Friday, May 08, 2009

Follow-up Fridays

Let's get to it. Aaron had a lot to say on this post, but I want to focus on one thing in particular.

I said this:

"But black people are supposed to be the ones with all the crazy musical talent."

And Aaron said this:

That almost struck me as an odd thing to say on a blog that's all about racial dialog because it sounds like stereotyping. Granted, at times, there are grains of truth within stereotyping, but I thought we were supposed to avoid that in order to gain a better understanding of each other.

You're right Aaron, that is stereotpying. We should avoid doing that, because it inhibits our understanding of one another. When I wrote that, I was trying to use sarcasm (not very effectively,) as a way to deal with the frustration that I sometimes feel being a black person in America in general, and in particular while writing this blog. Have you ever heard that saying, "sometimes you've gotta laugh to keep from crying"? I think that is what I was struggling with when I wrote that. The fact that Rissi Palmer doesn't seem to be on track to becoming the next Taylor Swift doesn't make me want to boo-hoo, but writing about things like this, this, and this does. And the fact that they are all related in some insidious way makes me angry at times, and makes me wonder if things are ever going to change. I really hope that they do, because I think that if we could move past our pesky insecurites and fears, we've all got a lot of untapped into awesomeness at our fingertips.

This is not to say that black people are not "crazy" musically talented

I'll say it: black people are not "crazy" musically talented. I believe that there are people with talent from every race. I say here that even these so called "positive" stereotypes are not helpful. Even if we were to do a study that said black people are over-represented in the music industry, the explanation wouldn't be because of our inherent ability. Just like Minnesotans being over-represented on hockey teams is not due to some genetic Minnesotan mutation. Like you said in your comment, it can primarily be attributed to the culture. Which is exciting, because who decides what makes up the culture? We do!

Love the blog, keep up the good work!

Aaron, I am really glad that you are enjoying this blog, and even happier that you are leaving comments. I hope you'll keep doing both (:

I actually wanted to spend the majority of this installment of Follow-up Fridays talking about another comment that came earlier in the week on this post in response to another reader using the phrase "white trash"

jgalt said:
The word "white trash" is just as bad as the word "nigger". Both words are about degrading one's race and stoops to the lowest and viale elements of the human experiance. These words are filled with hate and anger and do nothing but pollute the dialoge and clogs the efforts to move forward as civil parties. I challenge you to read the post and insert the word nigger for white trash and you will see my point. The tone of your post would take a different demenor and would probly cause you to rethink your use of words. It would have been better to advance your theory in a way where name calling and ridicule is left out. Your sister's friend is exercising her god given right to live her life and pursue happiness as she sees fit. If one disagrees with it so be it, as long as she is not infringing on anothers right to pursue their happiness. Her choices would not be yours but the name calling does nothing to advance your theory on how her life is turning out. People live a wide arrange of complex and simple lives, that I believe is what makes this whole human experience so devine. Life is constantly changing and the choices we make allow us to control our destinies. The choices that one person makes my not be your but I would rather celebrate the fact that those choices are allowed to be made and not controled by an oppresive government. Words matter.

I normally go line by line on Follow-up Fridays comments, but I'm not going to do that here. Basically, I agree with everything that jgalt had to say. I used to have an entry about the phrase "white trash," but I deleted it because I felt like I wasn't accurately expressing what I wanted to about such a puzzling phrase. But I've been doing a lot of thinking, and think I have a better grasp on what I want to say and how I want to say it.

The phrase "white trash" is degrading. I don't understand describing another person in that way. Well, I do understand it in the same way I understand why anyone puts anyone else down: in a not very effective way for the insulter to feel better about him/herself. But I have always found it peculiar that many (most?) white people have no problem describing other members of their group this way. You don't really hear people of color denigrating each other with racial slurs. If they do use racial slurs, it is usually in context that is meant to have an entirely different meaning. And if they are using it to be insulting, it's pretty much guaranteed that that person is suffering from some serious internalized racism (like the black cop in Boyz in the Hood ::shudder::) So, what is the deal with "white trash"?

