As you know, I think a lot about language and the meaning of word. Every word has a connotation, and some have a few. The same word might not mean the same thing in one ear as it does in another.
Slurs like n----r, or f----t and others are unspeakable in almost every social setting. But I've discovered there is one slur that you can say almost everywhere -- even among the most liberal crowd of people you could ever hope to meet.
The slur is "white trash." Nobody defends white trash. Ever. I'm guilty myself. When I was younger, I even had a T-shirt that said "white trash" on the front (in the style of the Wonder Bread logo), and nobody ever said a thing about it.
Someone might say jokingly that their junked-out Honda Civic is "so white trash," but I don't think they'd say "looks like something a n----r would drive."
Why is that?
Well, this may be no great insight to some of you because I believe most of you are either poor now, or have friends who are poor, or have been poor at some point in your life, but there is a huge stigma in this society attached to poverty.
You could argue that this is why if you asked 100 people how they would identify themselves with regard to their economic status, probably about 90 of them would say "I'm middle class." Nobody wants to own up to their own poverty.
And worse than that, when you are in need in this country, there's a tendency to feel as though you did something or didn't do something to deserve this.
There's a real sense that you have nobody else to blame but yourself for your lot in life, and to point out the factors that are beyond your control (the job market, the local economy, the fact that you weren't born into a family with connections or wealth) is to suffer from a lack of patriotism.
As my wife and I have been looking for new jobs outside of teaching and reporting respectively, I've been thinking a lot about the American Dream.
In this life, I've been a Christian fundamentalist, a conservative, a Libertarian, a registered independent, a Baptist, a Quaker, a Buddhist, a Catholic, a liberal, a Democrat and many other things, but I have always believed in the idea of the American Dream in some form or another.
I have always believed that if you have a talent that you work to develop, and you work hard and play by the rules and take on new challenges and responsibilities, you will be rewarded for your efforts. And if times are tough, well then you just roll up your sleeves and work even harder.
But as my grandpa who lived through the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and its aftereffects used to say -- "You put your shoulder to the wheel and your nose to the grindstone and you end up with a broken shoulder and a bloody nose."
It's not that I don't believe in this Dream anymore. I really want to. I believe America may not be a fair place, all things considered; it's not a meritocracy in all cases, but a hardworking person can get ahead if they apply themselves.
Maybe it's this reasoning that makes people who struggle with money feel like their worries are their own fault. Maybe I need to abandon this kind of logic.
Maybe the reason I don't want to abandon the idea of the American Dream is that I don't want to succeed if it's really just a lie.
Maybe I'd rather fail in a fair system than succeed in a corrupt one.
I think we all want to make the American Dream work, though. Let's make this our topic for today. What do you think of the ability of the poor in this country to make their lives better than their parents' were?
In my case, I feel like my economic standing couldn't be as good as my parents' if I worked until I was 82, but maybe your experience has been different.
UPDATE: Shit, I hit a nerve again!
There's too much conversation going on here for me to keep up with. Be patient with me and I'll try to get to your comment. ;-)