The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






White trash

"White trash"
"White trash"

As an epithet, white trash, extended poor white trash first came into common use in the 1830s. The Oxford English Dictionary identifies it in its earliest usage as an American pejorative used by the slaves of gentlemen against poor caucasians who worked in the field. Some might argue that the term belongs to a category of insults focusing on behavioral characteristics (such as mannerisms, lifestyle) rather than overt racial characteristics (as with nigger, yid). The term is probably most used in the southeast of the United States of America.

Today, The Jerry Springer Show is an example often used to define white trash. This television show often deals with lower-class white people and situations that are generally considered to be common to the white trash stereotype (e.g. incest, illegitimate children, racist beliefs). The mostly-white audience of this show is also considered by some people to consist of white trash.

The nature of the term "white trash", the people to whom it has been applied, and the motivation of people applying the term is studied in connection to racism and politics. In full historical context the term is difficult to define and any definition must be considered with respect to the context in which the epithet was applied. For example, the racial meaning of "white" has changed; 150 years ago immigrants from mediterranean Europe would not have been considered "white". At present, the U.S. census would consider these same people, such as Italians and Italian Americans to be "white".

Some people argue that "white trash" is a racist term not because it includes the word "white", but because it implies that trashiness is the normal state for black people and thus when a white person is trashy it must be specified that the person is white.

It has been debated why there is no comparable term commonly used for other races, such as black trash or Latino trash. The suggestion is that it is a form of "reverse racism". In particular, the acceptance of the term white trash in everyday media is questioned when offensive words referring to another race, such as nigger, are shunned.

Related, but not necessarily equivalent, terms include Trailer park trash, redneck, peckerwood , hick, mouth breather , podunk , cracker and hillbilly. In the United Kingdom the term chav is often used to describe a similar social grouping, while in Australia and New Zealand they are known as bogans.

Of these terms, White Trash is probably the most extreme. For example the term Redneck has been "reclaimed" as a self referential name by whites who are proud of their rural roots, while fewer would proudly call themselves white trash.

Compare: Nigger

Related article: Mullet (haircut)

Last updated: 08-19-2005 07:44:13