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"As Isenberg shows, anxieties about the white underclass have been at the heart of our history. Instead of revisiting the story of American inequality through slavery, she considers the problem of white poverty. Standard histories of the American spirit use a hardscrabble past to anticipate our glorious present, but Isenberg takes every opportunity to mottle that picture." --The New Yorker

"[Isenberg] has written an eloquent volume that is more discomforting and more necessary than a semitrailer filled with new biographies of the founding fathers and the most beloved presidents...This estimable book rides into the summer doldrums like rural electrification." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"An eloquent synthesis of the country s history of class stratification, one that questions whether the United States is indeed a place where all are created equal. White Trash powerfully unites four centuries of history economic, political, cultural, and pseudo-scientific to show how thoroughly the notion of class is woven into the national fabric." - The Boston Globe

"[White Trash] sheds bright light on a long history of demagogic national politicking, beginning with Jackson. It makes Donald Trump seem far less unprecedented than today s pundits proclaim." Slate

"Here is a book that should forever change the way we think and talk about class, which Isenberg suggests is the rotting stage upon which American democracy will either stand or fall." The American Scholar

"A rigorously researched study of the entrenched system of racial classification that dispels many myths about American national identity. In this impressive work of social history, Isenberg challenges head-on America s fable of class denial. ...From the eugenics movement to the rise of the proud redneck, Isenberg portrays a very real and significant history of class privilege in the United States. A riveting thesis supported by staggering research." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Meticulous... White Trash is a history of class, a history of race, and a morality tale about the dangers of othering...Isenberg makes clear that no matter how othering occurs, it s a central theme of American history and all the ugly bits we want to ignore in order to perpetuate the myth of a great, classless and fair society. But while that narrative has always been the goal, it has never been the reality."

"Isenberg s expertise particularly shines in the examinations of early America, and every chapter is riveting." --Publisher's Weekly (boxed, starred review)

"Isenberg's history is a bracing reminder of the persistent contempt for the white underclass." --The Atlantic


Nancy Isenberg is the author of "Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, " which was a finalist for the "LA Times" Book Prize in Biography and won the Oklahoma Book Award for best book in Nonfiction. She is the coauthor, with Andrew Burstein, of "Madison and Jefferson." She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU, and writes regularly for She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

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5.0 su 5 stelle The Hidden Aspects of Race and Class in American History 26 luglio 2016
Di Herbert L Calhoun - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida Acquisto verificato
This book explains the unsavory fine points of our national identity by probing and then exposing the not so well hidden loose ends that tie the bottom half of America's social hierarchy to the top half. It reveals that there is much much more to race and class than what we see at eye level. We learn here that the colonists who came to the Americas were very much a mixed bag.

Initially, the upper classes were investor friends of the British Crown, given concessions to search for gold and to find a non-existent water passage across North America to India. Later, they were made up of political and religious enemies of the beheaded King Charles I.

Jamestown was one of the many failures at finding gold or the non-existent passage to the East. And thus, only as an afterthought did the leaders decide to salvage their costly expeditions by killing two birds with one stone: England's horrendous social problems of crime, poverty and street violence would be solved by shipping the poor off to America and Australia. Then tracts of Indian lands would be sold off to entice the many lost souls hoping to make a life in the New World. These lost souls thus mostly were tricked onto ships in large numbers under a number of unsavory land contract schemes, the most prominent of which was called the "head-right system," in which those who did the tricking were paid in 50-acre land parcels, and in which the contractees thought they would all end up as rich English gentlemen, with free land, slaves and tools, living a life of leisure. Of course, it was all a lie, for most of them ended up as slaves. Most of the founding fathers became rich by acquiring large parcels of land through land scams of the head-right variation.

At the bottom of the heap were those of the poor and criminal classes, including children sold off by their parents, or shipped off for petty crimes, or just kidnapped off the streets. But they also included roguish highwaymen or pirates, vagrants, Irish rebels, whores, and convicts shipped to the colonies for a variety of crimes, such as refusing to be impressed into the army being in debt, etc. The progeny of these groups are today's poor white trash.

The majority of those brought to America's shores came as indentured servants, a British euphemism for "slaves." And even the few that did later manage to either escape slavery, or win their freedom outright after long periods of indentureship, seldom owned more than just token amounts of the least productive and most remote land. Most ended up as "squatters" forced into the outer rims of the Western territories to "squat" on Indian lands in violation of the Treaty of Paris.

