The title is a nod to Lyndon B. Johnson, who once said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.”
In this hybrid work of literary nonfiction, Greg Bottoms writes about growing up white and working class in Tidewater Virginia, in the ’70s.
His stories reveal the everyday experience of living inside complex, systemic racism that is often invisible to economically and politically marginalized white southerners—people who have benefited from racism in material ways while also being damaged by it.
Setting personal memories alongside documentary photography, social history, and cultural critique, Lowest White Boy reveals how normalized racial animus and reactionary white identity politics get filtered through the mind of a child.
Read Lowest White Boy alongside of—in addition to—works by Black writers. It studies racism from nearly every angle, including that of documentary photography. In the micro-memoirs that make up the core of the book, a child’s awareness of right and wrong contrasts sharply with an ideology of white supremacy and hate. If you want to understand the roots of systemic racism in America, read this brilliant book that’s part memoir, part American social history, part jeremiad.
Greg Bottoms is a memoirist, essayist, and Professor of English at the University of Vermont, where he teaches nonfiction writing. His books include Angelhead: My Brother's Descent into Madness, The Colorful Apocalypse: Journeys in Outsider Art, Fight Scenes, Spiritual American Trash: Portraits from the Margins of Art of Faith, and Lowest White Boy. Acclaim for his books includes an Esquire nonfiction “Book of the Year,” a Book Sense Nonfiction Pick from independent book sellers, a “Top Indie Fiction Pick” from Library Journal, and long-list recognition from the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and the Story Prize.
Order the book now from the Colgate Bookstore.
Listen to Jennifer Brice, associate professor of English, in conversation with the author as well as one or more colleagues.
Jane Pinchin’s publications include Alexandria Still: Forster, Durrell, and Cavafy. Among her many roles at Colgate University were provost and dean of the faculty as well as interim president. She received an honorary degree from this university at the May 2018 commencement. In 2019, a new dormitory, Jane Pinchin Hall, was named in her honor. She is now the Thomas A. Bartlett Professor Emerita in the Department of English. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Bowdoin College.
Enrich Your Reading Experience
- “I felt an urgency to try to demystify what white racism is—how it exists in complex layers that are harder and harder to see as they get away from individual experience and into social, political, historical, and ideological spheres.” Read more in this interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books about why Greg Bottoms wrote Lowest White Boy.
- “Contrary to any notion that children are ‘color-blind,’ ” Bottoms shows us that he could know nothing of Jim Crow and still “know skin color as social brand, as inherent system of American value.” Read Margot Harrison’s review of Lowest White Boy for Vermont’s Independent Voice.
- The problems of the past are still with us, even here in New York, as described in this Utica Observer Dispatch story about one of the most segregated school districts in the United States.
- “As some legal protections implemented following the Brown decision have expired, studies have shown schools have steadily become more segregated.” Read more about present-day school segregation in the Virginia Mercury.
- “Statues aren’t history; they’re symbols. Read more about education and the South’s “Lost Cause” mythology in this piece by Bennet Minton for the Washington Post.
- Check out this exhibit at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, TN, titled “Blood at the Root.” This exhibit “is an immersive outdoor pop-up installation created by Nashville artists EXO:DUS (Elisheba Israel Mrozik and Aaron Mrozik) that explores how implicit bias can develop over time within families.” Thank you to Suzanne Vine for bringing this to our attention!
A hurt thing wants to hurt. That much we all must know.Greg Bottoms
Living Writers is put on by the Department of English at Colgate University with generous support from the Olive B. O'Connor Fund as well as the President and Provost/Dean of the Faculty.