The latest audio book I have for driving in the car is the provocatively titled White Trash by Nancy Isenberg. It is very well written with knowledgeable and intelligent historical analysis. Basically it is about class structure in America and how the United States was never intended to be an egalitarian society. The founders were creating their own class-based society applying principles of Enlightenment philosophy, but certainly not abandoning the idea that some men were inherently better than others.
So over the centuries, different understandings of the nature of the underclass were prevalent. And different derogatory terms were used to denote them, from the phrase that title’s the book (originating in the nineteenth century) to today’s “deplorables” who elected the current President. Interestingly, an earlier President, Andrew Jackson, was also seen as a champion of the underprivileged who were despised by elite political society. His time’s equivalent of “deplorable” was “cracker.”
Another interesting fact of history is that in colonial times America was, for England, a dumping ground for undesirables. “Transportation” was an official policy to purge the homeland of criminals and debtors by sending them across the Atlantic. As the American colonies grew, each one took on its own unique character. The one where I currently reside, North Carolina, was considered an utter backwater, sandwiched between the more prosperous plantation colonies of Virginia and South Carolina. It was thought of as a “Lubberland” filled with worthless and indigent people.
At some point during the discussion of this time period, the book quotes a source declaring that, in contrast, the poor of Pennsylvania were hard working. As someone whose life currently straddles North Carolina and Pennsylvania (specifically the Philadelphia area, which was really all Pennsylvania was in the colonial era), it certainly feels like life up North is busier, more industrious than the South, though not necessarily to its benefit. I have lived in the South my entire adult life and enjoyed its laid back feel, not to mention affordable cost of living. And sometimes I have felt a bit like a “lubber.” Hey, what’s wrong with Plenty and a Warm Sun?
I recall once, way back in the 1990s, I flew to California for a job interview. Yes, I came this close (holds thumb and forefinger together) to moving to the Silicon Valley area. The hiring manager who interviewed me was middle-aged, with long, graying hair (think old hippie) and told me that he had moved from out East after his children were grown. He thought of the East Coast as having a quieter pace of living than the West Coast – it was ideal for raising a family, whereas out West was where you went to make money.
Just some thoughts on the long reach of the past and the different reputations that parts of the United States have. The South has not had a great reputation, but I have certainly enjoyed living here, and have found the Southern people to be decent and respectful as much as anywhere else. Honestly, everywhere you go people are the same, and there is always a vast underprivileged class.
Looking forward to finishing this book during my next long drive.