The power of land, for most of American history, lay in being able to get married, "put down roots," breed a large family of field hands, and then work the land with as many hands as possible. "Squatters," despised by all sides, typically had none of these. Being the 17th through the 19th centuries' version of transients, they were young, virile, aimless and restless single white men, ineligible for marriage and forced to keep moving West in search of better and freer land. These unattached single men, wanderers and squatters, were the "free radicals" of the American heartland.

In 1676, a petite English Gentleman, Nathaniel Bacon, in what was called the Bacon Rebellion, along with a contingent of a few dozen single white men, plus an assortment of an equal number of red, white and black slaves, rebelled against being pushed to the outer edges of the colonies, left in hostile Indian territories to fend for themselves. They tried to burn down Virginia. It was the only time in American history when the lower classes have combined to rebel against the upper class.

With lop-sided gender demographics favoring single white men 10 to 1 (in the Caribbean, the male slave ratio alone was sometimes as much as 100-1), minimally marriageable women became a scarce resource. As the author notes, "women went to market with their virginity;" and marriage and fertility played a critical role in defining the shape of early American society. Any woman under 50, no matter how unattractive, could find a husband in the top tier of colonial American society. "Breeding capacity became a calculable natural resource -- commodified and exploited in the marriage exchange." For slave women, the womb became an article of commerce; and slave children, like cattle, were transactional property. In Virginia their "natural increase," literally would become a cottage industry, making it one of the world's leaders in the export of slaves.

James Cartwright has written a wonderfully important book, called "Violent Lands," on the meaning of these lopsided gender demographics in which large numbers of virile young white men were unable to find wives or become stakeholders in frontier American society. He claims this is why America became, and remains even today, one of the most "Violent Lands" in the world.

Thus, added to the staid and highly sensitive class hierarchy inherited from class conscious Britain, the reader can see why America became an incubator for deep race and class sensitivities, divisions and resentments. This "witches brew" of breeding, biology, race, backed up by Christian biblical text, seamlessly turned into an ideology of white supremacy, still the most enduring instrument on the palette used to shape the American social order.

Put more directly, America's founding generations saw good breeding and race as God's way of establishing white supremacy as nature's "taken for granted" class hierarchy; and ever since the days of the Puritans, American elite have frowned upon both race-mixing and upward mobility for the poorer classes. Both have been seen as threats, either to the menial labor force, which the plantation owning elite depended upon for their very existence; or, to the white supremacist social order, underwritten and mandated by the biblical story of ham, which simply meant that blacks would remain slaves at the bottom of the pecking order, in perpetuity.

Imported slaves and immigrants, either through indentureship, apprenticeships, debtors prisons, or due to indictment on criminal charges, prison-work release programs, etc., have all been forced into long-term arrangements for free, or nearly free, and always grossly unfair wages. These discrepancies between "fair" and "grossly unfair" wages have always rebounded back to land owners, or to big businesses' bottom line as obscene and unsavory profits.

Inequality, denial of the right to vote or to own land, all followed logically from assumptions of superior breeding and race superiority assumptions. Submission to those at the top of the societal hierarchy was regarded as a natural condition of humankind in early America. The Christian Bible was the final authority that reinforced these notions, pouring them into the mainstream. By teaching that some were born to rule, while others were born to submit and obey, breeding, and the biblical story of ham, had placed poor whites, as well as those with black skin, at the very bottom of the racial hierarchy.

Arkansas White Trash: A True Story

At the age of nine, I learned about this bottom-most tier of our society first hand a block from the Arkansas River where I grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Just below us -- both figuratively and literally -- down the sloping banks that slid right into the water, lived poisoned snakes, eels, gar and cat fish, turtles, bullfrogs, and an odd assortment of white people, who, though it was never said so openly, frightfully were the true wretched of the earth: These were Pine Bluff's "poor white trash:" authentic rednecks in the flesh.

The shanty town of jerry-rigged huts made of corrugated tin, cardboard and scrap wood, that they had fashioned as homes, had sprung up over night. It was a racially homogenous tribe of "bruised fruit" and "day old" bread peddling white folks. Daily, in push carts and horse drawn wagons, they sold to us, nearby blacks who lived just up the hill, food-stuffs that had been savaged from grocery store dump bins. These "petite entrepreneurs" were a curious and motley sort, having to defer to blacks -- if for no more reason than to encourage us, their only customers, to buy their "rank" produce.

