He stood shaking his head, big eyes behind coke bottle glasses, “No one seems to understand how angry they are. They’ve been left behind.” The long time senator said while leaning against a counter in a crisp blue shirt with a stethoscope around his neck, “We’ve got to solve this. I see it in my practice, people who can’t afford to stay healthy, no housing, working all the time in a dead-end job. They’re mad. That’s what Trump gets that Bernie also understood. I just don’t think the mainstream understands.”
My doctor and state representative is in a small medical practice taking care of a group of people most of us don’t openly admit to knowing or belonging to: the basic redneck–white, poor, angry and fitting nowhere.
These are the folks connecting dots in a different sort of way.
They had nothing to start with but had some vague belief in an America that could allow them to rise above their raising. They had a core value that they or their children could be better, that they could get out of the trailer park or the rural, run down house and street where the sidewalk never goes.
Without that dream they free fall into despair and anger. They seek out a bad guy in black and white thinking.
Nuance is not really taught in the hollows and the grey working man’s towns. They find the bad guy in the voice of those who stand for the rights of people outside their group. The believe that #blacklivesmatter somehow means they do not.
They surmise that “they are getting all the attention” and this redneck believes that means “they” are also coming up in a world where they cannot.
This divisiveness is encouraged and pandered to for votes. It’s easy to stir the good ‘ole boys who haven’t had a good day in a long while.
I come from these places. A second generation, natural born hillbilly, I understand going to church on Sunday and Wednesday. I understand about a God who is jealous and a religion long on hell and short on heaven which evokes a deeper sense of unrest by sending the message that salvation is a secret word and handshake. It’s a club with a narrow doorway reserved for a select group of true believers.
For us it was this group or bust. There was so little else.
It’s hard to convince this group with their worn out hands and second hand shoes that they enjoy privilege.
It’s hard to tell a redneck that it’s not the poor Mexican and black person stealing their scant opportunities but the wealthy guy like Donald Trump who manufactures all his swag in a foreign country. It’s hard also to convince the good Baptist that the person who prays to a different God is actually not so different. That his aspirational prayers come from the same place–poverty, stress and also hope.
For the redneck cracker life is binary. There is “us” and “them.” There is a sense of scarcity which can be witnessed all around. When you think life is a battle, you make combatants of anyone whom you believe is not lifting you up. You perceive that whatever the others have is taken from your possibilities.
This myth is propagated by those of craven heart who use ignorance and fear as a foothold to their own success.
So how do we speak to the poor white trash folk who’s shiniest thing is their new rifle meant to protect them in this untrustworthy world? How do we discuss the finer point that poverty is the enemy shared by people of all colors, especially people of color?
Here’s what spoke to me as a young, discarded, white trash girl living in an old house without central heat in a field of dying dreams–the idea of a bigger world.
I read about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, I saw myself in their words. I was challenged by my teachers who asked me what would happen if it was more true that we created God in our image rather than the other way around?
I hid my Aldous Huxley and Upton Sinclair books from my mom. She didn’t approve of “commie writers who were godless and didn’t understand people like us.”
But someone recommended those books to me, someone who thought I was smart enough to consider the concepts of nuance and justice beyond the small world where I lived.
That’s because a teacher, a principal, an uncle, a librarian and even my dad believed in education as the way forward.
We need those people now more than ever.
Ultimately rednecks, Trump voters, are people who value independence and they know more about sustainability than most. It’s been passed down for generations. That has some value.
They want their children to succeed even if it means they don’t see them so often, they want to see a world where their grandchildren can use words they’ve never heard of because some rednecks also have deep dreams of a better world.
Dare I say they also want to matter?
Some may see this as opposed to but that’s not where it needs to go. How about they matter– also? It’s additive. Because while this group may not look like it’s in peril, in so many ways it is.
They too have no health care and are dying from a host of diseases caused by a rough life and bad food which is made for poor people, they too live in a world of violence and addiction and rage and they, too, are ashamed of who they are. They carry the additional burden of privilege which says they should be better.
They know they should be better. What they don’t know is how.
So this blog is why I can never truly go home. It rings of liberal condescending babble which makes every redneck sound like a dirty fool with no life outside of hate. But the truth is that’s the way it gets handed down in a myth that says ‘we aren’t much but we have each other.’ Kill the myth and you begin to kill the problem.
Give the redneck and the black activist the same self worth and they can work together. Raise everyone out of poverty and no one has to fight over the last bite.
Break the “broken nation” myth as well. This country was never great but always pretty good on a comparative scale. It’s always had struggles like every place and always had bright days.
Unravel the myth that to be good- one nation, one person, must be better. You can have lots of good without needing a better.
Remind folks that there is enough. If we share the food and the work life goes more smoothly.
And here’s a big one–there is no enemy. This is tough for people from religions of Abraham. Everything is taught in duality, heaven and hell, right and wrong. But what if that’s not true? What if we can all be right, at least partly? What if there is a natural balance which favors equality?
Rednecks are not the problem. Scarcity is not the problem. Enemies are not the problem. The problem is that we believe they are the problem.
Hug a redneck, tell him his shiny shotgun is cool so long as it’s not aimed at you or anyone else, tell him you see his point about shitty healthcare and jobs that don’t pay enough to hardly keep the lights on. Tell him that it’s not really his fault and that his striving is witnessed. Tell him he matters not in opposition but also. Tell him that holding hands and singing together is a real thing and he’s invited. Tell him you respect the hard work of his hands and that together we can bring back jobs and hope for everyone.
Allow the resurrection of the redneck and know it doesn’t need to be a threat to anyone else. Great American writer John Steinbeck taught me it’s not really a world of this or that and that hillbillys also have a soul. He’s the first to convince me I had worth as a person.
So while I’m dreaming, let’s bring back reading.
We know Trump is a clown. Rednecks know it too. My guess is The Donald even knows it. But they, like so many Americans, are angry and want to show it. They want someone to understand that even working forty hours per week, growing food in their weedy yard, shooting animals and casting a line in a nearby creek is not getting them by and they are truly afraid.
They want someone to listen to them because even though they have white skin when you check the box as white trash you are less than nothing. You are in the way.
Gandhi won freedom for his nation because he figured out how to lead a poor people’s rebellion across all castes. He found allies in the wealthy too. We don’t have a Gandhi in this election anymore. He dropped out.
So now what?
Be the Gandhi you wish to see. Hold hands with everyone. Spread the word that there is actually enough. Let people know that we have enough food and houses to take care of everyone if we knew we did. Let the redneck rise standing next to the second generation Mexican who speaks Spanish at home and the man who’s great grandfather was a slave who built the White House.
That guy across from you is not the problem, but a part of the solution. That redneck also has something to offer.
The doctor is right–people need to understand.