“What About Poor White People?”

Authored by: Ricky Lee Allen

Handbook of Social Justice in Education

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805859270
eBook ISBN: 9780203887745
Adobe ISBN: 9781135596149


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I have been teaching about Whiteness at the university level since 1997. As a veteran of antiracist1 education, I have become quite familiar with the highly predictable White responses to my (and others’) critique of White privilege. White responses typically contain racialized sayings or phrases that are common to White subjectivity. For example, when I talk with nonpoor Whites2 about White racism as a structural phenomenon that gives all Whites psychological and material advantages, their common refrain is “What about poor White people?” The first time I heard this from a nonpoor White person I was surprised. Growing up around poor Whites (see note 1), I had heard them raise this question with one another in discussions about race. But I did not expect nonpoor Whites to do the same, especially in a way that seemed to express concern for poor Whites. I was skeptical about their concern because in my own experience I had never known nonpoor Whites to show any serious commitment to ending poverty for poor Whites. Instead, experience told me that nonpoor Whites look down on poor Whites. So this sudden outpouring of concern for poor Whites was perplexing to me.

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