land ownership elevated large planters into a small, privileged faction. At the same time, the labor system reduced servants to debt slaves, and living so far from home, they had little recourse to demand better treatment.”
I come from Puritan roots. I thought those guys would have somehow been better about class out of some misguided belief they were into community. How wrong could I be? Those people reinforced class systems as rigidly as they did sexuality.
But this white supremacy is what we need to discuss. The grand bargain has been that we get to feel superior to black people by passing around things like the picture I showed above. Let’s discuss that picture. First, it makes white people look foolish because there are stupid grammatical mistakes in the writing that goes with the picture, so that’s not exactly screaming white supremacy.
Then, the picture has an obvious answer that some white people can see but “crackers” or poor white trash don’t get because they are ignorant. Of course, when you treat the young man in the photo like he is a nobody by continuing to have the white supremacist statues everywhere, he is going to treat himself like one. So he doesn’t pull his pants up. There’s your answer, allegedly genius white person. It was clear as day but you could not see it through the racism.
That ignorance, an ignorance that Isenberg talks about how we celebrate, is understandable on some levels. I got to go to higher education, which is a privilege many of you contributed toward and I thank you. I remain connected to you by marriage, and do not belong among you economically even if I still remain intimately connected to you culturally and by family.
However, pride in ignorance is a double-edged sword. You can resent people for having the opportunity for education. It is an entirely different matter to dismiss what they have learned. That kind of ignorance is inexcusable and it has become the poor white trash “idiocracy.” That’s how we end up sending around stupid memes like the picture above.
Here’s how this grand race bargain started in the corrupting institution of slavery. Isenberg quoted the man who started the colony of Georgia which actually began without slavery: “Slavery ruined the industry of our white people,” he confessed for they saw a rank of poor creatures below them and detested the thought of work out of perverse pride.”
Here’s a glimpse at some of the things folks saw about poor whites: “…large numbers of early American colonists spent their time in such dingy, nasty conditions. The sordid picture conveyed here is an unavoidable part of the American past. Yet, there’s more They walked around with open sores visible on their bodies; they had ghastly complexions as a result of poor diets; many were missing limbs, noses, palates, and teeth.”
The basic picture the book paints is a lazy white person who never wanted to work whips black people into doing slave labor until those white people won’t do crap jobs anymore. Then, they maintain white supremacy for a long as possible so they can make black people do the crap jobs for lower wages. We had immigrants come in for quite a while to do the crap jobs for crap wages, but it seems like recently you want to crack down on them and give the crap jobs only back to the black people. How nice.
The one thing that doesn’t get taken down is the system itself. The white supremacy that keeps supporting the class system. The class system keeps poor white people in their place just as much as it does black people. But poor white people seem to be willing to make that bargain. President John Adams made a bet on it. So far, he’s a winner.
Isn’t it about time we extracted ourselves from this age-old racism? Isn’t it time to let go of the white supremacy? Don’t you down deep know that it is perfectly reasonably to take a knee during the anthem when you are protesting violence against your race? Come on, people. Stop being used.