On Being Complicit, “Black Trash” and Reverse Racism

Flickr: xcode

Oh, *you* try and find an appropriate image for this post which won't anger someone.

I try to encourage commenting on DCentric because when readers share their perspectives, it can be edifying. For example, check out the comment Molly W. left under my last post, “Gray, Lanier and Thomas Tour North Capitol After Murders“. It deserves to be seen (emphasis mine):

In my own neighborhood (east of Capitol Hill), crime against white residents consistently seem to provoke an outcry that we just don’t hear when there are crimes against black residents.

However, it often comes across poorly to imply people are overreacting to a crime against a white person — it seems like an attempt to dismiss the white victim. Ideally, instead of making less fuss about white victims, we’d make just as much fuss about black victims. Sadly, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I think a small part of it is access — I hear about many of these crimes on the neighborhood e-mail list, which seems to be whiter than the community at large (though that’s just my guess, I can’t say for sure).

More than that, I think it’s a lot easier for white residents to imagine that black victims of crime are somehow complicit — attacked b/c they’re in the drug trade or dating criminals or whatever. When a white person (or even someone who isn’t white, as long as s/he isn’t black) is attacked, there seems to be a much stronger, visceral sense of “that could’ve been *me*” among white neighbors.

(I’m white myself, don’t know if that makes a difference.)

The fact that Molly is white doesn’t make a difference to me, because I am grateful for all of my readers, especially the blue ones (old-school Smurfs fan, here). It does make a difference in a larger way though, because I think it’s important for such points to be heard and context matters. I know POCs who would be surprised by how well Molly groks these issues. It’s thoughtful to consider very real obstacles like the digital divide when contemplating why bad news might inspire certain reactions in certain groups. I want to take this opportunity to thank readers like Molly, who are kind enough to share their experiences.

Even comments that include potentially offensive language and a more controversial point of view can be thought-provoking. Here’s  DCentric reader JP’s take on the same post (again, emphasis mine):

I grew up in a rural, southern county that was mostly black. Most of the white and black folks got along just fine. However, there were minorities of both that were supremely and willfully ignorant, jobless, lazy, entitled, and viciously and unapologetically violent. Let’s not forget racist too. The whites like this we referred to as “white trash.” They would occasionally raise a child who, by a fluke of luck, was smart and motivated enough to get the hell away from the horrific culture that their family was a part of.

The “black trash” is no different. Take both groups of people, change their skin color to green, and they are identical in their counterproductive habits and culture.

It just so happens that particular neighborhoods of DC have huge swaths of “black trash” living there. Culturally, it might as well be a giant, meth filled trailer park in Ohio or Kentucky.

Decent, hard working, productive people are happy when wealthier people move into their neighborhoods, but racist trash of both colors just look at the newcomers with scorn and contempt.

Its not white people killing people in DC. It’s trash that happens to be black. I’m tired of hearing these trashy, racist jerks complain about DC becoming less black. When white people complain about their neighborhoods becoming less white, we call them what they are: racists. This is no different.

After reading it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that infamous Chris Rock bit from “Bring the Pain“, which was so controversial, he no longer performs it. I think there’s something to acknowledging that there are behaviors or pathologies which neither race has a monopoly on, but employing the word “trash” often alienates people– of both races! Additionally, leveling charges of “Reverse Racism” can also annihilate opportunities for solidarity; whether we realize it or not, issues of privilege intersect with race and suddenly what seems obvious or simple…isn’t.

  • anon

    Both of these comments appear thoughtful. Maybe the second commenters opinions aren’t as easy to read to some, because they’re not prettied up. But the thoughts and feelings are real. He wrote from his experience. Most of our experiences in the realm of this blog – race, class, the feelings they stir up; are not pretty, poetic or would pass muster by 2011 metro-area standards.

