“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)
“While living in Durham, N.C., back in the 1980s, I met a guy who was studying creative writing at Duke University. I have come to think of him as the doomed acolyte. One day he told me that his teacher, venerable Reynolds Price, rolled into the classroom in his wheelchair and gave the class a curious assignment. Price told the students they were not to touch the short stories they were working on for the next week. Don’t change a single word. Don’t add or delete a comma. Don’t even look at your stories.
“When the class reconvened the following week, Price asked how many had fulfilled the assignment. About half of the students, including the doomed acolyte, raised a hand. Price then stunned the room by advising those who were able to follow his instructions that they should consider dropping out of the course. His reasoning was brutal and simple: Anyone who is able to stop writing for an entire week — even for a single day — does not have the right stuff to become a writer. True writers, Price was saying, are in the grip of a compulsion. They have to write, and they are powerless to stop doing it. It is why they are alive and it is what keeps them alive.”
— From “Can Writers Retire? Let Us Count the Ways” by Bill Morris at themillions.com (Feb. 7, 2013)