White Poverty: The Politics of Invisibility

“In the southern world of racial apartheid” is how Hook begins chapter 10 of Class Matters. Again she chooses the most charged terms possible to radicalize her conversations.

This chapter focuses on poor whites vs. blacks. Poor whites, some of which are known as “white trash,” had an advantage in being able to lord it over blacks. They could transfer their feelings of oppression by upper-class whites onto blacks.

Poor whites and poor blacks were committed to working and laying claim to respectability. White trash, in contrast, flaunted their poverty and felt themselves above the law.  This made them dangerous. White trash were the lowest of the low, yet whenever the strife between them and blacks came along, whites had to side with the white trash – because of white racial solidarity. Hook notes:

Academics writing about class often make light of the racial privilege of the white poor. They make it seem as though it is merely symbolic prestige. This is especially true of northerners. They have no intimate knowledge of the way southern poor whites terrorize and harass black folks in everyday life.

hooks, bell (2012-10-02). Where We Stand: Class Matters (pp. 107). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition

The title of the chapter comes from the fact that the majority of the poor in America are white – yet the media portrays most poor people as black. While percentage wise more blacks are poor than whites, in absolute numbers, there are more white poor than black poor – but those whites are invisible. This invisibility serves the interests of the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchal ruling class.”

Yet Hook sees hope in this.  Integration is bringing the two poor groups together, allowing some dialogue to occur. The possibility of solidarity is increasing.


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