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When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question by Charlotte Hays

Charlotte Hays

Reviewed by:
On February 19, 2014
Last modified:February 19, 2014


The degradation of the culture has many causes and Hays touches on most of them. This reviewer would have liked elaboration, but the author set out to expose White Trash Normal and be funny at the same time and she succeeded on both counts, a daunting task well done. It’s a rare writer who can be humorous and trenchant at the same time.

white-trashWhen Did White Trash Become the New Normal?
A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question
by Charlotte Hays

Turning into a human bobble head is not the usual consequence of reading a book. That only happens when an author’s observations elicit such enthusiastic assent that uncontrollable nodding results.

This reviewer suspects that the author ‘s contention that we are living in a time of moral decline, eroded manners, disappearing standards and ignorance will resonate with many readers.

A warning from Thomas Jefferson introduces the book.

It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigour.

A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its law and constitution.

The manifestations of that degeneracy are what Hays calls White Trash Normal. She clarifies:

You no longer have to be White Trash to do White Trash things.”

She begins with tattoos, which “used to be the preserve of people who were too lazy too work and too scared to steal.” But no more; “Now, alas, it is the preserve of one’s friends and relatives.” It has evolved into a form of “self-expression” for the Gen Nexters – Americans in the eighteen-to-twenty-five age group, and others who ought to know better.

Remember when…
Girls wanted diamond rings –
instead of nose rings?

Like Tattoos, body piercing has gone mainstream. So much so, she writes, that Fox News featured a segment about the “Do’s and Don’t’s for Safe Body Piercing.” Not only is body piercing noxious to behold, it is hazardous to good health.

Regarding other manifestations of White Trash behavior Hays advises:

Next time you see in unshaven celebrity clad in slept-in blue jeans, thumbing his nose at bourgeoisie convention, don’t think “Cool” – think White Trash! Grunge is a White Trash variation. Obesity, backwards baseball caps, and vulgar language nonchalantly uttered in the ATM line are further expressions of White Trash Normal.

Included in that category are “ads on TV that counsel you on what to do in the event of a four-hour erection…”

To emphasize how far the culture has fallen she harkens back to her own experiences of a more civil time.

When I was growing up in the Deep South, people in all walks of life put forth tremendous effort not to be regarded as White Trash – in contrast; people today risk hepatitis to ape the decorative styles of social deviants. The White Trash ethos used to be summed up by the broken-down tractor permanently bivouacked in the front yard – expressing the White Trash view of life, the utter rejection of physical and mental exertion: “Hit don’t make no difference.”

…Not being white trash had little to do with money. It had everything to do with choice and effort, with wearing presentable attire, getting your children to Sunday school, paying your bills in a timely fashion, and putting matrimony chronologically in front of motherhood – in other words, acknowledging that there were standards and that the hard work required to meet them was worth the trouble.

Hays intersperses chapters with amusing examples of White Trash food and drink recipes that raise cholesterol and the incidence of diabetes. All that is missing is the warning: “Don’t try this at home.”

In Chapter 2 she discusses White Trash money management, or lack thereof. Racking up credit card debt and buying unaffordable houses, are now referred to as being “underwater” or “submerged,” “as if defaulting on a loan were the result of an act of God,” instead of volition. Newspaper foreclosure stories inevitably portrayed these events as something that had just fallen out of the sky.”

We heard a lot about “predatory lending:” as these stories unfolded. But wait a minute. Did the lender hogtie an innocent victim and force a signature at gunpoint? There are people who send money to Nigerian bank accounts. But for the most part, borrowers who reneged on their loans were people who either had not done their homework or had quite simply decided – what the heck – I want this. It’s more fun to hate bankers than to hold people responsible and call them on trashy – and in fact predatory – borrowing.

While admitting that there are mitigating factors like job loss and circumstances beyond one’s control, she scorns the government for being complicit in the housing bubble and the media for being cheerleaders for White Trash Normal.

As much as I argue for personal responsibility, I have to say that the old system didn’t collapse without help. Nope, Uncle Sam, increasingly an old meddler, gave it a shove. In an attempt to give more people access to credit, the federal government made it easier to borrow, reducing income requirements, especially for low income Americans – the very ones most likely to be harmed by onerous debt. Increasingly across the financial spectrum loans were being made to people with bad credit. As a result of government policies, people were lulled into believing they were doing the right thing by borrowing beyond their capacity. Sure, in a world without original sin, people might have turned up their noses and resisted taking out bad loans. But temptation is temptation, and in this instance Uncle Sam became the tempter. He also became the absolver of guilt.

When the federal government bailed out troubled home ‘owners’ to the tune of 26 billion in hard earned taxpayer dollars, it was presented in the press as help for people overburdened through no fault of their own… In the past, there was a word for people who didn’t pay their bills: White Trash. If there was a Wharton School of money management, its motto would be ‘hits not my fault.”

