My Baby Loves Malt Liquor - Roger Alan Wade (mp3)
Nighttrain - Public Enemy (mp3)
The Pot House. In many ways, it was the antithesis of my own party a week prior. My party was about inviting everything but the kitchen sink to join me, cram human bodies into small spaces and gab away like some wrinkling gray attempt at recreating a frat party. Her party was about getting away from the crowds, renting the cabin for a night, and inviting 40 or so people to stop by and stay as long as they liked from morning to late at night.
Getting to this cabin required driving down four long miles of curvy, semi-paved road off of Suck Creek. If you ever wondered why they named it Suck Creek, you only needed to drive this stretch of road. I'm pretty sure the only other option was to name it Meth Creek. And "Suck" just had a better ring to it.
What I'm about to observe will say much about my own issues of race and class. It's not particularly pretty, so there's a level of discomfort in even writing this. Some would say, "That's 'cuz you're supposed to keep these thoughts to yourself." And maybe they're right. But the problem with where we are as a culture right now, it seems to me, is that we're all so afraid of sounding ignorant or racist or bigoted that we don't ever even try to express ourselves. We're so afraid of being excoriated that we never get the opportunity to exchange ideas and perspectives in a truly deep and meaningful way. And without that exchange, how are our beliefs going to change?
"I'm so nervous," I told my wife. "I don't like this at all."
I live on the campus of a school that is a stone's throw from some fairly poor housing areas. One of the city's two most crime-ridden districts is basically this school's neighbor. Prostitutes and dealers can be found walking down several of the streets within miles of our house almost any night of the week. We pass them regularly, and I rarely think much of it. But... most of the people who are involved in these shady activities around the school are black. Maybe a few whites and a few more Latinos in the mix, but primarily black. They don't make me nervous, and I don't fear for my life.
But you take me out into White Trash Honkeyville, and I start getting agitated and frightened.
"Why?" she asked. "It's not like some drug-addled Bubba in a Jason hockey mask was going to bound out of a house and kill our children in a meth-crazed frenzy." -- I'm paraphrasing and exaggerating her words, but that was the general gist -- "so why are you nervous?"
"Because these people could be my relatives," I said.
I can't deny the implications of what I said at that moment. My words implied I get more upset about poverty and dilapidation when it affects whites, that it's all fine and good when minorities are plagued by problems like this, but I see white folks suffer, and all of a sudden I'm bothered.
After I'd had some time to consider the weight and implications of my claim, I realized there was another factor involved that explained my discomfort that had nothing to do with race. I am a downtown Chattanoogan and have been for more than a decade. Inner-city issues are something I see every day. I served on the board of a local homeless ministry here, so I saw it close up at times. The white poverty I saw on the fringes is something I haven't seen much in the last 13 years. I saw it in Warner Robins, but not since.
Maybe part of the new racial paradigm will require that we acknowledge the extent of the problem of white poverty, that we recognize drugs and gangs and ramshackle existences aren't just a black thing. Maybe that part of America is ignored because, for most of us, it's more frightening when it's all that much closer to home.
The Roger Alan Wade song is from All Likkered Up. Public Enemy's is from Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black. Both can be found on iTunes or Amazon.com's mp3 site.