It’s often easy to spot white trash. One Confederate battle standard or American flag item on the wardrobe and my antennae go up. Sorry you seem to think it matters that some of us know the signs while you don’t.
"Well, sure," says Other Bill, at 63, "I know the signs. Just like we all know the signs for poor black trash and poor puerto rican trash, right?"
At Alas a Blog, we've got a tiff going on in comments about how poor people shouldn't buy nice things, since they've got to save up their money so they can break out of poverty. RonF says at 12:
The desire for better material goods/healthcare/housing/food/etc. is what motivates people to get better education/training and work harder and longer in order to move up to the economic point where they can afford those things.
People who presumably aren't poor, and certainly aren't the poor people in question, feel free to comment on the responsibility of poor people's economic decisions, as Sebastian H says at 14: "Isn’t it kind of a question of which nice things? A TV may or may not be a good example of acting irresponsibly, but a Cadillac almost certainly is."
But these comments come from the same assumption: that we know what poor people want, and it's to escape poverty. They come from another assumption, too: that it's possible for the poor people to escape poverty if they make the right decisions.
But people in generational, grinding poverty, may not share these middle class assumptions and experiences.
I'll let Dorothy Allison speak to both arguments, with excerpts from her short story collection Trash.
From the introduction:
My family’s lives were not on television, not in books, not even comic books. There was a myth of the poor in this country, but it did not include us, no matter how I tried to squeeze us in. There was this concept of the “good” poor, and that fantasy had little to do with the everyday lives my family had survived. The good poor were hardworking, ragged but clean, and intrinsically honorable. We were the bad poor. We were men who drank and couldn’t keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours and bearing too many children; and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes. My cousins quit school, stole cars, used drugs, and took dead-end jobs pumping gas or waiting tables…. We were not noble,not grateful, not even hopeful. What was there to work for, to save money for, to fight for or struggle against? We had generations before us to teach us that nothing ever changed, and that those who did try to escape failed…
I had sweet-tempered cousins and I saw them get ground down. I had gentle aunts and it seemed they almost disappeared out of their own lives. Is it any wonder that when I set out to write stories, I made up women like my grandmother, like my great-grandmother? Troublesome, angry, complicated women with secretive, unpredictable natures… I wrote to release indignation and refuse humiliation, to admit fault and to glorify the people I loved who were never celebrated…
I originally claimed the label “trash” in self-defense. The phrase had been applied to me and to my family in crude and hateful ways. I took it on deliberately, as I had taken on “dyke”–though i have to acknowledge that what I heard as a child was more often the phrase “white trash.” As an adult, I saw all too clearly the look that would cross the face of any black woman in the room when that particular term was spoken. It was like a splash of cold water, and I saw the other side of the hatefulness in the words. It took me right back to being a girl and hearing the uncles I so admired spew racist bile and callous homophobic insults. Some phrases cannot be reclaimed.