It’s Time To Stop The ‘Redneck’ Slurs
Posted on 01.19.09 by Danny Glover @ 6:23 pm

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.

In brief, the redneck South had lost the shooting conflict of the Civil War, but had won the policy fight that allowed it to create a lower and separate nation of its own laws right inside of the United States.

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.)

Here is one enlightening excerpt (be forewarned that it includes a more familiar racial slur for blacks):

Black Southerners of all classes, too, used redneck — along with poor white trash, cracker, peckerwood and a host of other slurs — to poke fun at poor white country folks, whom they regarded as morally and socially inferior to themselves.

Black sharecroppers, for instance, challenged the Southern racial hierarchy in the [1920s and 1930s] when they hollered while working in the fields: “I’d druther be a N—– an’ plow ole Beck … Dan a white Hill Billy wid his long red neck.”

And here’s another theory on the etymology of “redneck” from the article:

African American slaves used peckerwood, a folk inversion of woodpecker, to refer to their poverty-stricken white neighbors who had sunburned necks while adopting the blackbird as a symbol for themselves. The red head of the woodpecker may in some way be related to the term redneck.

Whatever its derivation, the origin and early usage of the slur suggest that it ridiculed not only the sweaty, drudging labor of white farmers and sharecroppers but also their perceived deviation, at least a limited one, from a pale white complexion. From its earliest usage, then, the pejorative term redneck reflected clear connotations of both class and color difference.

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.

So why is a columnist for the New York Daily News still using the slur today? How did both Obama and one of his key allies get away with insulting “the cracker vote” and still get elected?

The answer may be found in these words from a college student at the University of Washington, written after the presidential election last year:

People on the East and West Coasts tend to think of themselves as superior to everyone else. I am part of this imaginary “master race,” as are most of us at the UW. We are given to imagining ourselves as more sophisticated, more tolerant, more world-wise and, essentially, above the ignorance of the hillbillies that inhabit the rest of the country. …

[W]e coastal snobs, conservative and liberal, have at least managed to largely overcome our innate racial and gender prejudices. However, given the political baggage that the overly simplistic and wantonly polarizing “colored state” dichotomy has created, we’re going to have a tough time overcoming our regional biases.

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


  1. Libaugh would love this!

    Comment by Will Venable — January 19, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  2. [...] DANNY GLOVER says it’s time to stop the “redneck” slurs. [...]

    Pingback by Instapundit » Blog Archive » DANNY GLOVER says it’s time to stop the “redneck” slurs…. — January 20, 2009 @ 7:50 am

  3. I recently saw an History Channel special on the unionization of the West VA coal minors in the early 20th century that suggested that the term “Redneck? originated with the use of red Kerchiefs or bandanas worn by the union miners as they fought for unionization of the W VA coal mines.

    Comment by Wally B — January 20, 2009 @ 8:05 am

  4. I see you have no problem using the word “redneck” but signify “nigger” with the simple N. So what’s your problem?

    Comment by Arlo — January 20, 2009 @ 8:12 am

  5. Get over it, boy. They’re always going to keep you down. Get all the advanced degrees, make all the money you like. Until you repudiate your roots, and start mocking your own, nothing’s going to change. Look what they did to Sarah Palin.

    Comment by cottus — January 20, 2009 @ 8:12 am

  6. Wait a minute - a liberal cannot be racist! By definition, only someone who disagrees with them is.

    So, logically, any attempt by yourself to point that out only shows what a racist you are as you try to tar them with your evil!

    The only fair thing to do now is to contact Jesse Jackson to apologize

    Comment by GW Crawford — January 20, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  7. You obviously didn’t get the memo. It’s perfectly fine to use racial slurs on white people. All others are protected.

    Because, you know, feelings. Being created from all the evil in the universe, we white ice people deserve all the scorn the sun people can heap upon us. We deserve it. Also, having no feelings we can handle it.

    Thanks, YaKub. Oh, and that moon thing. Cool.

    Comment by Patrick Carroll — January 20, 2009 @ 8:26 am

  8. How can Obama overcome this since one of us dared challenge his ascension and is still a viable popular figure even from way out in Alaska.

    Comment by JKB — January 20, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  9. Cracker is a racist slur also.

    Comment by Brian Macker — January 20, 2009 @ 8:34 am

  10. Actually, the term came over from England in the seventeenth century. It has nothing to do with sunburn. It was used to describe the so-called Scots-Irish (who settled Appalachia and the south), because of the red collars that many Presbyterians wore in the Midlands. Fischer traced it in Albion’s Seed.

    Comment by Rand Simberg — January 20, 2009 @ 8:49 am

  11. I celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday by taking my dad to see Gran Torino. It was great to hear Americans laughing at the utterances of spook…beaner…slope…dago…polack…mick.

    Post-racial indeed.

