Linda Tirado is a writer who catapulted to online fame after a casual, righteously enraged message board comment went mega-viral. Within weeks she had a book deal, TV appearances, agents, and a lot more attention than she had ever asked for or wanted. Her book, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, captures a working class voice that’s rarely heard in mainstream American media, and her experience with internet celebrity reflects the often terrifying ways that class functions in media culture.
Keri Leigh Merritt is a historian of American class, race, and inequality, with a particular focus on the South during and after the Civil War. Her book Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South deftly navigates discourses on race, power, and capitalism, telling us what happens to “excess labor” under a slave economy. In this conversation, she talks about the South’s influence on her direction as a scholar, and explains how vital elements of the Southern political economy (from “right to work” to convict leasing) have spread to the rest of the country.