How ironic that a black columnist at a major newspaper in New York today celebrated the historical significance of two black men, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, by using a racially loaded slur.
Yes, that’s right, “redneck” is a slur. Some folks in the 21st century, including myself, embrace it as a symbolic term of endearment for the hard-working everyman. But historically speaking, “redneck” is a stereotypical slur aimed unfairly at all white Southerners, and then some, for more than a century now.
Back in 1995, the academic journal Southern Cultures published a lengthy essay on the history of rednecks. I have a copy of that issue, and Stanley Crouch’s bigoted jab at rednecks via the New York Daily News sent me running to the bookshelves for it. (Crouch, incidentally, has a bad habit of using redneck as a synonym for racist.)
And here’s another theory on the etymology of “redneck” from the article:
The article does note that racist white farmers and sharecroppers who wanted to distinguish themselves from blacks may have brought the slur on themselves. The theory goes that they refused to wear the same wide-brimmed hats as blacks in the field and ended up with sunburned necks.
But the bottom line is that “redneck” entered the American vernacular as a direct result of bigotry and condescension — both of whites toward blacks and blacks toward whites.
The answer may be found in these words from a college student at the University of Washington, written after the presidential election last year:
For whatever reason, it remains perfectly acceptable to openly insult a large swath of the U.S. population — the common folk who live in “flyover country” — as “bitter” or “racist” or “redneck.” If Obama, a man determined to pursue “post-racial politics,” can change anything about American culture while occupying our nation’s bully pulpit, that would be a good thing to change.
Unfortunately, he and his admirers are not off to a good start.
UPDATE (1/20): Another newsman, another redneck slur. “When my sister’s secret finally hit the fan, the angry redneck buried inside my dad came to the surface. Every slur I thought he didn’t know bubbled up and peppered his speech when it came to my sister’s love interest.”
Newsflash to John Kroman and all of my other journalistic colleagues: “Redneck” is not synonymous with “racist.” This is what made your Dad a redneck, Mr. Kroman: “Dad was a carpenter who put in long hours at work and at home, and never really heard of this thing called leisure time. He was much more at home in a pair of overalls and a cap than in a suit.”
Filed under: Culture and Hatin' On Rednecks and History and News & Politics and People