Yesterday as I was driving to go paddleboarding, I passed a house on Riverside to reach my “secret spot” in Flat Rock Park on the Guadalupe. The spot was so secret that two guys in a pick-up showed up moments later to fish, while I was unstrapping the bungee cords holding the board to my truck bed. They were cool, and I’m confident they’ll keep my secret spot a secret.
So I was passing this house, and in the front yard were a colorful plastic children’s slide about 3-feet high, some machine parts, maybe a car bumper, a lawnmower waiting to be used on the few blades of grass still hanging on among the trodden earth, and the garbage and recyclable bins both: about two feet apart and facing each other, like they were fixing to chat about all the wonderful items strewn about them.
At the sight, my brain offered me the words, “white trash.”
And it was then I realized that this was no different, maybe even worse, than calling a black person the “n–” word. I can’t even use that word in an instructive context, because the blogging platform I use, WordPress, might “cancel” me.
This article will be the last time you’ll see me write or hear me say, “White trash.” Unless we’re talking about my or your or a neighbor’s trash that consists of unused diapers from the 1950s — which would be better labeled as “garbage” — computer paper that your ink cartridges messed up on (true “trash”), or old white picket fencing which, again, our local town considers “bulk waste” rather than trash.
“White trash” claims that white people who live the way I saw above (an admittedly subjective description that nonetheless many reading this can immediately call to mind) — regardless of whether they are heroin addicts or decorated war veterans or decorated war veterans who are heroin addicts — are somehow not only less than me or a sub-species. They are no species at all. They are “trash.”
Let’s be fair: white people who “live like this” have been known to call others who live like this “white trash.” It’s little different than a black person calling another black person a n—. Once again, avoiding cancellation, even though everyone knows what word that is. Next we will cancel the characters “n” followed by “- – -.”
The river was sunny, but a stiff south-southwest wind made the downstream leg a brutal workout. This was what I wanted. Something to get my heart rate up and sustained for twenty minutes or more as I paddled deep and long and fast. It did the trick. There were two boaters who were fishing between the island and the west bank, so I decided to leave them undisturbed and skirt the island to the east. A snowy egret kept an eye on me and flew off when I was about 20 yards away. A white duck (goose? I didn’t have my glasses on and am blaming my fauna ignorance on blurred vision) and its mate swam to my right among the lilipads, not deterred.
On the downwind and upstream leg, I paddled closer to the east shore, not only because it was prettier than being in the middle of the river, but also because I wanted the owners in the dog run to look over and see this middle-aged man going after it hard on a paddleboard first thing in the morning. I think what they probably saw was a middle-aged man with a slight belly looking out of breath and lacking the hot coffee they were then enjoying.
After loading up the paddleboard and saying goodbye to the very nice men who were fishing — they were indeed really cool; that’s one of the things I love about this small town of Kerrville: kind neighbors — I drove back down the length of Flat Rock Park and then along Riverside, and I saw that my gas gauge was low. Since this 34-year-old truck has a gauge that is more of a “gas estimator” that can be +/- a quarter-tank, I decided to go to Stripes on Memorial and Loop 534.
Stripes itself is staffed mostly by people whom other white people and black people might call “white trash.” They are often missing teeth, sporting tattoos (I better tread lightly there), smokers, putting bumpers in their front yards, cussing thoughtlessly and, let’s face it, probably couldn’t get or maybe wouldn’t want a job other than one in a convenience store or fast food restaurant. The world, and even I at times, sees them as “unlovely.” Deplorables.
I passed the house again and took a couple photos of the front that I was going to use here. I had planned to get out and take the photos in an artistic way, then manipulate them carefully in the Camera+ iPhone app, making them into beautiful BxW photos. I thought: no, that would be rude to stand in front of their house to do that. So I snapped the photos through the dirty window of the truck and thought, “Well, I can still manipulate the photos in Camera+ and use the smudges on the rear window artistically.”
And then I realized I hadn’t stopping thinking about the residents as “white trash.” I was going to take a photo of a place lived in by “white trash” to tell you about here. I thought of them like museum pieces: how was I to describe “white trash” to you if I didn’t have a photo of white trash living? I mean, the outward appearance shows the inner reality, right?
You might think I’m overreacting and using bromides.
But would you agree that during this past election cycle, we’ve had Biden supporters call Trump supporters “Nazis” and Trump supporters call Biden-supporting mask advocates “sheep” and Trump supporters call those on the left “LibTards” and Biden supporters call Trump supporters “insurrectionists”? Granted, those aren’t non-human names, but they are most certainly dehuman-izing. And most thinking people will admit that it’s not Trump who truly brought out these polarizing statements, it’s people whose broken inner nature felt justified to erect a national scaffold on which we could tighten verbal nooses around each other’s necks.
To refresh my politically-correct thought palette, I searched for this scene from the 1968 musical “Hair,” where singers extol the virtues of “black boys” and “white boys.” Whites extolling blacks. Blacks extolling whites. All with very charged words and suggestive images.
What I love about this scene and, in fact, the whole show, is that race and war and gender and sexual orientation (and even sexual acts whose names I’ve forgotten: when was the last time you heard the word “cunnilingus” set to music?) are so casually but sincerely confronted. It’s like eating dinner with hands that are still dirty from the gardening you just finished. Soil on the fingertips that are holding a buttered ear of corn. Earthy. Unafraid. Dare I say, almost morally neutral. If there is such a thing.
Social commentary that is, in some innocent way, unaware of itself.
Today this show would be offensive in so many ways.
Delightfully offensive to my way of thinking. And therefore not in the least “truly offensive.”
But this white person will no longer call other white people “white trash.”
I challenge my black readers, especially famous rappers like Lil Wayne, Young Thug, A$AP Rocky and others — all of those men don’t really read Biscuit Aisle as far as I know — never again to refer to a black person as a “n—.”
Instead, let’s call each other — as this scene in the musical does — “delicious.”