On Flannery O’Connor’s portrayals of “poor whites”

Below is a very good comment on an essay about Flannery O’Connor. Everything below is the comment, which can also be found here.

To be fair to Flannery O’Conner, it’s easier to be tolerant of the vices of others than it is of those of your own people. It may merely have been a matter of Ms. O’Conner expecting more from her own people than she did from blacks.

But that’s the whole point. Poor whites, working class whites, whites educated more by experience than books, etc. are not O’Connor’s people at all.

The USA in general and whites in particular (the two used to be practically synonymous) could never bring themselves to talk seriously about the family and social class.

These things just hit too close to home for too many people. So, they don’t just avoid them, they reject them. Instead, they talk about race.

They reject the obvious and the concrete for something abstract. That’s why O’Connor, like so many today, not only side with blacks, but would rather be them than a poor white person. Exactly because she doesn’t have a relationship with blacks. But poor whites, though not her people, are her race. And that just hits too close to home.

But, since the 19th century the white aristocracy has been replaced by the white middle class. And the aristocracy had one very good quality, noblese oblige, a sense of responsibility to their social subordinates. But the middle class, for hundreds and hundreds of years have always hated both the aristocracy and the poor.

In fact, the middle class has always been the insecure social class. And that insecurity comes out in the need of the middle class to relentlessly and cruelly scapegoat poor whites.

But it looks like history has a joker up its sleeve and those of the white middle class are about to get what’s coming to them, a taste of their own medicine.

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