A badge of pride?
A tool of oppression?
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White Trash. For many, the name evokes images of trailer parks, homegrown meth labs, and beat up Camaros, rural poor whites with too many kids and not enough government cheese. It’s a putdown for the down and out and white. White trash is the name given to those whites who don’t make it, either because they’re too lazy or too stupid. Or maybe because something’s wrong with their inbred genes. Whatever the reason, it’s their own damn fault they live like that. They’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.
On the other hand, white trash these days sometimes gets used as a badge of honor. Much like the way African American youth turned the despised word nigga into a word expressing pride and solidarity and the way that GLBT activists have turned queer into a source of dignity and respect, some white youth now use the term to signal rebelliousness and cultural difference—their refusal of a bland, mainstream white society that oppresses and stifles.
And there is another popular use of the term as well. It’s sometimes used to name the rich and famous when they act badly or misbehave. So, despite her millions, Paris Hilton can be called white trash for her pornographic lifestyle, and George Clooney can tell us, in a self-mocking kind of way, that he’s really just white trash. This trend, like so much else in the world of white trash, was probably started by Roseanne Barr, who once famously said of her marriage to Tom Arnold, “We’re America’s worst nightmare—white trash with money!”
All of which makes the reality that white trash names pretty complicated and confusing. Is it, as John Waters once said, “the last racist thing you can say and get away with?” Or has it transformed into a symbol of something like ethnic pride? Or is it just a comical phrase used to condemn—or sometimes excuse—bad behavior, like too much drinking, cussing, fighting, and general screwing around?