But here's the catch: Whenever we bought it, they surely knew that we did so only out of pity for their dismal plight. Yet, curiously, other than interacting at their peddler's stations, and playing ball with two brothers around my age, who would occasionally come up the hill, we maintained a silent modus vivendi that served as an invisible shield between our two radically distinct subcultures. While most of my neighbors were working class blacks, sprinkled with a few college educated professionals, like my stepfather, Carl Redus, the white tribes that lived under the hill, were barely literate, and by anyone's social reckoning, had fallen well off the deep end of America's socio-economic grid.

...That is except for two things that I still vividly remember:

First, during the school year, a school bus headed down King Street, would disappear beneath the sloping hill stopping just short of sliding into the water to pick up a handful of shanty town redneck kids. It would then proceed clear across town past several black schools to the nearest white school to deposit them.

Second, and this came as quite a shock to a nine-year old black kid, almost without fail on the weekends, noisy redneck parties would ensue down under the hill. Rival redneck tribes living farther around the river bend, would come to party, and invariably before Sunday morning rolled around, a humongous fight would break out, and things would turn very violent and ugly indeed.

Somewhere in the wee hours of Saturday night, I would be awaken by ear-shattering noises, when literally all hell broke loose in shanty town. The sky would light up like Roman candles on the Fourth of July. Bullets would be flying every which way. Shanty town huts would go up in flames, and residents would be running up the hill and screaming as they fanned-out in every direction. It was like a mini race riot, but involving only one race, the white race.

And then, over the flaming carnage and the war-like din, one could hear puffing up the hill, a loud desperate banging on our neighbor Mr. Harris' backdoor. In a blood-curling southern drawl that is still unforgettable -- literally a life-and-death scream -- I could hear an older white man say: "Harris! Harris! Oooh lord Mr. Harris, please Harris, call the law! Call the law Harris! Please call the law!

As multiple sirens howled in the distance, headed in our direction, soon everything would go completely silent, as the paddy wagons, fire trucks, ambulances and stretchers would arrive. Through my bedroom blinds, I could see parties alien to us, bleeding profusely being carried away on stretchers or handcuffed, being hauled off to hospitals and jails. Altogether it was a sight to behold!

The only way we found out what happened in the dark down that hill, is the next day, Marshall and Leonard, the two brothers who occasionally played baseball with us, shamelessly would arrive at our backdoor, in search of food, clothing, bandages, medication, etc. And in exchange for a free breakfast, and a "care package," we would invite them in to give us the low-down on the fighting that had just taken place.

They never came to our front door and never had enough racial pride to turn down our breakfast invitation, or the "care package" containing black hand-me-down clothes and assorted goods that we invariably gave them. And thus, the brothers, bruised and scraped, seemed to find it cathartic to be able to unload the gory details of the "redneck wars" of the previous night.

What they told us was unsurprising. Invariably the wars were about personal slights, turf encroachments, being "dissed," and men from the wrong side of the river banks "hitting on" women from the right side. Add to this, the occasional hell-raising redneck males, armed and liquored-up, and generally on edge -- disgusted with not having a secure and respected place in society -- and the tableau of causes of the redneck wars is complete.

This book, "White Trash," is the first time I have ever seen in print the whole story of people like my river bank redneck friends, Marshall and Leonard, who I later learned both ended up in Reform School, which in Arkansas was the expressway for ending up on Cummings State prison farm.

The themes exposed here by this author, run true, and vector directly from the banks of the Arkansas River straight through American history like the jagged edges of the St. Andreas fault.

What this author has uncovered, is that, like race, class too is an unacknowledged independent variable that runs straight through American History, and is also America's most enduring fault line. One that when taken together with race, creates a reality coterminous with American culture itself.

How she was able to skillfully separate race from class, and then stich them back together again, when clearly they seem virtually inseparable, is part of the beauty of this fine treatment of both subjects.