She also has words for members of the Occupy movement (embraced by our president). You remember them. They are the college kids who complained about corporations while they tweeted or twittered of whatever they do on their blackberries and computers. That is, when they weren’t urinating in doorways and defecating on police cars.

It occurred to this reviewer that our “sympathetic” president provides another example of irresponsible behavior as he and his wife take lavish vacations – about one a month in 2013 – to Hawaii, the Bahamas, Martha’s vineyard, Spain and Aspen– while the nation is mired in debt and recession–all the while decrying the rich for their profligate ways and waving the red flag of income redistribution.

Hays complains about another manifestation of the “Hit don’t make no difference” mentality.

It has to be acknowledged that standards of personal appearance have fallen across the board. Fat or thin, things aren’t what they used to be.

She blames “a White Trash way of living.”

Obesity, like debt, swells when people don’t look to the future – a trait in the past associated with the underclass. The average American carries 2.6 times more debt than he did 30 years ago according to the Federal Reserve Board data …

The government, of course, has a solution for the decline of self-control and the rise of obesity – “passing new laws to relieve us of the obligation to make wise choices – which, ironically, will only serve to make us more trashy.”

She cites Mayor Bloomberg who “seems to believe it is the twenty-ounce sugary drink that is the culprit. That the problem is the drinker rather than the drink – that Cokes don’t reach out, grab us and make us drink them, we grab them – seems never to have entered into his thinking.”

While on the subject of appearance, this reviewer cannot resist interjecting a personal peeve –the outbreak of tasteless, often bizarre and just plain ugly women’s fashions and the otherwise attractive young women who model them. Who passed the ‘no smile’ law? Why do they all look like they swallowed something sour or smell something bad. But I digress.

Hays devotes another chapter to churches being overtaken by the White Trash ethos.

As white trash values have traveled upwards in society, it’s not surprising that the tide has engulfed the churches. It used to be that being a Pentecostal or a snake handler in Appalachia made you White Trash. But that’s so yesterday. Anyway, you’ve got to hand it to the snake fellows – they weren’t half as ignorant as our nouveau White Trash.

Christianity is in retreat and “goddess worship is all the rage.” Hays doesn’t mention Wicca but she might have.

Some of the new white trash religions people concoct are parody-worthy, but at the same time not a laughing matter…

A by-product of church attendance was “at least a glancing familiarity with the ideas and concepts that had built Western civilization.“

Cultural illiteracy breeds white trash behavior. If you don’t know who Adam and Eve were, you probably don’t have reasoned arguments as to whether Adam and Steve should get married. Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and predict a day when a clergyman divorces his wife, comes out of the closet, takes a male lover, and then becomes the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire…

Hays connects the lack of the tempering influence of religion to the epidemic of “self-esteem” that has overtaken today’s youth. She cites studies showing that “self-esteem is highest among prison inmates, neo-Nazis and other assorted bullies.”

She also referred to scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Evaluation administered to 16,000 American college students between the years of 1982 and 2006.

The evaluation includes questions such as, ‘I think I am a special person.’ ‘If I ruled the world it would be a better place.’ ‘I find it easy to manipulate people.’ Around 65% of the students surveyed in 2006 scored high, a rise of 30% from 1982. Can you imagine how scary it would be if one of the narcissists became president?

A subsequent chapter, “Who’s Your Daddy,” covers the “hook up culture,” “illegitimacy chic,” “sex education” and the loss of chivalry among other manifestations of White Trash Normal

Chapter 6, Bratz and Brats is about obnoxious children who have been brought up (if that’s the right term) to “believe they are the center of the universe.” Also included are ”dolls that look like strippers, “the invention of new names,” and school – induced ignorance.

Instead of Latin or history, children learn about personal development. The result is getting stuck in the present and not caring about one’s origins. We used to associate ignorance with the underclass. Not anymore.

The degradation of the culture has many causes and Hays touches on most of them. This reviewer would have liked elaboration, but the author set out to expose White Trash Normal and be funny at the same time and she succeeded on both counts, a daunting task well done. It’s a rare writer who can be humorous and trenchant at the same time.

A bonus at the end of the book is a – “A White Trash Timeline – Some Milestones on the Road to White Trash Normal.” The timeline begins in 1936 and ends in 2013. Only years that mark the way to White Trash Normal are included.

The final chapter is entitled “A Fork in the Road” and it’s about more than table manners. She warns that if we don’t reclaim the culture now, it will not be “the road less traveled’ that we traverse, but an ancient one rutted with the tragedies of those who went that way before – and never found their way back.

1 comment

1 Ann Herzer { 02.19.14 at 1:15 pm }

I always though my grandmother invented the words “white trash”. This appears to be a clever book like my grandmother.


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