“To be poor and White in America is a paradox.”
So wrote Joe Bageant in 2005. Joe Bageant, who died earlier this year, spoke for and championed the White poor in America. But don’t think that he romanticized poor people. He was unsparing in his portrayal of the proclivities and habits of the poor Whites he had grown up with. In “Poor, White, and Pissed,” he goes on:
America is permeated with cultural myths about White skin’s association with power, education, and opportunity. Capitalist society teaches that we all get what we deserve, so if a White man does not succeed, it can only be due to laziness. But just like Black and Latino ghetto-dwellers, poor laboring Whites live within a dead end social construction that all but guarantees failure.
If your high school dropout daddy busted his ass for small bucks and never read a book in his life and your mama was a textile mill worker, chances are you are not going to be recruited by Yale Skull & Bones and grow up to be President of the United States, regardless of our national mythology to that effect. You are going to be pulling an eight-buck-an-hour shift work someplace and praying for enough overtime to make the heating bill. A worker.
For certain, Whites have the lowest poverty rates in the country. But because of their sheer numbers, they comprise a substantial mass of the poor – nearly half, in fact. White poverty is not negligible. But as Joe Bageant and plenty of others have pointed out, the White poor in America are “invisible.” When people think of the poor, they generally don’t think of Whites. A lot of Whites don’t even think of Whites.
Many poor Whites in America – like poor Hispanics, Asians, and Blacks – are what people call the working poor. But some of them are part of a White underclass in which you will find the same pathologies people usually associate with Black ghettos – such as pervasive drug abuse, academic failure, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and criminality. Again, these people are invisible to many of their fellow Whites. It’s one reason you will hear some Whites go out and confidently declare that there are some things White people never do.
A lot of Whites seem to have bought into this idea that to be White is to be middle class or above.
This frustrated the hell out of Joe Bageant. He criticized the White middle class and White liberal elites for their disdain and disregard for poor Whites.
America can no longer withstand the political naiveté of this ignored White class…Someday middle class American liberals will have to cop to fraternity and justice and the fact that we are our brother’s keeper, whether we like it or not. They’re going to have to sit down and actually speak to these people they consider ugly, overweight, ill educated and in poor taste.
In his essay “Revenge of the Mutt People,” he advocated some kind of affirmative action for poor White kids in Appalachia or the Deep South or “anyplace else where tens of millions of kids grow up in homes containing not a single book, except possibly the Bible.” He stated:
Education is everything. You know it and I know it. And what the White working classes don’t know because of lack of education has hurt you and me and them.
To Bageant, education was the way around being suckered by political and religious hucksters. He decried the way poor and working class Whites were voting against their own interests as a result of ignorance. The whole country was having to deal with the consequences. He called uneducated poor Whites “our intellectual peasantry.”
As a member of this peasantry, I quit school at age sixteen in the eleventh grade to join the Navy. I hated school, hated the social class differences in a small town that make life so miserable during adolescence, when one’s community and social status is being nailed down permanently for anyone planning on staying there.
As a former young White cracklet, I can say with all confidence that when you live with a rusty coal stove in the middle of the living room for heat, your old man smells of gasoline and motor oil no matter how much he bathes and your mom suffers from strange, unpredictable behavior due to untreated depression, you do not much feel like inviting the doctor’s daughter home. Or anyone else’s daughter for that matter.
Thus, he said, at sixteen and choosing options, “I decided that launching fighter jets from the deck of an aircraft carrier to kill gooks and the notion of pussy and booze on some exotic foreign shore looked damned good.”
When I think of what happened to my boyhood friends who stayed home and put in 30 years at Rubbermaid, my choice doesn’t sound that bad even today. They all became redneck ultra-conservatives, mostly out of some sort of fear and bitterness that I can never seem to put my finger on. But I knew these people in a younger, more hopeful time. I know they were capable of – not to mention deserved – more than they got out of life. Maybe their bitterness stems from that.
0 thoughts on “"Poor, White, and Invisible," by Alpha Unit”
Wow, Alpha, very interesting post!
I must say, based on my own everyday experience, the white poor are indeed completely invisible to me. I know they exist, to be sure, but they just don’t register with my everyday consciousness.
That, of course, has to do with demographics. I’ve had many Asian friends, a good number of Hispanic friends, even a few black friends/acquaintances. However, with the exception of one lower middle class/working class white friend in high school, I have not known any poor whites.
Therefore, contrary to the declarations of certain anti-racists, I’d say there is far greater class segregation than racial segregation. By far.
I would also say that most SWPL’s (the types of whites I live around/was raised by) are very classist and look down on poor and working class whites as dumb, uneducated, primitive, hopelessly bigoted, etc. I think this snootiness and left wing cultural self-righteousness plays a big role in driving poor/working class whites away from the left.
As Wade once said, I think they vote Republican more to just spite irritating white liberals, not because they wholeheartedly endorse Republican policies.
I think that the left has lost its working class roots. As Lafleur pointed out, when people think of leftists today, they don’t think of someone who will fight to the death for the right of workers to make a fair wage. They think of someone obsessed with whether or not your average white Joe dislikes illegal immigrants or gays.
