on diversity and trailer parks.
Growing up in a trailer park teaches you a lot of things you probably wouldn’t learn anywhere else — how to untangle yourself from a bully so you can sneak a rabbit punch in on his throat, for example, or how to make nice with the older guy that runs the corner store so you can occasionally open a tab on candy and cigarettes. You learn weird little staggered gaits so you can avoid the forest of outstretched legs trying to trip you on the way to the back of the overcrowded bus. You learn what words like “Xanax” and “Percocet” and “cocaine” mean well before you ever actually lay eyes on the stuff.
Even folks who’ve never set foot in a poor community know this, because they watch television. It’s in every stereotypical trailer park in the media, usually alongside the unfortunately-dressed white hicks we seem to think have a monopoly on these places.
That last part is what sticks in my craw, really. I grew up in a trailer park where, when things were alright and you and the other kids dragged the basketball hoop out to the road for a 3-on-3, there were black bodies and brown bodies and white bodies all in the sticky summer heat, playing together. I grew up around the occasional community pool party, and I had the same experience — people of all shades splashing around the one pool one person was lucky enough to have, and as far as I could tell, they were just people.
It was the same with boys and girls, too, and sexualities of all stripes; we were united in our poverty, friends and associates by way of necessity (the necessity being that richer kids with better clothes didn’t want to be seen with us.) I never learned to think of women as “the weaker sex,” or really, as much different from men. Race didn’t matter, sex didn’t matter. Sexuality only started to matter in the addled fog of puberty, and even then I remained confused for most of my teenage years. People were just people, and were treated like people.
Except, of course, that race does matter, and sex does matter, and sexuality does matter. In my little social circle of kids and pool parties, it didn’t, but in the society around me, these things have served and continue to serve as excuses to treat people as…not people.
I think about that, sometimes, when I get involved in the national conversation about race we’re currently having, or the national conversation about women’s rights, or the national conversation about gay rights, for that matter. I think about the fact that when people present these bigoted viewpoints on women or people of color, painting them with these broad brushes as “inferior” or “criminal,” I feel as though I’ve just heard someone insist the sky is consistently a bright green color — because it seems irrational. The black kids and brown kids and white kids and boys and girls and gay people and straight people in my neighborhood all acted alike. There wasn’t any such thing as “inherently weaker,” because the girls got in fights with the boys all the time and won. There wasn’t any such thing as “inherently criminal,” because sometimes the word “poor” became synonymous with the word “desperate” and you did what you had to do.
That’s what I keep coming back to — growing up in a diverse neighborhood, around a range of different skin colors and genders and sexualities meant that I never learned to make the strange association between a person’s value and their attributes. (That’s not to say I don’t have subconscious biases somewhere in my behavior. I’m never sure.) That’s what diversity teaches people: that everyone, in the end, is people and deserve to be treated as such. That’s why diversity is important — being around different people teaches you that while we aren’t all the same, we are of equal value, and deserve equal rights and equal kindness.
Out of all the lessons I learned in that trailer park, I think that’s the one I value the most.