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In his final address to the nation on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama offered a prescription for greater racial empathy in this country.
“For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change," the president said.
“For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s," he continued. "That when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised."
This disconnect — the chasm between the every-person-voice citizenry of a political democracy and the social reality of life in America — are something Nancy Isenberg can trace back to the country's founding. Isenberg is the author of "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America," and a professor of history at Louisiana State University. She says names like "white trash" are just convenient tools for an underlying structure that was established well before the Civil War.