“Upward mobility”. It’s a phrase that’s as American as baseball, apple pie, and ousting the democratically elected heads of state of various foreign countries. From childhood, we’re told anyone can grow up to be President of the United States—or work their way out of poverty and join the Rich and Famous. The United States, we’re told, overcame the rigid class structures of Europe and became the first truly classless society. There’s only one problem.
It’s a lie.
In this excellently researched, if someone unnecessarily repetitive, exploration of the role of class in US society, Ms. Isenberg exposes the myth that “all men are created equal”, at least in the eyes of the moneyed and powerful who launched it 400 years ago. By dangling the carrot of upward mobility in front of the working class and the poor, the power brokers have maintained their control and exploited it to the fullest.
Although it’s no longer politically correct to say so, and for good reason, the first slaves in the northern reaches of the New World settled by British noblemen were White. They were the poor and the criminal, scooped up and shoved onto ships to be sold as indentured servants kept hard at work with the promise they would eventually work off the cost of passage they never asked for to begin with. They were replaced by the institution of African slavery, in no small part because poor White people couldn’t be as easily controlled as terrified Black people torn from their native homes and thrust into a totally alien world.
Redneck. Cracker. Hillbilly. There have been any number of similar slurs—and make no mistake, that’s what they are—applied to poor White trash in the last four centuries. Like those applied to Blacks, or on the basis of ethnic origin, the labels are meant to differentiate between those too lazy, worthless, and morally corrupt to be socially acceptable and “good people.” That the “good people” are almost always at least reasonably wealthy, college-educated, and White says all that needs to be said.
It’s also how those “good people” have made racism a systemic disease. “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man,” said Lyndon B. Johnson, “he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”
More to the point of Ms. Isenberg’s book, you can also prevent him from realizing he has more in common with the people he’s been taught to hate and despise than he does those doing the teaching. Over and over, she recounts how the American aristocracy has overtly and covertly manipulated class warfare into race warfare, setting two groups who have the most in common against each other.
There’s much more to this history of how the citizens of a highly stratified society were and continue to be convinced there are no strata than how the fairy tale was used to keep the lower ones in their place. However, it’s the history I found particularly interesting, because none of it was in the history books I read in school. That, by itself, is indicative of how we still have to deal with rabid racism and unconscionable levels of poverty in what those power brokers keeping most of us in our place love to call “the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth”.
White Trash is an easy-to-read journey into the depths of a myth, and one that in the current economic climate of gaping inequality should be taken by anyone who can’t understand how and why Donald Trump became President. Or why so many working-class people rejected the candidate the power brokers were certain would win. After all, she was one of the “good people”.
Essentially, White Trash exposes the reality that the “American dream” is and always was a fiction designed to keep the working class plugging away—a lottery on a few ever actually win. No matter who you voted for, or what your political persuasion, this is an important book that reveals the root of the why a crude-talking snake-oil salesman defeated the cultured rich woman her peers thought couldn’t lose. Rather than, as have other recent books on the subject, seeking to reinforce the false message the poor and the working class, who all too often are the same thing, are evil, uneducated, racist, misogynistic, homophobic idiots. You’ll understand once you’ve read it.
It’s a good thing I didn’t know this thriller was centered around a serial killer. I’m so burned out on serial-killer mysteries/thrillers/police procedurals I’ve begun avoiding them across the board. Fortunately, Ms. Hillier has done what I thought impossible—written a serial-killer novel that’s entirely original.
For 19 years, Georgina Shaw harbored a horrible secret—one drunken night in her junior year of high school she helped bury her murdered best friend. Then the dismembered body of Angela Wong is discovered in the woods near her home, and the man who killed Angela, Calvin James, is charged with the murder of three more people.The arresting officer is Kaiser Brody, her other best friend in high school, who loved her then and is forced to admit he still does.
Angela Wong was the poor little rich girl, beautiful and with the kind of charisma that led everyone to ignore her darker side. When her body is found and Geo’s part in her death is revealed, that darker side is erased; and Geo’s carefully constructed life of denial is over.
Geo is compelled to admit what she saw and did that night or spend the rest of her life in prison as an accessory; she is sentenced to five years. Calvin is convicted, but shortly afterwards escapes and disappears. Then, within days of Geo’s release the bodies of a woman and a toddler are found in almost the same spot where Angela was buried. And then another woman and child. Kaiser has no doubt Calvin is back. His partner, and erstwhile lover, isn’t as sure.
The title references a Mason jar of cinnamon hearts Calvin gave Geo. She disliked the candy, and he ended up eating them, emptying the jar the last time she saw him. The night he raped her.
