I write more about class than most LGBT/T folks do. That’s because I grew up poor and working class. Awareness of my working class roots is why I am a leftist.
When I come across a book that relates to the class structure and class oppression, well that’s a book I’m going to want to read. Joe Bageant’s book isn’t out yet here in the US and the link on Alternet takes you to Amazon UK.
The following is an excerpt from the introduction of Joe Bageant’s new book Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (Portobello Press, 2010).
The United States has always maintained a white underclass — citizens whose role in the greater scheme of things has been to cushion national economic shocks through the disposability of their labor, with occasional time off to serve as bullet magnets in defense of the Empire. Until the post-World War II era, the existence of such an underclass was widely acknowledged. During the U.S. Civil War, for instance, many northern abolitionists also called for the liberation of ‘four million miserable white southerners held in bondage by the wealthy planter class’. Planter elites, who often held several large plantations which, together, constituted much or most of a county’s economy, saw to it that poor whites got no schools, money, or political power. Poll taxes and literacy requirements kept white subsistence farmers and poor laborers from entering voting booths. Often accounting for up to 70 per cent of many deep-southern counties, they could not vote, and thus could never challenge the status quo.
Today, almost nobody in the social sciences seems willing to touch the subject of America’s large white underclass; or, being firmly placed in the true middle class themselves, can even agree that such a thing exists. Apparently, you can’t smell the rabble from the putting green.
Public discussion of this class remains off limits, deemed hyperbole and the stuff of dangerous radical leftists. And besides, as everyone agrees, white people cannot be an underclass. We’re the majority, dammit. You must be at least one shade darker than a paper bag to officially qualify as a member of any underclass. The middle and upper classes generally agree, openly or tacitly, that white Americans have always had an advantage (which has certainly been the middle- and upper-class experience). Thus, in politically correct circles, either liberal or conservative, the term ‘white underclass’ is an oxymoron. Sure, there are working-poor whites, but not that many, and definitely not enough to be called a white underclass, much less an American peasantry.
Economic, political, and social culture in America is staggering under the sheer weight of its white underclass, which now numbers some sixty million. Generally unable to read at a functional level, they are easily manipulated by corporate-political interests to vote against advances in health and education, and even more easily mustered in support of any proposed military conflict, aggressive or otherwise. One-third of their children are born out of wedlock, and are unemployable by any contemporary industrialized-world standard. Even if we were to bring back their jobs from China and elsewhere — a damned unlikely scenario — they would be competing at a wage scale that would not meet even their basic needs. Low skilled, and with little understanding of the world beyond either what is presented to them by kitschy and simplistic television, movie, and other media entertainments, or their experience as armed grunts in foreign combat, the future of the white underclass not only looks grim, but permanent.