CommunityPam's House Blend

A wingnut Tar Heel's definition of a redneck and southern politics

I was getting my feet muddied over in Freeperville and came across a link to an interesting column by a Judson Cox on a site called TruthNews. According to his bio he is a “political columnist from the mountains of North Carolina. He is quickly gaining recognition as one of the most popular and influential voices of his generation. As a college student, and a young entrepreneur, he has a unique perspective on matters of politics, economics and culture.”

Well alrighty then.

Anyway, his commentary is entitled “Bill Clinton Is No Redneck.” The essay isn’t particularly riveting in terms of BC (his argument is that no, Bill’s not a redneck he’s white trash — whatever). Since Judson Cox proudly declares himself a redneck, I was more taken by his particular definition of this cultural “state of mind”; House Blend readers might find this worthy of chewing on.

I caution you to remember that he’s describing the southern varient of redneck. I am sure you all can weigh in with your descriptions of regional forms of the species…Judson says:

A redneck is a rural, low land southerner – in other parts of the country, we are called hillbillies, cowboys, bumpkins, hicks or just country. Rednecks are traditional Americans, who work hard to support their families, and go to church on Sunday. Rednecks volunteer as Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, firemen and anything else their community needs. Rednecks usually drive pickup trucks, and they spend a lot more time than they would like using those trucks to haul things for neighbors, but they never complain, decline or accept payment. Rednecks pay their own way and spend their hard earned money on clothes, insurance, food and education for their kids – rednecks won’t take charity or welfare.

Rednecks mow their own lawns and work on their own vehicles and they have every manner of tool imaginable (which they keep in a shed that they built themselves). Rednecks don’t spend their leisure time protesting, or at fancy cocktail parties, criticizing President Bush’s grammar — they hunt, fish and enjoy sports with their friends and families. Rednecks usually wear work boots or cowboy boots, but at some point in their lives most rednecks owned a pair of combat boots, when they risked their lives to give the “pampered” the privilege of criticizing our “cowboy” president. Rednecks show respect for veterans, say the Pledge of Allegiance with the words, “Under God”, and stand when the national anthem is played. Rednecks may not have the best education, but they know what matters: faith, family, patriotism, self sacrifice, and a strong work ethic. A redneck may not have much money, but he knows what is truly valuable. If you threaten a redneck, his family, his friends or his country, he will not back down, surrender or appease.

I am a native Tar Heel as well, and somehow I think Judson Cox left out a few items about rednecks in his profile. Here are a few additions based on my encounters outside of the progressive bubble of the Triangle area.

These are not made up:

* on many pickups you will see a “Piss on ___” sticker (fill in the blank with Ford, Dodge or Chevy)

* the truck he mentions they work on is usually in the front yard, and there are multiple non-operational vehicles in the yard in many cases

* if it’s a redneck car not a truck, it likely has the sign of the fish and a bumper sticker about gun ownership on it

* stars and bars stickers accompany W04 ones

* at stop lights, you may see a truck door open and the driver spitting out tobacco juice.

* if you’re in the mountains of NC, you can find souvenir shops where they sell T-shirts with burning crosses on them. (The one I went into, in Maggie Valley, NC, said “You have your X (as in Malcolm X) and we have ours (burning cross). Needless to say, I got out of there fast.

Kate’s experiences in Alabama

* she said there was a legendary sign at the entrance to a town in Cullman, AL that said (entirely too recently), “Welcome to Cullman”, and as a subhead it said: “Nigger, don’t let the sun set behind your back.” That was clearly redneck handiwork.

* in the same town, she and her friends formed a circle around a black man that was about to get the crap beat out of him by drunken rednecks.

* In Birmingham she’s seen rednecks driving cars down the street with air horns that blare “Dixie” — they don’t think it offends anyone.

All that said, there are many, many native southerners who don’t fit the above descriptions, and the main reason that they don’t is they have been exposed to people of different backgrounds, grown up in an environment of tolerance and learned not to fear the differences in people. The upheaval of the civil rights movement has produced many more open-minded southerners, and the influx of Yankees since then (for the weather and high-tech jobs), further expanded the New South culture. Bagels and barbecue co-exist in harmony in the Blue parts of the state. Outside those bubbles, as I said above, you can easily enter the not too distant past of double takes and long stares if you’re where “you’re not supposed to be” and are the wrong color, or visibly queer. Those places resent the Yankee influence and are resistant to change.

An interesting post on the blog Facing South talks about the two schools of thought about how the Dems should approach the South. One is basically “F*ck the South,” ceding it to the bigots and religious wingnuts, and the other is “stay in the South, but move to the right” — the Centrist/DNC approach. It’s what got Easley and Edwards elected, and that’s good and bad — it’s compromise that has endangered progress on gay rights, for instance (Easley backs a marriage amendment). Many elected Dems in the State House are conservative, some signing on to the marriage amendment. For progressives, they are Repug-lite. [A look at NC legislators to look out for is in the Independent Weekly article, 10 to watch.]

The fact that openly gay Julia Boseman was elected to the state senate is a minor miracle — that’s partially due to her opponent’s idiotic homophobic wingnuttery undoing him. He didn’t conduct himself in a civil manner — and that is relevant in southern politics.

My question is why do the Dems feel the need to cater to the closed-mind band of rednecks? They are here, but it’s not clear to me that they anyone needs to win them over, or that they are the majority. What I can tell you is that there is zero chance anything will ever change about national electoral politics if the Dems abandon the South altogether. It leaves only the grass roots to fight the good fight in the progressive sphere, and that’s not healthy.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding