Toni Airaksinen, Campus Reform
A University of Wisconsin professor says poor whites rely upon a “national white hard worker mythology” to deflect the blame for economic decline onto “problem people.”
The result, UW-Platteville sociology professor Claudine M. Pied claims in a recent academic journal article, is further entrenchment of “hegemonic whiteness and the U.S. racial order despite the lack of material payoff for economically marginalised white workers.”
Responding to critics who say that “focusing only on whiteness as a system of power and privilege” disregards the struggles of working-class whites, she counters by quoting another researcher’s assertion that “Whiteness and any study of race among white people is ‘inherently at some level about domination because the category’s very existence is dependent on the continuation of white supremacy.”
Drawing on data and observations about a small, predominantly white town in Maine, Pied reports that most residents identify “lazy, welfare-dependent substance abusers”—so-called “problem people”—as the source of America’s “post-industrial economic decline,” noting that the very “revitalization” efforts devised in response to the economic situation may have exacerbated that perception.
This categorization of white people as “hard workers” is problematic, Pied argues, because it serves as “a symbolic escape hatch” that allows poor whites to see themselves as both “victims of deindustrialization and representatives of a national solution (hard work) rather than sources of a culture of poverty.”
“Exploring how diverse groups of poor and working-class whites contribute to hegemonic whiteness, then, is also a practice in investigating a source of their economic marginalization,” she states in the conclusion. “The question remains, though, as to whether continuing economic change will disrupt the hegemony of the white worker myth or if it will shift again to incorporate the new positions of white male workers.”
Pied did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Campus Reform.
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