Underclasses can’t be white or exist in America, right?

Walker Evans: Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama. 1936

From the introduction to Rainbow Pie. A Redneck Memoir, by Joe Bageant.

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.

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.

Well, such social scientists and liberals generally are city dwellers and never see or have any actual contact with the primarily rural white underclass, except for maybe when they go on a wine-tasting vacation in the countryside, stay at a bed and breakfast, and have chance encounters with actual rednecks who own guns. Oh the horror.

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 biggest lie told in America is that we don’t have social classes.

White underclass crushed by economy

William Bowles reviews Joe Bageant’s new book, Rainbow Pie: a Redneck Memoir.” Bageant died on March 27 from cancer. He will be missed.(I’ll be revieweing the book soon)

A few excerpts.

I don’t know where to start with Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir. It’s a book of two sides, two faces even. On the one hand there’s Joe’s evocative, heartfelt nostalgia for a life destroyed by corporate capital and on the other, his anger and frustrations, rants on occasion, as if analyzing sets off an uncontrollable chain reaction to how capitalism destroys human beings and all in the name of free choice! It’s a frustration many of us lefties feel, a sense of powerlessness made all the worse by the knowing.

What Joe called the white underclass, some forty-plus million Americans, who struggle to survive out of sight and out of mind of the urban middle class who not only manage capitalism but who also shape the kind of self-image people end up having of themselves. They are Marx’ surplus labor writ big, real big. They are the (former) heartland of the American Dream turned nightmare. A class turned in on itself and entirely ignored by mainstream everything.

Joe Bageant died yesterday. Damn

Joe Bageant, a Polizeros hero, is perhaps best known for his book “Deer Hunting With Jesus,” which was about his return, as a leftie journalist in his 50’s, to the redneck Virginia town he grew up in.

He emailed me after I reviewed it saying I was one of the few who got what he meant. It wasn’t just about all the colorful people in his town (who he never condescends to because they are his people). Rather it was about how the rural white underclass used to be bedrock Democrats until they were abandoned by the Democratic Party starting a few decades ago. Republicans, who weren’t nearly so stupid, courted them with the predictable result that they now mostly vote Republican. None of this had to happen.

From the book, talking about misplaced urban liberal fear and loathing of the white underclass.

With Michael Savage and Ann Coulter openly calling for liberals to be put in concentration camps, with the CIA now licensed to secretly detain American citizens indefinitely, and with the current administration effectively legalizing torture, the proper question to ask an NRA member may be, “What kind of assault rifle do you think I can get for three hundred bucks, and how many rounds of ammo does it take to stop a two-hundred-pound born-again Homeland Security zombie from putting me in a camp?” Which would you prefer, 40 million gun-owning Americans on your side or theirs?

Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, Joe Bageant

Joe Bageant’s new book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, is finally available in the US. In his previous book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, he returned to the small redneck town he was raised in and described how the white underclass there and elsewhere has been abandoned by the Democratic Party and is now Republican. Rainbow Pie continues the theme, as it explores social class in the United States.

Bageant is now a leftie journalist in his 60’s. But he never condescends. These are his people, they are his tribe.

Set between 1950 and 1963, Rainbow Pie is a coming-of-age memoir discussing one of America’s most taboo subjects — social class. Combining recollection, accounts, and analysis, the book leans on Maw, Pap, Ony Mae, and other members of this rambunctious Scots-Irish Bageant family to chronicle the often-heartbreaking post-war journey of 22 million rural Americans into the cities, where they became the foundation of a permanent white underclass. Telling the stories of the gun-owning, uninsured, underemployed white tribes inhabiting America’s heartlands, Rainbow Pie offers an intimate look at what was lost in the orchestrated post-war shift from an agricultural to an urban consumer society.

America’s white underclass

joe bageant

Joe Bageant on race, class, and poverty in the US.

There’s a bizarre conceit in the US that we are somehow classless. Bageant knows that’s not true, and wrote about it in Deer Hunting With Jesus, which explores his redneck roots and the small Virginia town he grew up in and where he moved back to for a while. The white underclass gets exploited by politicians, shafted by most everyone, and studiously ignored by the far left, too many of whom appear to think that only people of color can be genuinely exploited and that poor whites just aren’t, y’know, worthy of being organized. Bageant doesn’t make that mistake. Among the reasons, they are his tribe. And he is an astute observer about race and class.

For all practical purposes and to most Americans, regardless of race, the term “middle class” means “white.” Plain and simple. We all know that, even members of the “black middle class.”

I can see that social scientists dislike plural nouns, and thus shun the word losers. So they call this the “educational underclass.” Either way, it comes down to folks too wooly and uncurried for office water cooler society. Nobody is denying that they all should have jobs, of course, just nowhere near the water cooler.

The unwed mothers come in two varieties. There are those who decide they want children, but are choosy about the husband that traditionally comes with the deal. And there are those who are so young and naïve due to cultural circumstance and environment they do not know what this country does to, not for, single mothers

Armchair sociologist that I am, I have a theory about this: Millions of American women are in poverty because they are paid poverty wages. I could be wrong, I often am, but there seems to be a connection between poverty and money. I started developing this theory last year when I was in a Melbourne, Australia hotel and learned from a single mother hotel housekeeper there that she made $19 an hour, had government assisted childcare and was going to college at night toward becoming a medical technician. Hmmm”¦ Over here we tell single mothers, “Get a six dollar an hour job or get married bitch! Workfare, baby, workfare.”

Believe me from personal experience, a Southern accent in America is no ticket to the top. But even with a Southern accent, if you talk like a college grad, don’t wear bib overhauls or gang banger gear, and appear to know where South America is on a map, Americans will deem you middle class.

America needs to have a good discussion about class.