By Charles Carney
While reading an article in the Hillsboro, KS, newspaper, I saw the subject of the piece casually use the word bum. As a person who is wandering down the road, subject to wind, heat, rain, and semi-truck drafts—also carrying signs that say “Save the Humans” or “Beans Not Bombs”—I am sure many passersby judge me as a “bum.” (Many others may believe I struggle with some level of insanity—and they may be right!) Being out here on the road puts me in a bit of a vulnerable position, relying on the kindness of strangers, and perhaps feeling a tinge of marginalization. (I won’t get carried away here, though, as I still carry my white male privilege with me. One only has to note that three encounters with the Highway Patrol have ended on a friendly note. No so much so, I fear, for a black man in my same spot in Dickinson County.)
Anyway, I feel more strongly than ever that, along with terms like drunk, loser, and down and outer, it is high time we retire the derogatory word bum from our vocabulary forever. Unless you’ve walked a mile in my size 12 New Balances … or something like that. The term bum carries all kinds of shameful assumptions and stigma. “You are not carrying your weight, you are lazy, you are just taking up space.” Come on, people, you think people like going through life in this position? You don’t think people haven’t tried hundreds of times to make it in the “normal” world? (These are rhetorical questions, by the way, and not directed at the reader specifically.)
I’ve spent half of my working life tending to these “knights of the road.” People need to understand the abandonment, the abuse of all kinds, the hatred, and the utter trauma that people have gone through. Were you the first to find your mother, at 5 years old, after she’d hanged herself to death? Did your police officer father, in a drunken rage, wake you up from a dead sleep so he could beat you with a stick?
Let’s redirect the money we spend on weapons of war to instead give a little more mercy, compassion, and opportunity. Human Care, Not Warfare!