And sadly, based on my experience with white liberals, it does seem like they care more about illegals than they do white workers. This hasn’t gone unnoticed within the white working class, and liberals need to keep that in mind the next time they chastise poor whites for voting against their interests.
But yes, very good post about a group of people who don’t make an imprint on most peoples’ consciousness, be it white nationalists, critical race theorists, liberals, Orange County Republicans, etc.
Thanks very much. Some food for thought about class differences in this country.
Poor white people? Phhhft! That’s a myth.
Okay, I’ll bite. I’m poor white and invisible. Am I qualified to rant?
I’m always confused by the idea that education can pull everybody up. If we needed more people to know things, they’d be put in a position to learn them. There’s only so much room at the top, in the middle, and even at the bottom. The real world is stratified. The ways we stratify have been to some extent engineered. I don’t want to try to explain the civil war, but if you look at the poor whites in the south, you’re seeing what was supposed to happen. The poor white’s function is partly to keep the better off white in line, and partly to keep all blacks in line.
Another idea I don’t understand: that in a capitalist system everyone can have a job. Without excess labor, capitalism doesn’t work. And the excess labor has to consume (or die, that’s always an option, too). So you’ve got excess population. what to do?
If you need to keep people out of the workforce, extend the childhood years. Compulsory education for the young. Extend it again, by substituting higher education for apprenticeship. Side benefits:
a: shift expense to possible worker and away from business.
b: mobile workforce, no investment in employee’s skills so no need to be “loyal”
c: create education bubble, akin to housing bubble, where the borrower ends up with nothing but debt because there’s no job at the end of the tunnel.
People used to learn what they needed to know to support themselves, period. Now they are supposed to learn all sorts of useless bullshit and pay for the privelege. Can I also add that a lot of people don’t have the smarts to do what they are being told anyone can do. It is a modern mindfuck fantasy that everyone is built to sit down shut up read regurgitate and kiss ass all day long in a fucking building.
Other ways to keep people out of the workforce: prison, the military, welfare. Oh, and more drug use is good for keeping them chilled about it. Crime is okay as long as it’s against other poor people, or the middle class who will work harder to build defenses against lower class crime. Plus crime is good for making people think they need government, when government is fucking them up the ass with no lube. And an unreasonably huge dick.
Welfare in all forms is actually not charity. It is a way to keep people from raising hell and fucking things up for everyone else. It’s a lot cheaper than prison. It’s a way to put money into communities, in the form of rent to landlords just for example. They also serve who only stand and wait. Well, if we need more cannon fodder or miners or consumers of shitty products like Mountain Dew or potato chips, or if we just need more people to scare the middle class or give them something to bitch about, we’ll pay you a little bit more for each baby. If we don’t need more poor babies, Clinton will sign a bill that cracks down on the leaches. Oh yeah, if we need more people to do surgery on or give drugs to, the poor come in handy as guinea pigs, paid for by the American people, with profits to business.
Poor people are supposed to die young. And they do. They collect a shitty little check here and there, but they’re less likely to collect retirement. That’s why they buy lottery tickets, a regressive tax on the desperate. When they work they pay into social security, but they don’t collect unless something bad happens, like something crushes them in the mine or they lose both legs in a war. The reward for that is shitloads of painkillers, but doctors are under pressure to cut them off or switch them for arbitrary reasons. When one guy gets cut off and the other guy gets a new prescription, trades may happen, and that’s when it gets more likely that somebody gets busted and narcs out his friend and lots of people go to jail and lose benefits, possibly for good. They move in with someone who has benefits, so you get two poor people living on one person’s little check.
The disabled poor white (me) helps out, too. Working people (including members of my own family, of course) can look down on me and think i’m fake cuz one fine day they saw me do x, y, z. They obviously don’t know that I’m also a mental case, and that if I was at work with them they would not like it at all and it wouldn’t really be my fault. Whatever. I’m not going to get into details of how fucking clueless people are. Meanwhile, they get pissed at me instead of at some rich fucker. Bonus: they feel reassured that if they get disabled they will get a check (they have no fucking clue what a gauntlet that journey is). The disabled also help by using services (capitalism needs this, though people bitch about it). I provide jobs by being a consumer. And i stay the fuck out of the workforce. Bonus: maybe i’ll die young.
As far as education helping anyone to not be suckered by political hucksters: the vast majority of the poor people i’ve known do not vote. They say it’s rigged bullshit and the outcome doesn’t matter to them. Either way they’re fucked. The politicians are liars. To me that is a far more realistic view than most educated people have. Anyone who votes and leaves it at that is being suckered. You vote with your whole body, in their face, not in a closet behind a curtain with a secret phoney ballot.
p.s. Robert I’ve come back as Mud, still nuts but trying not to be paranoid about it.
Great post, Alpha. Joe Bageant’s got a way with words.
Yes. He’s always a great read.
Nice article. America needs racial socialism so that we can maximize the potential of our people. We just can’t let generations of our youth be handed over to the prisons and drug dealers. No nation worthy of the name would allow these things.
This is awesome.
It seems that Bageant and I (as well as Jason) have had similar experiences, and is why we think the way we do (construed as “anti-White” and anti-“working class”)