I am not one of those people that believes in reverse discrimination, and that old white males are struggling for equality in a pitiless world run by women and people of color. (Affirmative action is a bad idea, but a necessary one to counteract a worse one, segregation and institutionalized povertization of the black underclass.) So when I say that the recent deluge of redneck jokes is racist and should stop, I am coming at it from the angle of a progressive, not an aggrieved redneck.
Last week, a real estate firm published a list of the ten most redneck cities. It rated cities on things like number of people who didn’t finish high school, numbers of gun shops, taxidermy shops, WalMarts, etc. If they’d done a list on the blackest cities, looking for watermelon stands and felony arrests for drugs, or a list of the gayest cities based on number of florist shops and HIV positives, there would be appropriate outrage. However, rednecks (or what socio-economists call Scotch-Irish) are fair game.
Indeed, rednecks have become the ridiculed-group-of-choice. Look at movies (Joe Dirt, Talledega Nights) or television (Swamp People, Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, etc.) We love to laugh at those funny old rednecks, now don’t we? Look at her stuff another Twinkie in her mouth! Isn’t she funny?
I confess, whenever I see rednecks on TV, I expect whatever comes out of their mouths to be idiotic.
Why do we progressives participate in this nastiness?
Perhaps it’s because we as a society have to have a certain amount of racism in our diet, sort of like micro-nutrients. We can’t mock blacks (or women or Poles or gays or Mexicans or Italians or Jews, etc) but we just have to have someone to pick on. So our redneck racism is displaced meanness. We have to pick on rednecks (or not-very-bright teens from New Jersey or somebody).
Perhaps it’s because redneckery is to some extent a behavior, rather than a genetic condition. There are people who are not white, Southern poor who will call themselves redneck, in the sense of being a political Neanderthal with very coarse tastes. However, they’re not true rednecks- they’re just as fake as rich white kids with their ass-cracks showing and their ball caps turned sideways, yo. Psuedo-rednecks can just pull that collection of commerative Jim Beam bottles down off the shelves in the den and voila! They’re back to the middle class. Poor Southern whites can’t opt out so easily. And anyway, we don’t allow making fun of obese people or others with behavioral problems.
Perhaps it’s because rednecks have so enthusiastically joined in the mockery. Predictably, some people living in Southern cities not on the list wrote in asserting that their city should be on the list because Movoto didn’t include factors like obesity. I confess I’m a little puzzled as to why rednecks are so enthusiastic about this. Certainly I understand why the people on television are doing it. They’re getting paid. That’s the same reason black actors did Amos & Andy and gay actors did Will & Grace. Perhaps it’s abused child syndrome – any attention is better than none at all. Perhaps it’s because those being mocked think people aren’t laughing at them but at their lower class neighbors. It’s hard to say. And it doesn’t matter. If people choose to make fools of themselves, it’s on them. If we laugh and encourage it, it’s on us.
So, one more time. Racism is bad because it does real damage to people in the discriminated-against group. Racism is about characterizing groups and inferring things about individuals in that group based on those general characteristics. Doing that deprives those in that group of their fair share of opportunities and narrows their life choices. That’s clearly what’s happened to rednecks. A study by the University of Chicago some years ago found that Scotch Irish were one of the bottom socio-economic groups regardless of geography. Other groups move up, rednecks don’t, and it’s certainly plausible that some of that is due to stereotyping.