Writing in Oxford American, Chris Offutt’s Trash Food almost gets it right:
My thoughts and feelings were completely irrational. I knew they made no sense. Most of what I owned had belonged to someone else—cars, clothes, shoes, furniture, dishware, cookbooks. I liked old and battered things. They reminded me of myself, still capable and functioning despite the wear and tear.
Nevertheless I’d felt compelled to mislead him [my Oxford friend] based on class stigma. I was ashamed—of my fifteen-year-old Mazda, my income, and my rented home. I felt ashamed of the very clothes I was wearing, the shoes on my feet. Abruptly, with the force of being struck in the face, I understood it wasn’t his judgment I feared. It was my own.
The road to getting over this is simple: stop worrying about what other folks think and trust your own judgement. Only a fool yuppie pays full price for goods that rapidly depreciate. Tricks like eschewing $75 shirts and shopping at the resale store, the day-old bread store, and the discount market where no English is spoken have netted me enough cash to buy a gently-used BMW Z4. OUTRIGHT. That car is now 12 years old, squeaky clean, well-maintained, and payment-free.
Offutt worries about the kind of folks labeled “white trash”
The term “white trash” is an epithet of bigotry that equates human worth with garbage. It implies a dismissal of the group as stupid, violent, lazy, and untrustworthy—the same negative descriptors of racial minorities, of anyone outside of the mainstream. At every stage of American history, various groups of people have endured such personal attacks. Language is used as a weapon: divisive, cruel, enciphered. Today is no different.
BUT, he needs to remember that there are plenty of folks who we white trash label as real trash: stupid, violent, lazy, and untrustworthy for starters,, But also whining, wheedling drug-addled grifters. By their unkempt surroundings, undisciplined pets, garish grooming, tats, cigarettes, and pawnshop jewelry you will know them.
The sin of the white elites is their failure to make distinctions. The racial stereotyping they so decry is exactly what they apply to working class whites. Offutt, to his credit, knows how to deal with these smartasses:
When strangers thought I was stupid because of where I grew up, I understood that they were granting me the high ground. I learned to patiently wait in ambush for the chance to utterly demolish them intellectually. Later I realized that this particular battle strategy was a waste of energy. It was easier to simply stop talking to that person—forever.
Trash Food is good food for thought, go read the whole thing.
Tip from Vanderleun at American Digest, where he dishes some real pearls.