FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Truth About “Trailer Trash”

Photo by Steve Snodgrass | CC BY 2.0


“Trailer trash”
remains one of the last unquestioned relics of political incorrectness in our nation. This slur rests on fundamental cultural assumptions about people who live in trailer parks: that they are simple-minded, lawless, reckless with fertility, and indifferent to the very behaviors that mark as them worthy of ridicule. As a toxic slur, the “trailer trash” brand works to stigmatize an entire category of people marginalizing  them from mainstream society.

During the late 1990s, the two of us spent considerable time at the kitchen tables of parents raising children in rural trailer parks. Virtually all of these parents worked full time in manufacturing and service jobs in which wages have been stagnant for decades. They embarked on mobile home ownership just as financial giants like Countrywide opened a gateway to homeownership for low income households by offering high-interest loans with no down payment. Trailer park residency was not a lifestyle choice but the consequence of financial realities and a dream that homeownership might offer their children a kind of stability, security, and respect they lacked in their own  adverse childhoods. Today, some 12 million Americans live in one of our nation’s 45,000 rural trailer parks.

In our decade of field research in rural Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina, we documented how the ‘trailer-trash’ slur undermined the self-worth and identity of working-poor families living in trailer parks, as homeowners.  As one mother explained to us, “I never tell anyone where I live… I’ll do almost anything to avoid saying I live in [a trailer park]- I’m too embarrassed about it.”  Her perception of the need to manage stigma by protecting one’s address was a belief uniformly shared by white families, in particular, as we found ‘trailer trash’ seems to be a variant of the ‘white trash’ put down commonly used toward the rural poor.

We found little evidence for the stereotypical notions of slovenly lives embodied in this slur. The 40 trailer park families we came to know well were employed, limited their family size, and the mobile home they owned and the rented lot it sat on were neat and well maintained. Unlike media representations, they were not the poorest of the poor, nor were their neighborhood conditions typified by crime, noise, litter, deteriorated housing, or poor social services. They wanted good schools for their children and to be respected as proud homeowners in the wider rural communities where they lived.

Buying a home, even one with wheels beneath, was for the families we studied, a major accomplishment. Many were the first in their family to mount the initial rung on what they hoped was a ladder leading to conventional homeownership on owned land. But for most families, realizing the benefits of their hard-won status as homeowners is compromised by our national contempt for trailer parks and those who call them home. That contempt, which inaccurately portrays rural trailer park life, bore real social and economic consequences for the families we studied.  It is time we put this outdated and inaccurate slur to rest and instead honor the accomplishments of these rural families as pioneers settling a tarnished housing form that with wider national acceptance, and adjustment of the structural and financial challenges homeowners face, holds the potential for addressing our national affordable housing crisis.

  Sonya Salamon, an anthropologist and Professor Emerita of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Katherine MacTavish an Associate Professor at Oregon State University are authors of the recent book: Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park.

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail