Despite black slaves’ position at the bottom of the social hierarchy they were, in some respects, slightly better off than poor white labourers. Since the latter were not the personal property of the plantation holder, he could have them perform hazardous work without risk of damaging his investment. This allowed for the emergence of the ‘white trash’ stereotype through which blacks elevated themselves above poor whites from the 1830s onwards. Contingent to this was the identification of African Americans with the social position of the white families to which they belonged, both as slaves and as servants.
The master would boast, “My servants are the best on all the plantations round, best workers, best mannered, most contented, the healthiest.” And the servants in turn would say, “Our white folks are quality folks—they’re none of your po’ white trash. Aint nobody in the world like ‘ole marster’ and ‘ole Mis’.” (p. 6)