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?