Redneck: What's in a Word?

Some responses to “Night of the Living Redneck.” CounterPunch. Dec. 1, 2007.–gm

“Are you a hypocrite or a racist?” asks a reader. “You throw around the racist slur ‘redneck.’ Do you also use [here he mentions some terms that I do consider to be racist in print]?”

Another email provides a link to an interesting and informative website dedicated to “resisting defamation” of European Americans. See resistingdefamation.org where “redneck” is defined as a slur:

redneck (a showing of contempt for rural dwelling mechanics, farmers, merchants, and farm workers, especially by urban dwellers)

The website offers food for thought, and I asked the writer of the email if he listens to very much country music. I am reflecting back on those smoky nights at the Dixie Chicken when we drank longnecks by the tableful and sang “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” I am thinking about the George Jones song, “Hi Tech Redneck.” And let’s not forget Alan Jackson’s “It’s Alright To Be A Redneck.” Oh, and down there closer to my spinal cord is a lyric from the original “longhaired redneck” David Allen Coe.

So I’m going to think a little bit more about what Redneck means to me when I write it. Am I, “expressing [my] claim to supremacy to those so named as well as to smother the diversity of those so-named into one little label”? I have to think about that.

As the first approximation to what is admittedly a slightly defensive response, let me suggest that in my article below, “redneck language” is presented as a crossroads between what is “dead” and what is “proper” or “authentic”. What remains possible in the article is an “authentic” redneck language that begins by giving the answer to the closing question. That answer would lead “redneck language” away from from the “dead and buried” kind of language that nobody really needs explained to them very much anymore.

Of course, none of this was very carefully considered prior to publishing the article. Redneck is a term that I have learned to play with, thanks to Coe, Hubbard, Jackson, and Jones, and none of us attempts any supremacy, I don’t think. Although it’s not like we are ever intending to accept “redneck” exactly as we find it.

i don’t have permission to identify the author of the following email, but I wish I did:

OK.

I know … some people don’t get it … how a redneck can also be a leftie.
Easy. Go to war and be assigned the grizzly task of burying the bodies
of the Vietnamese dead. And finding certain duties and assignments very
disturbing, such as pushing bodies into mass graves. The bodies would
fall apart, the smell was unforgettable.

I still have vicious
flashbacks. The bodies were treated with absolute disrespect: picking up
these same people we just killed–pick up their bodies and search them
for intelligence information. That was kind of hard, handling dead
bodies which were significantly decayed and often ‘oozing goop’ onto the
ground. And still, I did my job.

Or, go to war and be assigned the grizzly task of bagging the bodies of
the American dead. And finding certain duties and assignments very
disturbing, such as pushing various body parts into the closest bag and
making sure there weren’t any dog tags in the slop of what used to be a
soldier. The bodies would fall apart, the smell was unforgettable.

I
still have vicious flashbacks. The bodies were treated with absolute
disrespect: picking up these same people we just killed — friendly fire
— pick up their bodies and search them for intelligence information.
That was kind of hard, handling dead bodies which were significantly
decayed and often ‘oozing goop’ onto the ground. And still, I did my job.
That was 40 years ago … and I turned left with a vengeance. Protective
coloration is the only thing that has kept me out of prison, off the
streets as homeless. That plus a mean streak that causes me to focus on
surviving just to spite the money whores.

The problem is that most rednecks have been lied to so much they have
trouble keeping their heads on straight. It ain’t because we’re dumb …
it has to do with the fact that the people we trust are so busy twisting
us around we haven’t figured it out yet. When we do? I suspect the
French Revolution will look like child’s play … especially once your
average redneck admits there ain’t no gawd and the bastards in charge
need a little beheading for all the lies they’ve told.

Anyways, thanks, I reckon.

In fact, I do understand how rednecks can be lefties. After all, I have lived among them for decades, and why else would I think that a crossroads is possible? Speaking to the violence in the letter above, I certainly worry about what will simmer to the top of the pot if the legislative leadership of this state continues to turn up the heat of conflict between peoples.

Which brings us back to the Resisting Defamation web site. Under the Glossary section, you can find a definition for “Ordinary European Americans”:

These are the European Americans who are called upon to die in other peoples’ wars, and dishonored while at war and on return home in many ways by our government and society. More on these points here, here, here, here, and here.

I highly recommend that you go to the website, find the definition and click on the links. Not only is a crossroads possible, it is surely necessary.

PS From the Redneck Leftie: I suppose you can post it, anonymously would be best … like I said, protective coloration and all that.

Besides, there is more to the story … and no, you can’t hear/read it. Though maybe one day.
I live in New Mexico … in one of those down at the heel oil towns where the only hope is in the fall when we put our kids up to distract us from the grinding daily shit of our lives by watching them play football. Where the town spends most of its time either talking about this season or in hibernation waiting for next fall … and some still
talk about when they played football. Pity the poor chump who only sires daughters … there is no glory in that.

You can print this … just leave my name off.

PPS: New Mexico? Isn’t that where Ray Wylie Hubbard wrote Redneck Mother right after having his ass kicked at a beer joint?–gm

Notes for further reading:

Redneck Rock by Jan Reid (University of Texas Press)

Redneck Joke of the Day at Jeff Foxworthy dot com

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