At a recent Shabbat lunch, one of the other guests, Alef, was complaining about the offensive behavior of his youthful "white trash" neighbors. Nobody there but us Orthos, so it was OK to talk like that.
What are we to make of "white trash"? The most cynical explanation I can think of is that in Alef's opinion, blacks are trash by default and whites are not, so if whites are trash, you need to specify. I reject this explanation because I choose to. Another possibility is that Alef wanted to show his lack of racism--whether or not he actually lacks racism--by making it clear that the people he objected to were white. And since in most contexts it's unusual for us melanin-deficient people to say, "Well, this white person did whatever he or she did," he used "white trash."
Then one of the other guests, Beyt, who used to live near where Alef now lives, asked some questions about the family. Beyt recognized them as the people who moved into her old place. The mother in the family is the daughter of a respected Jewish professional, and she married a non-Jew.
Shock!, tohubohu!, foofaraw!, and balaganism! at the table. These kids are Jewish? These kids are Jewish! Vey'z mir!, gevalt!, shrek! Strong men weeping. Delicate ladies falling in vapours. Jewish people behaving obnoxiously? How can this be? And amid all the chaos, Alef was heard saying (and I'm not sure of the exact words--if I'd remembered my mp3 player, I would have recorded it), "Now that I know they're Jewish, I'm going to treat them better."
So now more questions arise. Had Alef been treating them abusively? If so, how would their not being Jewish have made that OK? Had Alef been reproving them appropriately? If so, why would he stop doing that because they're Jewish?
Another question, of course, is what a supposedly pious person--one who's into all this "image of God" stuff--is doing by calling anybody trash.
And if I'm sounding superior, that's unintentional, because my behavior at the table was unacceptable--I wimped out, didn't object to anything, sat on my mouth. As always.