Who Are You Calling Trailer Trash?

“No one has a right to comment on anyone’s life or the choices I do or don’t make.” 

-Kate Winslet

There’s NO such thing as Trailer Trash

People living in mobile and manufactured homes have been stereotyped, stigmatized, and labeled from the very beginning.

In the late 1920’s the first ‘mobile home’ rolled off the assembly line. A transportable canvas tent, pulled behind the vehicle in a small wooden box, had been available for years, In fact, they came out shortly after the automobile. Eventually, a pull-along camper with walls and a roof was available.

The transformation from the simple camper of the late 1920’s to the gorgeous modern manufactured homes we have today is an almost perfect story of American ingenuity.

Americans were suddenly able to see the country and road trips became a popular pastime. It was only natural for the new tourists to want to extend their road trips to see as much as possible. Carrying along cooking tools and sleeping quarters made the trips easier – the public could see as much of the country as they wanted.

In the beginning, only middle to high-income families could afford such luxuries as a camper. Campers were a popular status symbol. But WWII changed that quickly. You can read how the mobile home stigma began in WWII here. It’s an interesting story!

Trailer Trash Prevails

Stereotyping and name-calling are no longer as tolerated as they once were. You can’t use derogatory words in polite company without consequence anymore.

But there is still one group that continues to be labeled freely and openly: trailer trash.

It is still acceptable, even in polite company, to use the term trailer trash to describe someone in a negative manner. Just about every other derogatory label has become unaccepted but trailer trash still prevails.

Many of us know the truth and understand the advantages of factory-built housing but there are still a lot of good people that are being influenced by the stigma and myths that plague mobile homes. It’s keeping many families from considering a manufactured home.

Embrace Your Individualism (but don’t do that, or that, and definitely not that)

Why is this country so focused on labels?

We are told to embrace our individualism and uniqueness but as soon as we do we are labeled rebels, or worse, trash. All of us are supposed to fit into a square peg even though we are all round.

Watch Who You’re Calling `Trailer Trash’

Helen R. Lee wrote of these frustrations more than 15 years ago in an article titled “Watch Who You’re Calling Trailer Trash” that was published in the Chicago Tribune in April 1997. I think you’ll enjoy her insight:

By Helene R. Lee. She and her husband are retired and have lived for nine years in a manufactured-home community in Lockport, N.Y | April 2, 1997

Remember the character in the movie “Network” who yelled; “I’m mad as hell and I won’t take it anymore”? That’s exactly how I feel whenever I hear or read two words–”trailer trash.” The supposition seems to be that people who live in trailer parks are trash and/or that their homes are trash; that they are mentally challenged; unclean and have little conception of world events.

The words or inference keep popping up in novels, in articles, in movies, on TV, in a description of a Barbie doll. We’ve heard them repeatedly in references to Paula Jones, President Clinton’s nemesis in a sexual harassment case. A Newsweek writer, speaking on television, referred to Jones’s reputation as “just some sleazy woman with big hair coming out of the trailer parks.” And James Carville, Clinton’s former adviser, made the comment: “Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there’s no telling what you’ll find.”

I have to stop at these quotes because I am getting angrier and angrier.

The park where my husband and I live has more than 1,000 homes. The park is well maintained, likewise the homes, with perhaps one or two exceptions. Not a bad ratio, since unkempt homes can be found in any neighborhood.

The diversity of the residents is apparent, especially on a warm summer evening. There are young couples just starting out, couples with children, retired couples, widows, widowers, and singles. There is neighborliness, too. After our last bad snowstorm, we soon saw our young neighbor shoveling out not only his car but an elderly neighbor’s as well.

There are yearly contests at Christmastime for the best decorated home–also for any homeowner who demonstrates special improvements. There are parties for the children at holiday time. In the summer there are organized softball games and other pastimes, all taken care of by parents and the park management.

Manufactured Home Communities

I would like to point out that communities like ours are no longer called trailer parks. They are “manufactured-home communities.” There is no way one of these homes can be hitched up to a car or small truck and pulled away. Once the home is set up, there it stays. Only extraordinary and costly ways are utilized to pull one out.

The homes come in varying sizes and are very affordable compared to site-built homes. Not everyone can afford a $100,000-plus house, after all. In our area (western New York), a new manufactured home can cost $40,000 to $50,000 while a good used one can be bought in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, depending on size.

Because of the reasonable costs, these homes make good starters for young couples who hope to move up later to larger, conventional houses. They are suitable for retired people on fixed incomes, families with lower-wage jobs or those who just don’t want the hassle of maintaining a large home.

My own experience with so-called trailer parks extends to California where I visited a friend a few years ago. Her park was beautifully laid out and landscaped, as were other parks we toured. The pride of the residents was obvious in the immaculate homes and well-maintained lots.

At this point, I admit I am not wearing blinders. No doubt there are trailer parks that are rundown.

Unfortunately, the film industry and television insist on perpetuating the stereotyping of trailer parks–manufactured-home communities. In their version, every park is rundown, inhabited by borderline illiterates and drunks prone to violence.

The film industry and TV executives along with James Carville, the Newsweek writer and a host of other writers owe an apology to all the residents of manufactured-home communities. We’re sick and tired of the stereotyping…….

The above article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.

Trailer trash-paradise bay trailer park


I wrote my own editorial regarding the frustrations I had with mass media and their ever apparent prejudices against mobile and manufactured homes in an article called “Why Mobile home Journalism is Biased” that you may want to check out.

I urge all journalists and anyone with a public following to remove the term trailer trash from your vocabulary. It’s indicative of poor research and labeling an entire demographic wrongly and unfairly. We are people simply trying to make it in this world with little debt and lower housing costs. We are far from trash.

I’d love to hear your opinion regarding these silly labels and stereotypes and how you think we could best combat them. Just add your comment below. Thanks!

As always, thank you so much for reading Mobile Home Living!

Image Sources: Boston Public Library

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