White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg
This book was a pick from the library audiobook collection; I chose it because it was available and sounded interesting.
The issue of class in American has existed since the first colonies were established in the 1600s. Indentured servants were among the very first settlers in the new British colonies, agreeing to long periods of servitude in exchange for the chance at a better life. Sadly, the life expectancy and risk of death in the colonies meant that many, if not most, of these indentures were for a lifetime. Indentured servitude was never as widespread as slavery in America, and as a result isn’t as widely known.
The book details issues of class in the United States from those initial colonies up to modern times, discussing the impacts that societal and governmental policies have had on the poor. Isenberg talks about the role of class in politics, both as a way to get elected, by claiming to be a man of the people, coming up to leadership from an upbringing in poverty, and as a way to control the poor through policy setting. Lincoln, Truman, Johnson, Clinton, and others are all Presidents who have capitalized on their poor common man roots, some more common than others.
Isenberg explores issues such as the history of words that address class, and how they have entered the modern lexicon, to issues of housing, education and entertainment in depth. The book is largely about class, but does at times explore the intersections between class, race and religion in the U.S. as well. It’s often not easy to separate the issues. Isenberg presents the information in a way that is insightful, and probably as neutral as one could be.
She doesn’t offer solutions to eliminate or lessen the impact of class on social mobility, but she does bring light to a subject that isn’t often discussed or well understood. It isn’t exactly a scholarly book, but there is a fair amount of compiled research and understanding of the last 400 years of North American history here. Certainly a worthwhile read, especially in today’s times!