Reporter's Notebook

Stories of Intraracial Prejudice
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Readers discuss the slights they’ve experienced within racial and ethnic groups, rather than between them. (For a complementary series, see “Your Stories of Racism” compiled here.) If you have your own perspective to share, please send us a note:

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White Disdain for the White Underclass

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Alec MacGillis reviews two new books for his essay “The Original Underclass”: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. Both books center on long-standing stigmas directed at poor and working-class white Americans, their plight in an increasingly postindustrial U.S. economy, and their loss of cultural capital.

Many readers of MacGillis’s piece are venting their frustration over what they see as condescension from white elites toward downscale whites, especially that their skin color presumes a bigoted and thus immoral character unless proven otherwise. Here’s reader Matt, who is tired of poor whites being told to “check their privilege”:

There is so much racial resentment in the discussion of the white working class that is projected onto them. Critics of struggling whites who support Trump will say, “It isn’t that they are suffering economically; it’s that whites are no longer an all-powerful monolith”—even though these are poor whites who have never had power. It’s like you don’t want to hear them, and then instead of listening to their actual issues, you pretend they are racist to ignore their actual opinions.

Another reader—“a white man living paycheck to paycheck”—expands on the view shared by Matt:

There’s a feeling that no one actually cares about us. We get lumped in with “the man,” but we’re not Rockefellers nor Trumps. We’re struggling to make ends meet. Problems that used to be confined to minority communities are now in ours. Our traditional structures have been derided and destroyed by the elite and nothing is given to replace them. We feel helpless against a tide of cultural changes that don’t take our thoughts or considerations seriously.

I think that most of us would acknowledge that minorities have it rough, but at least someone seems to care about them.

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Alec MacGillis’s essay “The Original Underclass” absorbs two new books—White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg, and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance. This reader can relate to Vance:

I have relatives who live in conditions very close to the ones described here. I live in the heart of Appalachia, and not much has changed since the 1960s. Clothing factories and knitting mills were “good” employers that paid a decent wage. But then NAFTA and other incentives to move jobs to Mexico and China shut them all down. Now it’s fast food or retail for these folks, or welfare, drug dealing and the like. Even the scholarship programs for poor white kids disappeared. They’re just trying to survive in a world that doesn’t recognize them.

Gina also appreciates the “insightful article” from MacGillis:

Having grown up in rural Pennsylvania myself, I can say that things seemed to take a turn from bad to much worse when heroin and meth started coming in. That was a factor of poverty and also of criminal justice strategies that imported hard criminals from the cities to rural areas in an attempt to rehabilitate them. They just set up shop in the new areas and recruited the locals. All along the bus routes from New York City to upstate New York and Pennsylvania, those little towns that used to be leafy and peaceful now look like the worst dregs of New Jersey. The only hope these areas have seen in recent years is from fracking.

The Drug War and zero tolerance on sex offender crimes (like teenagers sleeping with teenagers) leave people with criminal records and no way to get out from under. It’s the same process as the inner city. It is also well noted that in many parts of the country, resentment of working people towards social programs isn’t as racial as it might be in the South. Where I come from, the welfare queens are all white. I think part of the despair we’re seeing is shame at the loss of self-reliance, and there is no way forward.

This next reader has mixed feelings—between his sympathy for struggling white Southerners and his resentment over their pockets of racism:

I grew up in a small town in Texas. I’m an immigrant (and brown) and in the technical professions. But I went to high school with these folks. They’re my compatriots. And country means something to me. U.S. citizen means something to me. It is with that in mind that I write the following.