In short, throughout American history, (including today's race to the bottom of the global labor pool), America's social pecking order has depended on maintaining in a steady-state, two racially separated poorer working classes at the very bottom rung of the social ladder. Since Bacon's rebellion of 1676, rationalizing these two groups as inferior, and pitting them against one another, has proven quite sufficient to keep the ideology of white supremacy in place, and the price of labor at rock bottom. Ten stars
544 di 588 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle Good. 23 giugno 2016
Di College Stealth - Pubblicato su
Formato: Formato Kindle Acquisto verificato
I was super excited about the release of this book; I've been a fan of the PBS "People Like Us" movie for a very long time. A lot of the narrative in the U.S. tends to focus on race, overlooking elements of class that exist and have some pretty strong historical roots.

This is a good read, it's a great read if you're someone who is faintly familiar with ideas in sociology or in general about class struggle. It's a sociology/history book, so may not be as mainstream as people would like. What's nice is that this particular author actually articulates the ideas some have come across in sociology/history regarding class and puts those often underlying murmurs of class struggle into historical context, along with supporting ideas and accounts. It ties in some of the ideas of the Founding Fathers, especially as it pertains to Thomas Paine and variations and distinctions between the land-holding and non, as property is often tied to wealth. The author starts out in discussing the elements of Protestant Work Ethic and the reverberations of that in the U.S.

The author does a great job of going through the different evolutions of the idea of "white trash" especially as it pertains to the name and variations of the name. There is also the element of how the imagery of white trash changes over the years; such as mountain folk or those in Kentucky, or those who grow corn. It's relatively an always evolving term as explained by the author. The author takes the reader through the present day, and links it back to the civil war and to the revolutionary war.

All and all, a great book and a quick read that I enjoyed. This is a history narrative, meaning I don't really know where some of the reviews dog it for being "political." It takes the reader through the evolution of the term white trash, it looks at variations of white trash and how it is portrayed, how it comes to be viewed in the U.S., it's a term that has had some unique applications and has been crossed applied to various groups throughout the U.S.'s history. The citations are well done, lots of primary sources and clear links to where the author is drawing conclusions from. The author also focuses on the term in both the north and south, albeit after the Civil War it becomes more concentrated within the southern region. The author also stays pretty focused on her niche, which makes it a compact and enjoyable read.
324 di 354 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle A Country Obsessed with Scapegoating the Lower Classes 4 luglio 2016
Di M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Pubblicato su
Formato: Formato Kindle Acquisto verificato
This is a compelling, comprehensive history of America from the Colonial Period in Jamestown to today's media world seen brilliantly through the lens of social class. In the process of seeing how class conflicts with America's innocent dream of democracy and equality, Isenberg shows convincingly that much of what America treasures as a refuge where all people are on equal footing is a fantastical myth with no bearing on reality. Looking at class stereotypes handed down from the British who saw America as a wasteland, a rubbish field in which to discard their undesirables, America has always hated the poor and justified their hatred by seeing them as genetically hard-wired to be sloths.

We see this ugly type of classism in the works of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and it extends into the eugenics craze of the 1920s, the Depression, and our current scoffing of such media figures as Honey Boo Boo.

In this "untold history of class in America," we see why the story is untold: Because our contempt for the poor conflicts with our childish delusion that we are a country that believes in the equality of all people. Isenberg makes a convincing case that we have never valued equality and have always had a convenient scapegoat for our country's injustices. Highly Recommended.
627 di 693 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle The Snobs Among Us 21 giugno 2016
Di takingadayoff - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida
White Trash is a massive social history of class in America, starting with the European settlers up to the present day. Despite the provocative title, it's not just about white people -- after all, the fact that there's a phrase that specifies color means the default must be not white, which is rather a disturbing thought. And it isn't so much about what life was like for poor people, it's about attitudes of the middle class and upper class toward working class and poor people. Again, the title says a lot about that.

My interest was more with 20th century than with the settlers and 18th and 19th century Americans. That's almost half the book and it is outstanding. Isenberg talks about eugenics and veterans and the Depression and war. The pop culture portrayals are fascinating and she goes into some depth about the movie Deliverance and about politics in the late 20th century.

It's all quite thought provoking, especially as the 2016 Presidential election plays out around us. Pundits and politicians are playing the class game but this time they have divided America into college graduates and those who have no degree. The feeling among some people seems to be that "uneducated" voters or "poorly educated" voters are wreaking havoc on the race with their "uninformed" opinions.