It will seem to some I’ve just done what I swear never to do, which is write a review containing spoilers. You’d be wrong. If, however, you’re gotten a sense this is a story infinitely more complex than the standard fare, you win the prize.
Ms. Hillier has a new book coming out shortly, so I’m embarrassed I’m more than a year late posting this review of her first one. Which, per requirements, I’ll note I read as an advance review copy provided by the publisher. I swear I’ll try to be faster reviewing #2.
If my rating for this latest in the Amos Decker series seems a bit bipolar, it’s that my reasons for not enjoying it as much as its predecessors has nothing to do with the actual quality of the story and everything to do with politics.
I’ve noticed an annoying trend in thriller fiction I can’t mention in detail without it being a spoiler. Mr. Baldacci handles it with a bit more finesse than some, but the result, for me, still came off more like propaganda than good fiction. Other readers and fans of Mr. Baldacci and Amos won’t be bothered by it at all, and the overall plot is both an excellent mystery and a superb voyage into the protagonist’s history and its effect on his character. As the acronym says: YMMV.
I’m partial to this series because watching Amos Decker deal with his condition—which reminds me again our language lacks a decent word to describe those for whom a disability is also their best asset—and how Mr. Baldacci develops him is always a pleasure. Walking the fine line between empathy and sympathy is hard, but Mr. Baldacci manages it with skill. In this book, Amos returns home and interacts with those who were once his friends, enemies, and colleagues, in the process coming to grips with the tragedy that, despite everything, remains the center of his life.
So, yes, if you’re an Amos Decker/David Baldacci fan, you’ll definitely want to read this new installment. If you haven’t met Amos, I recommend reading the other four books first, beginning with the introductory Memory Man, for the simple reason that watching him emerge from his chrysalis of despair step by step is part of what makes this series unique.
I read an op-ed this morning in which the author said that despite the bumps in the road we’re currently experiencing, our federal democracy is nevertheless working as intended.
Sorry, but anyone who thinks government in the US is “working as intended” isn’t paying attention. If it were, one individual Senator would not be able to block every single bill his party objects to that was approved by the House from even reaching the Senate floor for discussion. If it were, Congress would not have, over the last three decades, handed more and more of its responsibility over to the Executive such that we now have a president with the ability to rule like an autocrat.
The author began by noting that being politically involved in the governing of our localities, states, and the federal government is a never-ending task. On that, we agree. There is no moment where the majority can sit back, prop its collective feet up, and assume everything will go on as desired. That is, in fact, the reason we now live in an oligarchy. As long as everyone was doing okay, being willing over-consumers, they had no desire to dip into the messy realm of politics, so they simply voted for whomever their party of choice put on offer. Those who weren’t doing okay gave up any hope of being heard, since they were told over and over it was their own fault they weren’t doing better. I’m the first to confess I wasn’t paying nearly enough attention for way too long.
Now, though, I am paying attention. I know that team-player mindset that afflicts the voting public isn’t an accident but something that has been carefully designed and nurtured to maintain status quo. That public education has been corrupted from a means by which people become informed and able to apply critical thinking skills to a system for churning out “employable consumers”. That the media supposed to ensure we know all that’s necessary to make informed choices is instead a megaphone for the narrative approved by those in power.
In other words, rather than a byproduct, the condition of the people you’re talking about is a feature, not a bug. Those in power consider the rest of us stupid and easily manipulated, and have been acting on that belief for at least the last 40 years and probably longer. It worked well, until a few people woke from their stupor and began asking questions.
We’re awake now. And we’re watching. And talking to each other. We know now how our small differences have been deliberately exaggerated to keep us divided when the problems we share are larger and more numerous. We’re shaking off the idea we can’t change anything, discovering as we do that the reason we thought that is we’ve been told it so often we came to believe it—Propaganda 101.
There will always be those who think the most complex issues can be rendered down to either/or, right/wrong, win/lose. Those people can be weaponized by the oligarchs to try silencing the voices of those who understand life and people are more complex than a game where all that matters is whose team wins. Like Martin Luther, we say “Here I stand, I can do no other”, and like Martin Luther King Jr., we believe “A man dies when he does not stand up for what is right.”
If it takes a Second American Revolution, so be it.
Which it does. Always. Without exception. Any time the opportunity to discuss sexual assault, and our culture that vocally condemns it while refusing to do anything to mitigate it, arises. Instead, the conversation invariably diverges from the real root of the problem — power and the privilege it gives — to sex. Don’t take my word for it. Take the time to review the matter and watch it happen.
The real cause of sexual assault and rape culture is simply this: a society that encourages anyone with a degree of power to view anyone not of their own power level as personal property.
