The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Some U.S. towns get called ‘shitholes,’ too. It’s not racist.

President Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 10.
President Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 10. (Evan Vucci/AP)
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HILLSBORO, Ohio — If I had realized, over the years, that when people referred to places I have lived as "shitholes" they were being not only rude but racist, I could have been even more offended.

Indeed, that particular description has been used so often to refer to parts of southern Ohio and most of West Virginia that residents practically wear it as a badge of honor. Many West Virginians take particular delight in the fact that their state has a northern panhandle that serves as a symbolic middle finger to the rest of the nation. This unique shape suffices as their standing response to the insults that regularly come their way.

But thanks to media coverage of President Trump's alleged use of the word, they will from now on be aware that being called a "shithole" place to live is a racist insult, which will be a little confusing to the overwhelmingly white population. No matter, because Trump's haters never lack the ingenuity necessary to define his every utterance as a racist rant.

In local news, Patricia Burns recently became the new treasurer in our little city, noteworthy because — while African Americans have been elected to the city council over the years — Burns is the first African American woman elected to citywide office here. She won in November against a white female candidate.

Of such apparent significance was this event that her swearing-in drew television coverage from the Cincinnati market, whose reporters typically venture this far from the metro area only for the occasional murder or tornado. Like many in the media, they could not resist the hook of an African American woman elected in "Trump Country."

For local voters, it wasn't that big a deal. Burns and her family have been well-known and respected here for decades. Her late husband was a youth sports coach, and her grandmother was one of the "marching mothers" who fought for school desegregation here in the 1950s. She is an associate pastor at a local church and has been involved in many civic organizations.

If politicians focused on issues important to black women, everyone would benefit, including President Trump's base, says Global Opinions Editor Karen Attiah. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

People here appreciate that her election represents a "first," but few were surprised that she won. To local residents, white or black, she's just Patty Burns, a lovely, community-minded lady who lives and works in Hillsboro and who will be a good city treasurer. Yet, it was considered astounding to outside media that the same basic voter pool that supported white Republican male Donald Trump for president voted for the black Democratic female Patricia Burns for city treasurer.

Despite such evidence here and everywhere, the narrative that Trump and his voters are racists is too effective to abandon and oh-so-eagerly embraced by the media, with insults to be identified and offenses to be dissected hour by hour, day by day.

Most people who live in rural shitholes, as defined by others, have long wondered when the rest of the world became so thin-skinned. The old "sticks and stones" adage, which reminds us that words can never hurt us, is probably unfamiliar to newer generations raised on media exposure to the professionally offended.

After Trump's alleged "shitholes" comment ("alleged" because a couple of people in the meeting deny he said it or don't recall; others who were there say he did, and he probably did), the African Union demanded "a retraction of the comment as well as an apology, not only to the Africans but all people of African descent around the globe." The African Union could have said, "Who cares what Trump said?" and went about its business.

I am reminded of a minor dust-up eight years ago when National Basketball Association player Joakim Noah caught flak from Clevelanders over disparaging remarks he made after having to spend an off day in their city. He added insult to injury when he reacted to criticism of his put-downs by saying; "I've never heard anybody say, 'I'm going to Cleveland on vacation.' What's so good about Cleveland?"

Likewise, it's doubtful that Haiti's tourism bureau is particularly overwhelmed, which is no reflection on its people. Other presidents have likely made similar comments in private about one nation or another, or even parts of these United States. They avoided the misfortune of having Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) around to tattle about it.

In 2006, Mormon elder and author David Bednar said, "To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else." That sentiment was outdated then and has become obsolete today in a world where every news cycle pours fresh fuel on the eternal flames of the outraged and offended.

Read more on this topic:

Jennifer Rubin: Two senators do backflips to protect a racist president

Jonathan Capehart: After Trump's 'shithole' obscenity, my president doesn't exist

Jonathan M. Katz: This is how ignorant you have to be to call Haiti a 'shithole'

Eugene Robinson: Trump has no idea what he thinks (except about those 'shithole' countries)

Christine Emba: On 'shitholes': When it comes to Trump's values, something surely smells

James Downie: Now can we call the president a white supremacist?