Thursday, 12 May 2016

A touch of redneck not so bad

I recently discovered that I’m a borderline redneck, not well insulated from mainstream culture.

I found that out by taking a survey at pbs.org, the American broadcaster, based on a book by American political scientist and author Charles Murray, trying to get a handle on mainstream white American culture. Some are suggesting it’s helpful in explaining the rise of Donald Trump.

The survey is easily translatable into a Canadian setting and in doing so I found out some surprising things.

I found out that like many of those in white mainstream culture, I’ve worked on a factory floor, I watch TV and drive a truck. I fish occasionally. I don’t drink beer, however, and I rarely go out to chain restaurants to eat.

My score was 65 out of 100. That makes me, in Murray’s explanation, “a first generation middle class person with working class parents and average TV and movie watching habits.”

That’s odd, because both my parents had university degrees, as did my grandparents. My father, as a minister, occupied a position of privilege in the community. At the same time, I have worked on a shop floor to put myself through university. I’ve worked hard enough that my whole body ached at the end of the day. Repeatedly. . I’ve cleaned urinals and feces-filled toilets. I have unloaded rail cars so filthy with charcoal dust, with no mask provided, that black tears came out of my eyes at night, staining my pillow.

Perhaps it was my early ministry days that affected me. I have picked potatoes in cold, foggy New Brunswick fields. I’ve sat around kitchen tables with the teakettle bubbling away on the wood stove, listening to heartbreaking stories. I’ve ridden in a log hauling semi, having important pastoral conversations over coffee in the truck cab while taking a quick break from loading or unloading.

Maybe it was the people who came through my office door with one story or another, most of which were fictitious, but who appreciated whatever I could offer. Which, sometimes, wasn’t much.

The point is that there is a huge amount of insulation between levels of society in white, mainstream culture. And that insulation prevents a sensitivity to the other person in our community.

We like to think we are different, as Canadians. But this survey showed me that while there may be culturally different specifics, they aren’t as significant as we think.

I learned something about myself in this survey. I’m more rural and a bit more redneck than I imagined and by golly, I don’t live in a bubble. For a pastor, even a retired one, that’s a good thing. But even if I could, I would never, ever vote for Donald Trump.

Rev. David Shearman is a retired United Church minister in Owen Sound and the host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.