‘…But white is the color of the big bossman’

“The term [“white trash”] came into use before the Civil War. When the English actress Fanny Kemble visited a Georgia plantation in the 1830s, she reported, ‘The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as “poor white trash.” ’ The term was also in use at that time in the Washington, D.C., area, where blacks and Irish immigrants competed, viciously, for the same lowly jobs.

“I experienced a similar three-tiered social system while living in North Carolina in the 1970s. There was still a strong after-taste of the state’s three pre-integration school systems: one for whites, one for blacks, one for Lumbee Native Americans. The fiercest fighting was never about who would reach the top because it was understood that white people, the non-trashy ones, would always run the show. The fiercest fighting was about staying off the bottom. I even saw this expressed by some unknown poet on the wall of a toilet stall in Lumberton, North Carolina:

Black is beautiful.
Tan is grand.
But white is the color of the big bossman.

— From “The Riches of White Trash” by Bill Morris at themillions.com (April 5, 2012)

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