It's an interesting and timely book, check it out.
28 di 30 persone hanno trovato utile la seguente recensione
5.0 su 5 stelle The White Working Class Is Revolting! 29 agosto 2016
Di Kevin L. Nenstiel - Pubblicato su
Formato: Copertina rigida Acquisto verificato
The first thing that surprised me about Professor Nancy Isenberg was that she doesn’t apparently define “class” economically. She doesn’t discuss how we treat the financially poor; she focuses attention on how society treats its nonconformists, those who reject upper-class white social graces. Americans extol the poor, at least verbally. But roll up your sleeves and piss on your lawn? You’ve stepped outside American culture.

Class, like race, reflects less our actual state of being, and more how others treat us. Marginalized people behave in marginalized ways. From the beginning, Isenberg shares my great reservation about Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird: though forward-thinking on race, Lee proves herself downright reactionary regarding non-conforming poor whites. Like many Americans, Lee assumes those born crude will remain crude forever.

Isenberg unfolds America’s fraught history of class chronologically. Unlike the mythology our society feeds us from childhood, America’s earliest white settlers weren’t, mostly, Europe’s hardiest stock. They weren’t religious refugees or intrepid adventurers. Europe, and England especially, saw America as ready landfill for the homeland’s “waste people,” the vagrants and beggars which literate Europe undisguisedly compared to excrement and trash.

Europe sent its lowest inhabitants to America, and those who survived—which was by no means guaranteed—managed to rebuild themselves as hardy. But that happened only later. Only after that first generation, often reduced to cannibalism, died out, did anyone lionize their putative accomplishments or make them heroes. In Isenberg’s telling, this pattern of posthumously celebrating those the upper crust condemned in life repeated itself, verbatim, after Westward Expansion.

White America’s Founding Fathers made great noise about American refusal of European aristocracy. But they mostly just said that; their actions seldom matched their words. Isenberg dedicates one chapter each to Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who each arose from, erm, humble origins. Both praised the idea of class-free mobility in their writings. But both fronted legislation designed to keep the poor firmly placed, with little hope of improvement.

Franklin and Jefferson both wanted an open Western frontier for reasons identical to why England wanted American colonies: to dump unwanted poor whites. Early white frontier settlers were mocked as “squatters” and “crackers,” terms as hateful in their time as the N-bomb. The American bureaucracy essentially promised poor whites they could advance socially, since they were white, while reminding them they were often socially lower than slaves.

Not that the system was inflexible. As Isenberg notes, certain poor whites have infiltrated America’s higher echelons. She speaks briefly of Davy Crockett, and extensively of Andrew Jackson. Frontier politicians have often needed to prove they could play the fiddle, smoke with vigor, and drink corn liquor. Mass movements of organized poor have frequently reversed the social order, though usually only for brief stretches before money and power reassert themselves.

This played heavily into the Civil War. Each side rhetorically attempted to prove themselves the true heirs of Anglo-Saxon hardiness, immune from class consciousness, though both lied outright to do so. Simultaneously, each side embraced the insults their opponents slung: Abraham Lincoln wore fashionable tailored suits, while adopting the “mudsill” slur Jefferson Davis hung on him. The Civil War was a rhetorical battle, as much as military.

But the language hit new lows during the eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. “Well-bred” Americans long believed class traits bred true, but Darwinian evolution provided pseudoscientific justification for class bigotry. Half-understood science made a nasty witches’ brew with political demagoguery. This ugly, venom-driven movement culminated in the Supreme Court legalizing the state forcibly sterilizing anyone, mostly women, declared unfit to procreate.

Though the eugenics movement petered out, its underlying philosophy survived. The Civil Rights movement functionally pitted Blacks, who only wanted a fair shake, against poor whites, who previously accepted their lot because hey, at least they weren’t Black. This demonstrates how thoroughly, in Isenberg’s telling, race and class are accompanying social issues. Race and class are both power contests, pitting the powerless against the helpless, resulting in culture-wide paralysis.

Isenberg’s analysis continues into the present, when the white “underclass” rose against its fetters, and others squashed it down again. From Elvis Presley to Bill Clinton, much American culture in living memory has pitted rich establishmentarians against poor whites, no longer embarrassed and, now widely literate, no longer silent. This isn’t the first lower-class rising, certainly but the longest-lived. So much remains unresolved and dangerous.

In Donald Trump’s America, one wonders where the battle goes next. Two things are certain, though: the battle wasn’t unpredictable. And the poor didn’t fire the first blow.