    Comment by Reno Sepulveda — January 20, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  12. I prefer the term appalachian-american.

    Comment by mike — January 20, 2009 @ 9:23 am

  13. The etymology and history of the word “redneck” is well-known, see wikipedia:

    But, yes, it’s a racial slur.

    Comment by Michael Chaney — January 20, 2009 @ 10:25 am

  14. Maybe the thing to do is position “Redneck” as an equivalent term to the “N”-word. A word that only white southerners can use as a term of slang/inclusion amonst themselves, yet is verboten for anyone else.

    Comment by Mark C. — January 20, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  15. Redneck first referred to religious dissenters in Scotland who wore red scarves. By 1830, it was “a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians” according to an account by Anne Royall in NC.

    Hoosier and cracker are also North British terms that crossed the Atlantic. Funny how Hoosier isn’t so derogatory anymore.

    Comment by Donna B. — January 20, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  16. For an insult to hurt, you have to at least care a modicum about the opinion of the person giving said opinion. Since I could care less, he can insult away.

    Comment by Tim McDonald — January 20, 2009 @ 11:47 am

  17. My quick two cents: the term ‘redneck’ and ‘nigger’ are not racial epithets exclusively. Even during the times of slavery, one would never call a prosperous free black of Charleston or Boston, a nigger; any more than one would call a white prosperous merchant a ‘peckerwood’ or ‘redneck’. These two terms are extensions of an elitist and exclusionary agrarian society, where most of the land was held of a privileged elite and to use either term to designate someone is to remind them that they (a) do not have any economic power and (b) that you think it right that are under someone’s control b/c you are obviously an ‘idiot’. And that is horrible thing to say about anybody

    Comment by bob — January 20, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

  18. I prefer Dixie- American.
    Thank you, ya’ll.

    Comment by Mockingbird — January 20, 2009 @ 5:59 pm

  19. New Yorkers are the biggest hicks in America.

    They don’t know anything about anything outside of New York, but they are convinced they are more sophisticated than everyone else. It’s always hilarious.

    I wish all New Yorkers hated the South like most New Yorkers seem to. More people from the Northeast move South every year. They tend to be annoying, but some are nice.

    Comment by TN — January 20, 2009 @ 6:16 pm

  20. [...] I’ll say it again: “Redneck” is not synonymous with “bigot” or “racist,” and everyone, especially journalists like Brokaw and Stanley Crouch of the New York Daily News who should know better, need to stop using it as a slur. Jennerationx does a great job of taking Brokaw to task. Here’s an excerpt, but read the whole thing: The American redneck runs this country. We drive semis, we work in the fields, we fix cars, we work in grocery stores, department stores, pharmacies, car washes, mills, factories, mines, we work on the docks, the ships, the junkyards, we work as beauticians, as police as firefighters as nurses and construction workers. [...]

    Pingback by The Enlightened Redneck » Tom Brokaw’s Cultural Ignorance — January 23, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  21. [...] organized that particular flea market fueled a misinformed media stereotype by equating the Confederate flag (and thus Southern bigotry) with being redneck. [...]

    Pingback by The Enlightened Redneck » Manic Mother: The Poster Child Of Elitism — May 5, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  22. [...] “attempt to keep it redneck,” a phrase that Ellison subtly equated with racism, because “redneck” is not a synonym for “racist”, and celebrating Southern history is not necessarily [...]

    Pingback by The Enlightened Redneck » Foolish Confederate Pride — April 8, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

  23. Your very first opening sentence to this long-winded treatise justifies all the negativity associated with the word “redneck”. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, loving your family and friends and being a good person. It’s more honorable to be a poor but honest man or woman than a crooked rich one (which most of the rich are). But there is something wrong with blind bigotry and hatred. There’s something wrong with an unreflective mind and a person so self-absorbed with his or her own way of life they lack the ability to empathize with others and immediately passes judgment on others based on stereotypes and superficial fallacies without hesitation. If you want to change the minds of people who don’t like so-called rednecks, start acting like a decent, fair-minded and caring human being instead of an uneducated know-it-all blowhard.

    Comment by Frank Sellers — April 8, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

  24. Wow, Frank. And your breathless, insulting response justifies the very existence of this blog. Let’s recap the ad hominem attacks on me without any supporting evidence: blind bigotry, hatred, unreflective, self-absorbed, lacking empathy, judgmental, stereotypical, superficial and knee-jerk — none of which are supported by even a cursory reading of this blog.

    Comment by K. Daniel Glover — April 8, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

  25. I am happy to see that someone got the definition of “redneck” down pretty close. It is not, as some suppose, anything but a slur used to mock farmers, mostly, but also some others who work in the sun all day to provide food for their family. At least that is was it meant all through the 1950’s-1960’s in most of the places I lived in this country (CA,NM,TX,NE,WA,FL,& MD).

    Comment by richsplace — October 12, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

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