Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Trash


This image does not come from a post-Katrina Gulf-scape. No, it is instead a shot from the annual "spring cleaning" event on the North Shore.

Residents clean house and put their unwanted goods — especially large items that the garbage men might not take — on the street. Then huge numbers of people, driving ancient cars and flatbed trucks that you would never see at any other time of year in these parts troll the streets for goods. One man's trash is another man's treasure, the saying goes, and the interlopers are either treasure seekers or garbage pickers, depending on who you talk to.

Some of my neighbors love this event. One told me that it was "the best kind of recycling" since the goods people leave out at the curbside are often used by other people. Then "why not donate those goods to a children's hospital or the Purple Hearts veterans?" another neighbor countered. "Those groups are always looking for donations."

According to the Village, the stated rationale of this activity is "to reduce fire hazards in the home." But part of what's on display in this spectacle is the enormous disparity between the roaming trucks and the everyday residents. It's not just their cars that look different. Every other marker of social class we've discussed in class is also on display here: clothing, noise, mannerisms, wealth, and race. 

The class disparity seems heightened to me these days given the recent and highly contentious debate over affordable housing in Winnetka. Winnetka appears to open its doors — or its curbs! — to outsiders for one week each year. Do you see a connection between the "spring cleaning"/trash removal and the housing issue? Are the issues contradictory? How do you reconcile them?

6 comments:

Rayna K said...

I think there is a definite connection between Winnetka's spring cleaning and the affordable housing issue. It appears to me that while Winnetka natives are willing to open their curbsides to people in less affluent areas who want their leftovers for lack of a better term. The residents are not wanting this class type living in their town. I believe that Winnetka natives think of spring cleaning week more as a fun tradition than an actual effective way to donate their unwanted belongings. Like you said, a children's hospital would benefit much more than an average person picking up an old table in a truck. I think that while some may justify this week as the "best kind of recycling", they actually just want to keep a town tradition alive. And, once the week is over, they don't want a lower class type in their neighborhood. Hence, the push back on the affordable housing act in Winnetka. So while spring cleaning week does open Winnetka up to all types of visitors, I believe its residents are only going to accept them in this very week.

David Y. said...

Yes, I see a connection between the two issues. These people, people who "[drive] ancient cars and flatbed trucks", are lower class people and are essentially unrepresented in the demographic of Winnetka. The lack of affordable housing further ensures that this is true.
If you wanted to reconcile these issues, you would have to allow for more affordable housing. Then people who don't look stereotypically wealthy might be a more common sight on the streets of Winnetka. But, the citizens of Winnetka do not want lower class people in the neighborhood, so I think these issues are irreconcilable. The Tribune article you cited quotes Carry Buck, chairman of WHOA (Winnetka Home Owners Association), who said quite dismissively, "There is plenty of affordable housing in neighboring communities". Clearly Carry doesn't want lower class people in her town. I think that might be one reason people choose to come live in Winnetka in the first place: they might not want to live near lower class people. Winnetka is a "nice" neighborhood with "nice" people. If lower class people moved in, it might not be "nice" anymore.

Clare R said...

I think that Winnetka opens the gates to people from less affluent neighborhoods for a week because it is ONLY a week and they can go back to the way they are living. Implementing more affordable housing would be something permanent that they would always have to deal with and I think many are reluctant to change because they like the way their town looks both aesthetically and in terms of the population as well.

I additionally see a bit of lateral classism beause people might only be putting their trash on the curb for others to come take because they see their neighbors doing this. They may just want to fit in and continue to be in competition with their neighbors, and thus we have streets lined with trash.

Ellie L said...

I agree with what Clare said about "lateral classism"- and I did not think about that before. Perhaps people in the North Shore feel obligated to put out some trash during this week. Additionally, I wonder what would happen if affordable housing was implemented in a place like Winnetka. When talking about this in class, I asked Mr. Bolos the question: Where would these "new people" go to shop? I wasn't trying to be rude or "snooty"; I am actually curious as to how Winnetka would change and function if there was more of a difference in income among the residents.

Michael K said...

I definitely see a connection between the trash removal and the housing issue. I believe that the "spring cleaning" does not help the possibility of affordable housing in Winnetka in the near future. The only reason Winnetka opens its doors during the "spring cleaning" to outsiders is because it's only a week-long event. However, since Winnetka is an area encompassed by a giant bubble, I believe during this week many Winnetka residents experience the "clothing, noise, mannerisms, wealth, and race" of the lower-class for the first time, which makes them form preconceptions of all people of the lower-class.

I'm also very interested in the title of this post. I know that "white trash" commonly refers to lower-class people of the South, and I'm sure many of the people that participate in picking up goods during the "spring cleaning" are people who live South of Winnetka in lower-class neighborhoods.

Tong W. said...

"Spring cleaning" and the housing issue go hand-in-hand because in Winnetka, there really isn't any lower-class housing market which may be indicated by the objects thrown out. The saying mentioned by Doc Oc, "One Man's trash is another man's treasure" is spot on regarding "spring cleaning" because those items thrown out during "spring cleaning" often times benefit those of lower-class however they do not benefit those in Winnetka which is why they are being thrown out in the first place. This mindset could be related to housing because Winnetkians may not see lower-income housing as something that benefits them. It is almost as if Winnetka is a "clique" and those who are not similar in status are unwelcomed. This obviously is not blantantly stated however by the outlash when lower-income housing was proposed, it can be inferred that Winnetka does not approve of it.