Talking Trash

Let us now talk about the politically incorrect term "trash," as in white trash, black trash, brown trash, red trash and, for all I know, yellow trash.

What divides people is not their skin color, their race, their ethnic origin or their religion. What divides people is character — good or bad. One famous psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz said all people fit into one of two categories — decent or indecent.

And so I believe. My own experience is that you can find both types in any anthropological category you care to choose. The problem is that in our politically correct times, any criticism directed at any trash other than white trash will raise a hornet’s nest of name-calling and indignation. There are too many ethnic and religious lobbyists hair-trigger-ready to deflect any criticism of the particular group they claim, usually falsely, to represent.

To hear the politically correct people tell it, all blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asians and other foreigners, with the possible exception of Muslims, are of sterling character without fault, if not pure saints. Whites, of course, are considered by the PC types to be at the least suspect, if not outright racists and anti-Semites, as well as imperialistic exploiters of the oppressed.

To the PC types, I say, go stuff it. You have not only become a pain in the gluteus maximus, but your brand of race and religious and ethnic politics is a detriment to democracy and a threat to civil liberties. To those who leap to excuse their bad behavior because of their race or ethnicity, I say, grow up and take responsibility for your own individual life.

A lazy, rude, inconsiderate, unhygienic bum is a lazy, rude, inconsiderate, unhygienic bum, regardless of his race, religion or ethnic origin. A racist who hates all whites is exactly the same as a racist who hates all blacks. A Jew who hates Gentiles is the same as a Gentile who hates Jews. You would think that by now people would have figured out that life is too short to waste it hating categories, which are nothing more than intellectual abstractions.

All people come into this world as flesh-and-blood individuals. Simple justice requires that if we are to be judged at all, we should be judged by our own words and deeds, not on the basis of some half-baked abstraction floating around in somebody’s brain. Prejudice against groups is both fallacious and unjust, because no group is composed of identical individuals.

I believe every human being is entitled, as a gift of birth, to respect and dignity until he or she forfeits that right by his or her own bad behavior. No respect is due to those who don’t respect other people’s lives and property. No respect is due to those who shirk responsibility or try to live by exploiting other people.

True tolerance is recognition of individual differences and a refusal to make group judgments based on the acts of particular individuals. There are no perfect groups and no perfect people. We all, as individuals, have our own mix of strengths and weaknesses, of talents and proclivities. The only way America can work is if we remember that we are bound together not by blood or country of origin, but by common courtesy, mutual respect and a shared belief in individual liberty.

Simple courtesy no longer seems to be a high priority these days, but we would do well to remember that courtesy is the oil that allows a society to function. We would do better if we would look upon our neighbors as individuals, not as members of a group, and upon ourselves as individuals, not as members of a group. We would do better if we quit making excuses for bad behavior and rewarded good behavior.

The race and ethnic cards are dangerous cards to play. They can easily backfire and could create the kind of evil their proponents claim to be against.

Can we all get along? As individuals, yes. As groups pitted against groups, I seriously doubt it.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.