Thursday, April 09, 2009

Death of a white trash girl

Invisible people live in the places between, invisible people whose lives never are on the television, never in the newspaper, never heard, never seen. These are the places where prosperity long ago passed by without a wave, where people scrabble for sustenance through a series of part-time jobs and traveling long distances for work at low pay, places full of trailer parks and dead dreams and lies and despair. All invisible, until something bad happens, as invariably does.

She was a typical white trash girl in one of those places, just another invisible person, eight years old and 45 pounds, a small third grader by any measure at less than 5th percentile on the weight chart. But white trash girls are often small because of the poor diet and spending so much time outside during their younger years. The trailer park was in Tracy, CA, a Central Valley town filled by commuters to more prosperous areas to the west or north, a town where people go to live because they cannot afford anything closer to where they work, a bedroom community where few people have any connection to any others and there are no jobs, no future, no hope for the young white trash girls and boys born there into poverty. Indeed, the only thing unusual about this story is that the girl was part-Hispanic, and that is unusual only outside of California, not within it.

In the usual way of things, this girl would spend most of her pre-teen years outdoors playing with sticks and rocks and pestering boys, go to the terrible schools allotted to white trash girls and learn nothing of any substance, graduate, marry young to a similarly poorly-educated ignorant young husband who turns out to be abusive, have children, and swiftly lose her looks to the bad food and dead dreams that are the lot of white trash girls. And nobody outside of her immediate family and friends would notice, or care, as she lived her life of quiet desperation trying to make ends meet while dealing with a husband as likely to slap her as make love to her but it takes two incomes to pay the monthly lot fee for their falling down trailer house and pay for food and second-hand clothing for their children so they grudgingly live with each other, or they divorce and the husband lives away and things become even more desperate. And nobody notices, and nobody cares, and people wonder why these white trash girls and white trash boys have given up voting for Democrats, the same Democrats who sneer at them and ignore their plight. At least Republicans will destroy the rest of the country the way their own lives have been destroyed, goes the thinking of these white trash girls and white trash boys. Despair is funny, that way.

But such was not to be the lot in life for this eight year old white trash girl, whose body was found recently. That in and of itself is not unusual. The lives of white trash girls and white trash boys are viewed by society as disposable, as future cannon fodder for the military and future employees of chicken rendering plants, not as something of any value. Dead eight-year-old white trash girls are found all the time, electrocuted by the shoddy wiring of the run-down trailer houses that they live in, beaten to death by abusive fathers, run over by cars driven by drunk or high drivers as they play with sticks and rocks and broken dolls in the narrow streets between the tightly packed rows of trailers, or falling down abandoned wells or drowning in creeks or any of the myriad of other ways that white trash girls die every day. And nobody notices, and nobody cares.

Except this time, for some reason they did. Perhaps because of the horrible way in which Sandra Cantu was murdered. Or perhaps because of the photograph, which makes her look like a blond white girl instead of a dark-haired Hispanic girl and you know how the national media loves their Missing Blond White Girl stories. Or maybe it was the video. But for one small sad moment, we got a glimpse into the life of someone who otherwise would have been forever invisible.

And soon, that small sad moment will be gone, and nobody will remember, just as nobody remembers the names of any of those other dead white trash girls whose bodies are found every year by the dozen. We will learn the story, eventually. About how this tough young white trash girl struggled against her attacker (because white trash girls really are tough, it's necessary to survive the lives of abuse and neglect they endure). About how her attacker was a family friend or relative (almost always in these cases). And then everybody will move on to another missing white blond girl, and then... well. The invisible people will go back to being invisible again. And no one will notice, and no one will care.

-- Badtux the White Trash Penguin


  1. In California's central valley, poverty and people just making ends meet are the norm. There's less of a tendency to treat anyone as trash, because everyone's in nearly the same boat. Also, central valley towns are considered Safe (ignoring the drug problems there) and therefore This Kind Of Thing Shouldn't Happen There. Thus, a little girl whose story would capture media attention for a day or two in the San Francisco Bay Area is Big News.

    My husband pointed out last night that kids get shot to death on the street nearly every weekend in semi-nearby Oakland, yet they get just a passing mention in the news.

  2. Karen, a couple of things to consider:

    1. The media obsession with white blond girls. I doubt that any of the kids shot to death in Oakland were white blond girls. This is why it is important in understanding the media obsession with this case that most of the photos released were of Sandra with her bleached (lighter) hair, not with her natural dark hair, though the fact that her hair at the time of the kidnapping was still lighter probably was the reason the police did this.

    2. I think the story would have -- has had -- definite legs in the San Francisco Bay area, as long as it was a white blond girl and not a girl who was stereotypically Hispanic or black. Sad to say, racism is not dead.

    3. The missing part is important here. If Sandra had been beaten to death by her daddy, or run over by a meth-head in her trailer park, there would not be any outcry at all, just another dead white trash girl.

    It's interesting that the eyes of the rest of America temporarily turn upon white trash America in this specific case, but that'll change. There will be another photogenic missing white blond girl sooner or later... at which point, Sandra Cantu becomes just another invisible person, just another dead white trash girl to be forgotten.

    - Badtux the Sadly Cynical Penguin

  3. who cares about this girl anyway. I certainly don't. It is nice to think that I might, if only for a moment, shed some mental tear for her and her family as I sympathize with them. The truth is though, I don't care at all and neither does the majority of this country.

    So much suffering goes on in the world but nobody cares unless it either affects them, or is perceived as a threat that could affect them.

    Badtux is dead-on with the white-blonde comment because white mothers can identify with that. Even so, their attention can only be held for so long because there is no reinforcement of that image. Once you see that picture, that is the end of the connection and the feelings of sympathy quickly fade.

    Like the rest of the world, I could care less.

  4. I am not so sure about the world not caring Ask, if you feel any empathy at all, doesn't this infer that while we are unable to fix tragedies such as these, that we do care at least to a limited degree? I mean about white/blond kids, nobody seems to care about the rest, unless as you said, it affects them directly.

  5. Sad , so very sad . I have Grand Kids , both younger and older than this one and not living in much better areas . All I can hope is that " next time " someone will stand up . " Hey what are you doing ? " could be all it takes to save the next poor kid . A lot to hope for , I know , but what else can I do but change the world one person at a time ?
    a very sad w3ski

  6. Well said, and right on target. If some rich blond girl had disappeared at the same time, this girl would still be invisible.

  7. if she had been a rich blond white girl we would have had the next jon-benet.

    that would have made the tv folks very happy.

  8. Minstrel Boy is right. The tabloids still carry the torch for the perverse story of Jon Benet.

    Perhaps to blame also is Hannah Arendt's idea of the banality of evil. Abuse and killing happens daily. But if there a twist of the perverse to the story -- a disembodied head in a ravine, for instance, the story has staying power.

    We also enjoy certain societal constructs, like the ephemeral nature of beauty, embodied by a lovely young girl's death. But, the girl must fit the society's expectation of beauty.


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