And then it hit me--the term "white trash" is an element of social control.

don't drive the right car? White trash.
don't wear the right kind of clothes? White trash.
don't handle conflict by pretending it doesn't exist? White trash.
don't write thank you cards in a timely manner? White trash.
don't live in the right kind of house? White trash.
don't have an acceptable family structure? White trash.
don't throw the right kind of parties? White trash.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Basically, if you're white and you do anything socially that another group of white people don't agree with, you can have this label slapped on you. Pretty effective way to keep people in line, and keep them obsessed with "keeping up appearances." It's also a good way to keep people buying -ish, since so much of what I mentioned above is about consumer goods, but that's another post for another day.

So think the next time you're contemplating using this phrase remember: no human being is trash. Trash is what you sweep into a dustpan and then put in the dumpster. Sometimes if you're feeling particularly irresponsible, you set it on fire in your backyard. You don't do that to people, even people who wear cutoff jean shorts. YKWIM?

Comments? You know what to do.


  1. Anonymous12:11 PM

    Sorry for not picking up on the sarcasm... usually my sarcasm meter is spot-on, but sometimes written text can make things a bit difficult! I have heard the phrase, "sometimes you've gotta laugh to keep from crying", and it's definitely apart of my view on the world, because there is a lot of messed-up stuff going on today.

    "I think that if we could move past our pesky insecurites and fears, we've all got a lot of untapped into awesomeness at our fingertips."

    Yes, you and me both! Although I do wonder, how much of our "pesky insecurities and fears" are wired into us in an evolutionary sense? In-groups and out-groups, that sort of thing. Not that it can't be overcome with a bit of effort and education... just a thought though.

    For me the term "White Trash" is a fairly mean word. Is it on the same level as the n word? I suppose that would depend on who you asked. If one has been targeted and excluded by the word, one might have a different perspective on how badly that word stings. However, I would think that we would all agree that W.T. is an inappropriate phrase to use.

    I will agree that the word has definite applications with regard to SES. However, I've generally heard it more used to describe behavior as opposed to buying the right things. Like the mother with a baby on her hip and a cigarette on her lip... that would be an example of w.t. behavior. However, that gets into learned behavior and modeling (a part of culture) vs. adult responsibility, an argument that could go on forever. Not to say that behavior is correct, just simply that there are better ways of dealing with it rather than writing the person off as "trash".

    As far as people of color denigrating each other with racial slurs, I swear that I've heard a differentiation on the use of the n-word, whether it has the -er or -a ending. I feel that I've seen something about it on the Boondocks as well (and I'm not talking about the old guy with the funny eye thing going on, he's definitely got some issues). Not that that single show should be my only source of info to generalize to all black people, but yeah... I guess I would have to look into it. It was my understanding that the n-word is sometimes used in an insulting manner amongst at least some of the black community, and it wasn't due to internalized racism. But I am far from an authority on Black community and culture, just saying my understanding there.

  2. Anonymous8:18 PM

    I agree with your statement that calling someone white trash is unacceptable, but I disagree with the rest of your description. I'm more with Aaron-- it's used more often as a disapproval of behavior. Someone who chooses (or is assumed to choose) a life of no job, welfare, early and often pregnancy out of wedlock, drugs, alcoholism, beating their wife while wearing a wife beater, etc. is more likely to be called white trash in my circles than someone who doesn't drive the right car or dress the right way. Unless they/their clothes are habitually dirty; that might do it, too. It is a put-down based on behavior, which is different than a put-down based on a person's identity in some ways.

    Sometimes I think this blog borders on the too-nice politically correct (I don't mean that as an insult, just being honest).

    While I'm being honest, I'd love to discuss stereotyping more. What's the difference between a stereotype and a summary of behavior? Like that NYTimes interactive I sent you-- Indians are the most common immigrant group to be doctors. Therefore, there's a stereotype of an Indian doctor (and engineer). If I see an Indian on the street I shouldn't assume that she is a doctor or an engineer; but the fact is that the likelihood is high. Please discuss.


  3. I have only lately come to realize that the term is racist, but like many others here, in my experience it's use was more in relation to lack of character and morals than lack of material goods. A clean, mannerly, morally upstanding person who also happened to be poor would not be called white trash.