The basis of this goes bone deep, and is ingrained from childhood by child-rearing methods that allow parents to not only dictate how their children are to behave but still, in what is supposed to be a civilized society, allows them to beat their children when they don’t. Despite our much-vaunted insistence on our having a “moral compass,” that compass seems to be too easily deflected by a concept of individuality that has become what can only be described as a religion.
As a result, the next generation, barring enlightenment, has absorbed the idea that anyone in a superior position of authority is entitled to treat those of lesser authority as objects.
There are even bodies of law to protect a parent’s right to do to their child what any other adult would be arrested and jailed for. It echoes the idea that one can do as one likes with one’s property.
How often do you hear of an upper-middle class family having their children removed because of abuse? Could that be because our body of law is written to mainly protect the property of those with the wherewithal to own property? Or are we to believe that only poor people are lousy parents?
Well, yes, based on observation, we are supposed to believe only poor people are lousy parents, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The misdeeds of children of privilege—and by that I do not mean the advantages of being White, which is a rant for another time—make it into the media every now and then, lest they be accused of class bias. Incidents of abuse among the lower classes, though, are regularly reported, and the first response by the system always seems to be removing the children from their home.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe any child in a dangerous situation needs protection. However, there seems to be no distinction made between situations where the danger arises from a complete lack of support for the parent(s) and those where the parents are themselves the danger. In the former instance, one might suggest the children are being treated not as people with feelings but objects—property—that can be shifted from one shelf to another with no regard for how that might impact them.
Even cursory research shows that most abusive situations, regardless of income level, have one big thing in common: they result when parents view children as they would a pet, i.e., property. That is, they see child-rearing not as encouraging their children, as small people, to become individuals but rather as training them to obey and conform to whatever the familial boundaries are.
There’s an active movement to bring back the concept of “free-range” child-rearing. That is, of allowing children to explore their world and interact in ways that kids used to do as the natural order of things. It’s in opposition to several fairly recent developments, the two most insidious of which are the ideas that the world is a dangerous place, and that unsupervised children are being neglected by their parents. “Helicopter parents” are a subject of scorn, yet our entire culture not just encourages but even demands that kind of constant, hovering supervision.
Human beings don’t handle constant supervision well. It’s dehumanizing, because it implies we aren’t intelligent creatures capable of making decisions and grasping the meaning of the results. It suggests that, absent that watchful eye, we might behave in some manner outside the subscribed boundaries. Might I suggest the operative term for that is “slavery”? And slaves are—wait for it—property.
So, having seemed to wander a bit from the original topic, I will wander back. Observe the various reports of sexual assault since the rise of the #metoo movement. At least, observe them up to the point where the discussion diverges from the point where all the unrepentant perpetrators are clearly people in positions where they manipulated the lives of others on a daily basis.
Now consider that most cultures train us to admire those in power. How many times have you heard that we should respect X because he or she occupies some such position of power? Respect the boss, or lose your job. Respect your parents, because they’re your parents. Even if they’re toxic or even brutal, we’re told they deserve some respect because of the label they wear and the position they occupy in the system.
That’s why the reporting process is such anathema to many victims of sexual assault. It’s constructed such that whether one is believed depends on what level of the power structure one occupies. Add in the dynamic that bad things only happen to bad people that permeates most cultures, and where is the incentive to tell the truth?
So, the victim decides to just let the incident go, because no one will listen anyway. Years pass. Personalities grow and change, for good or ill. An opportunity to finally report the incident arises, and the victim gathers courage and does. Only to be told that, by waiting so long, he or she can’t be believed because there’s no evidence. Which brings up another matter for consideration.
Might it be argued that the difficulty of providing decent evidence long after the fact is the reason why the system makes it so hard for victims to come forward? Those in charge know the longer they can prevent an accusation from being made, the less likely it can every be proved. In other words, again, victims aren’t people, just objects to be moved about to keep the status quo firmly in place.
So, they are property, this time of the so-called “justice” system. The victim becomes the only evidence, and evidence is sealed into bags and tucked into boxes to be set on shelves in storage rooms.
If we truly want to end rape culture, we have to stop allowing the Power People to change the subject, to prevent them from making sexual assault and harassment about sex and gender dynamics instead of the real root cause. And we need to stop allowing them to use it as a weapon in political conflicts before we reach a point where even highly qualified, ethical individuals are blocked from office solely on the basis of an allegation. Do we really want someone’s lifelong sexual history to become the most important criterion for their ability to perform an important public office?
That would be just another way those in power would be able to screw the rest of us over.
(The opinions expressed as A Piece of My Mind are my own, and should not be considered those of Zumaya Publications or its authors. They are also subject to change in light of new evidence. Should you wish to contest any of them, please do so like an intelligent human being using supported facts.)