White Trash and Rednecks


Nearly everyone lies about an important aspect of US history even historians. School history books avoid the discussion totally, this significant part of US history, much of which explains past and current racism.

Americans pretend that social class does not matter, that anyone can rise to the top given enough effort.  This myth depends on the continuation of a very selective historical memory, indeed, a lie.

It began with the British and those who intentionally left there to come here.  Even colonists divided the classes with poor people and criminals at the bottom–whores, discharged English soldiers, robbers, highwaymen; the saddest of the lot were the orphans, rounded up, loaded on ships bound for America, sold as indentured servants. Often these contracts were repeatedly resold with no routes for the individuals to escape.  The rigid English class conditions continued here.  People of higher classes in the colonies referred to the poor as waste, rubbish, and trash.

John Locke, often considered the father of constitutional government, favored slavery and aristocratic society.  He endorsed an aristocratic constitutional government and called the poor, landless, lazy lubbers. Because the southern colonies lacked sufficient land lubbers and land owners believed Africans more suitable for hot, humid swamp clearance, they petitioned for slaves–previously illegal in Georgia, for example.  These wealthy landowners also viewed poor whites as too lazy to work.

Even the esteemed Ben Franklin believed in the concept of class as inevitable.  Both he and Jefferson saw expansion westward as the solution to potential class conflict.  Franklin thought the new colonies needed more people and advocated for the freedom of slave women who bred many children and for white women to be allowed to gain property rights for the same.  More people would move west and alleviate class conflict. Franklin was not an advocate for the poor, whom he considered lazy, slothful.  He even endorsed their forced migration westward and referred to them as “the meaner Sort, i.e. the Mob, or the Rable”.

If this sounds shocking, Jefferson went even further, calling the poor, “rubbish”.  He did feel they could improve, given land and education.  He did not include slaves in this theory.

If you ever wondered about the origin of the term “cracker”, look back to the era of Andrew Jackson, the era of “squatters” in a log cabin in the thickly forested frontier, people who squatted on land they did not even own.  Many saw them in both positive and negative terms:  half strong, hard working pioneers and half robbers.  Two terms applied to these people, “cracker” and “squatter”, none of whom legally owned the land where they lived, troublemakers with no hope of upward mobility, people who championed crudity, distrust of civil society and city dwellers, and held on to a kind of crude arrogance.  Both terms came from England where such people were considered lazy vagrants.  The more educated and “civilized” viewed them as degenerate, low class fornicators.  These squatters saw Andrew Jackson as their champion and Davy Crockett as their hero.

The phrase “white trash” became common in the 1860s and after.  These were the southern poor with dirty faces, ragged clothing, distended bellies without possibility of improvement, who for a brief time were viewed as even lower than slaves.  Southern aristocrats pushed the concept of bloodlines for people as well as livestock.  They advocated a criteria for human as well as livestock breeding to justify slavery and Anglo-Saxon superiority.  Native Indians were a biologically inferior, degraded race, doomed to extinction.  Later Texans used similar arguments to deter intermarriage with Mexicans.  Sam Houston championed this cause apparently ignoring his own personal history.  He had lived with Natives and married two of them.  In the long run these beliefs did not help poor whites or raise their status.  They lived off the worst land and were continually referred to in derogatory terms, e.g. white trash, sand eaters.

Just before the Civil War some elite Southerners advocated to keep certain classes ignorant.  They defended the planter class as having the best bloodlines, whose destiny was to rule over poor whites and black slaves. When they realized they needed poor white support to secede, and that many did not support them, they convinced them the war was necessary to save them from a state worse than slavery.  Some were promised land and other rewards.  Since most were illiterate, they remained unaware that they were referred to as “perfect drones”, “the swinish multitude”, and other pejorative terms; and that some saw them as trash who contaminated whatever they touched. It was not the Southern elite who died in masses during the Civil War; it was the poor, recruited with Davis’ rhetoric about the superiority of the white race.

Later, during Reconstruction, William Percy wrote a description of poor whites as those who lynch Negroes, lack intelligence, attend religious revivals then fornicate in the bushes afterwards.  He also explicitly referred to them as Anglo-Saxons.  Teddy Roosevelt saw this a bit differently.  He wanted Anglo-Saxons to work, to join the military, and breed, but he excluded poor whites from this group and his plan.

The term “rednecks” came into use in the South during the 1890s.  It referred to people who lived in the swamps and mill towns, wore overalls, heckled at political rallies.

The Great Depression exacerbated the situation for poor whites and increased their numbers dramatically.  Those who had never been considered white trash joined the ranks of the poor.  Many Southern writers went back to discussions about the Civil War and argued about the current poverty and how to solve the problem.  One, Jonathan Daniels, even wrote that Rebel pride blindfolded all classes.

Later, one way to overcome the prejudices against the poor was through music and TV shows, e.g. Elvis Presley and “The Beverly Hillbillies”.  It allowed the country to feel better about prejudices and pretend they did not exist.

Today this manifests itself through politicians who “pretend” to be white trash and rednecks to gain votes, but in reality live the lifestyle of the upper class.

 

Note:  For those who wish to read more about class and the writings of the individuals mentioned above here is a partial list.

 

Writings and speeches of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson

Sherwood Anderson’s “Poor White”

Writings of John Locke

Works of James Agee

“White Trash:  The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America”

Speeches of Jefferson Davis

 

 

 

 

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Like Tequila, Love Bats


Tequila is made from a specific species of agave plants that grow in certain areas of Mexico and Southwestern United States.  Did you know:  no bats, no tequila?

The Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) remains crucial for tequila production because they pollinate tall, column-like cactuses and the blue agave from which tequila is made.  No bats, no agave, no tequila.

