CHAPTER 8

Is the Working Class Just Racist?

LET’S STATE RIGHT UP FRONT that racism is an issue in the white working class, and it goes back a long way.

An ugly racial dynamic arose after the Civil War when Southern elites pitted the white working class against newly freed black people by communicating that, although poor whites might be “white trash,” at least they weren’t black.134 By offering poor whites the “wages of whiteness”135—the social dignity of membership in the dominant race—planters made them more willing to accept wages and farm tenancy contracts that left them dirt poor. This dynamic has a very long history, reaching right up to the present day. Reuel Schiller’s 2015 book, Forging Rivals, showed that, since the New Deal, the Democratic ...

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