    He has a point, there are minorities of people – and I doubt there’s any group that has an exception – that you could describe as “willfully ignorant, jobless, lazy, entitled, and viciously and unapologetically violent” and they do have a way of screwing things up for everyone else. I may leave off the “viciously and unapologetically violent” if I was doing the telling, but I wasn’t.

    I think you have a point that the words of “reverse racism” probably shuts people down to hearing what you have to say. But what do you say instead to describe the phenomenon. The original poster didn’t actually use the term though he described the behavior that could be labelled in that way.

  • Email

    The second comment hits it right on the head. I’m from the same rural mix of black ghetto areas and filthy white trailer parks. It goes both ways in many areas outside of urban dwelling. The problem in DC is the black trash. Where are all the proud black, educated people? We need another Martin Luther King. We don’t need any more Lil Wayne’s. Exactly who is the emotional leader for blacks? Marion Barry?

  • JP

    I’m the guy who wrote the second comment. I must agree that some of the language I used is offensive, and perhaps a better term would be “underclass”, although I’m sure some would be offended by that too. But at some point, the truth will offend those whose explanation of their reality relies on blaming external forces.
    What I didn’t say in my first post is this: I grew up in a trailer park. I, along with my 4 siblings, was raised by my father. My mother became addicted to drugs (cocaine, then crack, to be specific) when I was 3, and left us. My trailer park was on a rural road that was littered with “shanty towns” and other trailer parks with numerous black and white residents, as well as some Hispanic folks, who were mainly seasonal workers. Most of my childhood friends were black, but I had plenty of white friends too. My father had to work long hours to support us, but he always made sure we did our school work, and would help in all aspects. He never, ever, ever took a handout from the government, or anyone else for that matter. The lesson he always taught us was that when you give up your pride on a regular basis, you will eventually become shameless. This is what I watched welfare do to many of my friends’ families. Their mothers had no standards for the random men they let into their house. They had no standards for the way their children behaved, as long as it wasn’t interfering with their socializing or television watching. They had no standards for their children’s grades. They just coasted. I know this is all anecdotal, but for me, it is all very vivid and real. I hated how my friends, one by one, would hit puberty, become uncontrollable when they became bigger and stronger than their mother, and drop out of school.
    The woman who, in a way, took the role of being my mother was my best friend’s mother. She was a proud black woman who stepped in to help me whenever she felt I needed it. (she would sew my clothes sometimes, and never, ever hesitated to invite me over for dinners) She was the first person who I ever heard use the term “black trash.” Her son, my (to this day) best friend, was assaulted on a regular basis by black trash kids who accused him of “acting white” because he performed so well in school.(He was on the wrestling team with me, so he was able to hold his own, and we always had his back) He was a genius, and his mother and father made sure he understood that pulling others down is what shameless, trashy people do best.
    He now lives in northern Virginia, and I see him on a weekly basis. He is raising a son (he has primary custody), volunteers as coach in numerous kids sports leagues, and is a leading technology consultant in his field, earning a hefty salary. He is everything you would expect from such an awesome family. They didn’t have money, but they had all the right ingredients to teach him to succeed. Seeing him and his siblings rise up, along with many other black folks in my community who had decent parents has shown me that social engineering and handouts are not the answer. Pumping money into schools can’t counteract lazy parenting. Many of my white friends ended up in prison. Many of my black friends ended up as being pillars of their respective communities.
    A previous comment asks “Where are all the proud, black educated people?” They are all around you. Maybe not the majority in some neighborhoods in DC, but look around. And its not always education. The awesome metrobus driver (you know these guys) who kicks ass at his job and gives anyone who ask friendly advice on where to go and how best to get there. The construction worker who may not own a car, but wears an American flag hard hat while hauling his tools on a dolly on and off the bus as he goes to work at dawn (he rides the bus I take all the time). I’ve had conversations with these folks, and many others, and they know how to raise their kids, and they are the first to talk about the cultural root of the problems confronting the “trash” in DC.