Every year these bats migrate from Central and Northern Mexico into the southern areas of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and they are endangered.  These bats have been listed as an endangered species since 1988 in the US and since 1991 in Mexico.  Researchers at New Mexico State in Las Cruces are part of a conservation network working with Mexican counterparts to save these bats.  And tequila.

 

Quote for the day


Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia.  I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.  Lyndon Johnson, 1970.

Religion


Recently, while reading a novel about a woman in Shakespeare’s time, I came across this statement by one of the characters.  It rings so true for many eras of human history, I feel compelled to share it:

 

“Religion is not only about men’s souls.  It is about who rules us, what laws we obey, how and why we are punished, and by whom.”

ACoE Invades South Texas


No regard for precious wildlife, no regard for property rights, no regard for anything.

Jude Lieber

Photo caption: Snapshot from one of my trips to the Rio Grande — Big Bend National Park hot springs with with wild mustangs on the Mexican bank.

We knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Trespassing on private soil, our own Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) have begun clearing areas for the border wall. Rather than steal land legally through eminent domain, they have arrived without permission or notification. Instead of cutting through ranchland, they have begun where it will hurt the most — nature preserves. The first location to fall beneath the saw, machete, and blade is a strip through the National Butterfly Center. Scientists had purchased the area from farmers and restored it with plant species vital to the survival of the threatened monarch butterfly. Now, only brown stubble remains. The wall will block the migration of thousands of land-based animals, cutting their territory…

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No Offense by Esther Nelson


This blog will be of special interest to university professors and anyone who teachers in a college or public school at a higher level or those concerned about the state and future of education.

What a pleasant surprise to become acquainted with Samar Habib when she appeared on my newsfeed the other day.  According to her biography, she “is a writer, researcher and scholar” as well as “[a] tireless advocate of human rights.” She is also “an expert of international standing on Gender and Sexuality in the Arab world, with unparalleled publications on same-sex love and desire among women and the juncture of Islam and homosexuality.”  The Ted Talk I stumbled upon, titled “Let the Scholar Speak, Even if it Scares You,” explores the modern university’s difficulty navigating that murky space between academic freedom (based on scholarship and inquiry) and giving offense (based on fear of decimating a student’s belief system).

Samar is Palestinian, raised in a secular, but nominally Christian, household.  Initially, her research focused on the study of sex and gender in the Arab world and gradually incorporated the more specific…

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Silence


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Eerie.  Silence.  Fixed dinner, took it out on the patio, sat down.  Realized I could hear myself chewing–pasta, not celery or carrots, pasta.  What?!

Stopped eating.  Listened. No insects chirping, no birds calling, no wind blowing.

Nothing.

Eerie.  Quiet, cloud covered sky.  No lightning, no thunder.

Nothing.

I looked for a tornado cloud, an explanation.  None.  This never occurs here.

The sound of no sound.

 

Predetermined?


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Today at the bookstore browsing, I picked up a book nestled among the magazines.

 

This question appeared on page 41:  “If you were given a book on the story of your life,

would you read the end?”

 

I asked my grandson.  He immediately said, “No!”

 

I wonder.

 

Remain unsure.

 

If I read it, could I change it?

 

Are lives predetermined, choiceless?

 

Are we unwittingly predetermined and just victims?

 

If I read it, could I change it?

 

Eat something different,

sing a varied song,

laugh more,

spend more time with sunsets, sunrises,

read less, more,

love someone new,

say words now lost,

write a contrary story,

choose an opposing path,

challenge?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Honey Island Swamp


On our third day in New Orleans, we headed to Slidell, LA, to visit the swamp.  Many swamp tours exist in the area and some in Lafayette as well.  After reading extensively online about the various tours, I decided to take Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island tour early in the morning.  Depending on traffic, it is about a 3/4 to one hour drive from downtown New Orleans.  For at least half this time, you are driving on a bridge across Lake Pontchartrain.

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This little swampy area is right next to the small cabin where they sell alligator souvenirs and you pick up your ticket.  This place requires cash.

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After boarding the boat which holds about 20 passengers, we headed down the Pearl River.  This view looks upriver.

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Many expensive houses rise above the river banks.  You can see the for sale sign.  According to the boat captain, the fancier ones cost about one million.  However, for all the elegant houses, there are more just the opposite and close by.

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Like this one which appears boarded up.  Some appeared abandoned, some in decent repair, some recently used.  When we asked how high the water rose during Katrina, we were told that it would be above the roof of a house like this.  The tours were abandoned for over a year after the hurricane except for the occasional hurricane cleanup crew who wanted a tour.

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This is one of the nice houses along the river, modern, large, well kept.

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We saw a large blue heron, wings outstretched, sunning itself on a large tree stump.  When the captain tried to get closer, it slowly lifted off and flew away before I could get a photo.

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We turned to the right off the river and began to see alligators of all sizes.  Because of harvesting for skins, meat, etc., few really large ones remain.  More common is 8-10 footers.

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Even the boat captain was astonished at the number of alligators we saw.  They seemed to be everywhere and one exceedingly large male followed us deeper into the swamp.

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Although the water flows rather rapidly on the river, once in the swamp, the water is very quiet.  Many different types of trees live here including cypress.  Most of the trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in the winter.  I was extremely surprised to learn how cold it can get here, below freezing, sometimes even down in the teens.  However, the captain said it always rises above freezing during the day.

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Most of the really large cypress have been cut down in the past for lumber.  Now this is a reserve.  The tree on the left is really large and a lot of moss hangs from it.

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Hogs, like these, are not native anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.  It seems feral hogs can live anywhere.  We also saw raccoons.  The trees and other vegetation are so dense during the summer, wildlife could be a few feet away and remain unseen.

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The swamp possesses a wild, magical beauty.