Let’s dump prepackaged class identities

From Joe Bageant, author of Deer Hunting With Jesus. He grew up redneck in Virginia.

Only the deadest political ear could fail to hear class resentment in [country music] lyrics. Growing up in the poor white working class leaves you angry for life, even after you’ve become successful. But the time is growing very ripe for liberals to wise up and come explain to my people just who it was that made them a growing permanent underclass. If we speak honestly, they will listen. But first we must unsell ourselves that our moral high ground and political awareness makes us superior.

Or that upper middle class progressives somehow have all the answers. Not hardly. The best things liberals could do is listen to the white underclass. Then try to find common ground. White liberals scrupulously try to rid themselves of prejudices against people of color yet too often hold onto and nurture prejudices against the white underclass. How crazy is that? And you’re damn right the white underclass resents such insulting class bias – and for good reason too.

Imagine what could be accomplished if progressives and the white underclass joined together.


  1. You betcha. Come on down, and we’ll go for a ride in my 1985 Dodge pickup, watch the antelope run, shoot a .270 in the backyard, and talk about how much we have in common.

    OK, I’m only half joking. The thing urban liberal folk are going to run into is the culture difference. Nobody here drinks Starbucks, or cares who directed what movie, or sends their kids to private schools. I don’t actually know anyone here who follows NASCAR, but the whole town shuts down during deer season.

    Seriously, even the well-to-do people I’ve met here don’t send their kids to private school. They don’t have to: the schools here still teach you how to read. And speaking of schools, my wife (who grew up in Venice, CA) was amazed that kids walking down the street in the nearby town would wave at us. “And they’re using more than one finger!” she exclaimed.

  2. This has been a dream ever since the Civil War, and oligarchs like Pitchfork Ben Tillman have always been able to split off the working-class whites with race fears.

    I see no sign that the strategy is failing. Idaho has to be one of the whitest states in the country, and what is the major fear? Aside from a fear that they may have a gay senator, the major fear (and problems generated for Senator Larry) was immigration. Somehow I don’t think that the Idahoans were particularly afeared of Brits, Irish, and Swedes flooding the country.

    Can’t recall who wrote it, but there was a book out a few years ago about Kansas where the author looked at an economically-depressed area of Kansas that was one of the strongest supporters of the Republican Party anywhere in the country. It woud be a good start to review that. The author had some ideas, as I recall, but don’t anybody underestimate the problems in creating such a coalition.

  3. The book was “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank.

  4. I’m not saying it would be easy! Just that it would be powerful and is probably needed.

    Will look for the book.

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