Lets read White Trash over some food. Discussion questions are:
1. Isenberg says discussions of race and/or gender without references to social class are worthless. If you agree, list concrete reasons why you find Isenberg to be correct; if you disagree, move beyond personal preference and enumerate reasons why you think she’s wrong.
2. Isenberg has a very pessimistic view of American ideals. Do you think she’s right that these are more mythic than historical? What does the evidence suggest?
4. What is a secondary labor force/market? What did Marx say about the exploitation of working people? What is Antonio Gramsci’s “hegemony theory?” Do any of these ideas fit Isenberg’s analysis?
5. Donald Trump’s campaign attracted a lot of white working class voters? Why? In what ways were his followers similar to those attracted to Bernie Sanders? How did they differ?
6. An interesting recent phenomenon: In the late 20th century, nearly 80% of Americans thought of themselves as “middle class;” now just 51% think so (and many sociologists would place the objective number at closer to 35%.) What are the differences between being middle class and working class? How have those definitions changed over time? Why are fewer Americans seeing themselves as middle class? Does this mean that the “white trash” is growing in numbers?
7. Isenberg gives us an incomplete (and dated) list of TV shows and entertainment that present the white underclass and she’s not very good at all with movies. Come up with your own list of music, shows, and movies that deal with the white underclass she describes. How is class represented in these?
8. Other than a handful of characters such as Davy Crockett and the “common man” meme of the 1930s, Isenberg gives very few examples of working-class heroes and heroines. Can you compile a list of positive working class and/or poor folks that ought to be part of the discussion?
9. Is Isenberg guilty of casting underclass whites as historical victims without agency? What about, for example, the labor movement? Welfare rights advocates?
10. Does Isenberg unintentionally justify boorish, racist, and sexist behavior? Does she make excuses for people to wallow in ignorance? Does the underclass have any responsibility for liberating itself? Do we believe in Isenberg’s pathology model? How does one escape the past? Should one?
11. Is it as racist to use terms such as “white trash” as it is to use the “N” word.