September 1, 2009

Why White Trash?

Hi. I’m Jess, a 29 year old, lower-middle class American citizen, who, for some reason, has been dubbed “white trash”. White trash…..why am I white trash? At first, I didn’t know. To figure out this enigma, I researched the actual definition.

White trash: Ignorant, lazy, poor white person.

This confused me. First off, I am educated. I graduated from a private high school with honors. Moving on, I attended Saint Vincent College, where I majored in chemistry. I dropped out a year later to pursue a family. I have since then acquired an Associates Degree in accounting. Do I have a fancy degree in chemistry? No, but I’m definitely not unintelligent.

Now the poor part I can understand. We don’t have a lot of material assets or a savings to speak of; but we are not on welfare, and that’s saying something for a family of seven living on one income.

I have been referred to as white trash on a couple of occasions. There had to be something more to this white trash business than the actual definition. I’ve spent years trying to figure out this mysterious formula. These are some of my own personal findings:

The first time I was referred to as “white trash” was right after my husband and I purchased our first house in 2003, in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Being a young couple, just starting out, the amount a mortgage company was willing to give us was not much. With only three options, we settled for the only one that didn’t reside in, what seemed like, a suburban ghetto.

Our new home was, by far, the most neglected on the street. Built in the early 1930’s, the original owners had bought the house new, lived there their whole lives, and died just when we started our house hunting, and they obviously had not done a thing with the place since the 1970’s.

Perched at the near top of a most inconvenient, yet typical Pittsburgh hill, it stood in close proximity to our neighbors. The two-tone structure of maroon and dingy white had a beautiful porch (I was excited) decorated with piles of garbage. Broken chairs, a glider frame topped with a blown tv, and a dry rotten American flag, among other things, littered what I saw as something with great potential. To top off the outer visage, a broken down car rested in my teeny-tiny back yard.

The inside was no better filled with a fluorescent pink refrigerator, peeling 70’s wall paper held up with duct tape, dirty wall to wall shag carpeting, and way too much wood paneling. The paneling was so thick we felt as if we lived in a tree. The dark and dreary paneling was in every room except for two bedrooms and the bathroom, (We did come to find, when we replaced the floors in the bathroom, that they had used wood paneling as a sub floor under the carpeting. I kid you not!)

A couple of days after moving in, the surviving children of the deceased came and removed the car. My husband, Adam removed all the garbage from our porch leaving it clean and full of possibilities. I couldn’t do much moving since I had just had our first son, Jagger, three weeks prior.

This leads me to being white trash. At the time we had a dog named Jasper. Jasper was eleven years old, but he still acted the same as he did when he was a puppy. (He could be a real pain in the butt!) The first night my husband had to go back to work I was alone with the baby and the dog. I put the dog out to use the bathroom after a day of dreary rain. By the time I went to retrieve him, he had completely covered himself in mud. Looking at my white German Shepherd, who now looked more like a normal shepherd, I thought of my options. We didn’t have a hose yet, so I couldn’t spray him off. I had just had a baby and was not permitted to lift more than the weight of my son, let alone a hundred pound dog, without the possibility of hemorrhaging and dying, and Jasper never got into the tub on his own. The only option was to wait for Adam to get home.

Adam returned from work at eleven pm to find a muddy barking dog tied to the laundry pole out back. He promptly brought him in and cleaned him. The ordeal was over. Or so I thought.
The next afternoon, Adam had left for work and I took the baby and dog out to sit on my new, clean front porch. A few minutes later a young lady, no more than five years older than me, approached me from a neighboring house with her toddler son. I became excited, hoping to make a new friend. I smiled wanting to seem friendly and open. She met my smile with a scowl. This took me back. What did this lady want? I had only been here for a few days. What did I do?
She reached me and said in a snide manner, “So this is the animal who was making all the noise.”
“Sorry, he got muddy and I…” I began, but she wasn’t going to let me explain.

“You need to do something about that dog or we’re going to have a problem.” she yelled. With that, she turned and began dragging her son back up the hill. “White trash.” I heard her mutter as she walked away.

I sat stunned with tears in my eyes. She never even let me explain. She didn’t give me a chance to speak at all. How did she know I was white trash?

The more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, especially after a few years of watching her interact with other neighbors. We’ve been here for six years and I’ve never even seen her smile.

Lesson 1: barking dog = white trash

The second time was a little more bothersome, as it came from my own brother. My brother and I have quite different views on the definition of success. He believes success is measured by the amount of money you make and assets you have. He has never been able to understand why I have chosen to be a stay at home mom. I’m a great disappointment in his eyes. His belief is that I should have had only one kid, dropped him off at day care and got a job like all other respectable people. So when I found myself pregnant with my son Jude, he lovingly asked me, “Why do you want to be white trash?”

Lesson 2: stay at home mom + more than one child = white trash

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