American Culture

Redneck jokes are racist

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.

15 replies »

    • yes, technically you’re correct. bigotry would have been catchier, but I would have lost the alliteration. yet another sacrifice of truth for art.

  1. I’m glad i’m not a Progressive, because not being one means it’s ok of me to continue to make redneck jokes. And i’m not going to stop so long as one political party is utterly beholden to rednecks, the other spends a lot of time trying to look beholden, and the long push of popular culture is hell bent on the redneckification of America.

    When i can turn on the TV or radio without being bombarded by the politics, religion, sport, and music of rednecks i’ll think about not making fun of them. Until then … A group that’s roundly proud of its own ignorance should be made fun of for being so fucking ignorant.

    Also, it’s just bigotry. It isn’t classism, unless we’re going to separate the rural-white-working-poor from the urban working poor, or the working poor of all the other races.

  2. My only comment has to do with the writing… I really wish you’d begun this piece thusly:

    “Hey ya’ll, read this….”

  3. Interesting but I don’t read any hint of reciprocity in this piece Otherwise. Rustics have been making fun of city slickers and vice-versa since Hector was a pup.

    We may have more pejoratives for them (boor, bumpkin, clodhopper, country cousin, hick, rube, yokel) than our country kin have for us but they certainly have plenty of pithy things to say about city boys as well.

    Intelligence can also be viewed situationally. If you saw a redneck washing his hands before he took a piss you might think he was dumber than a rock never considering that he might have just come in from working on a piece of machinery and didn’t want to get his dick greasy.

    Conversely a redneck might see one of us paying $8 for a double shot mocha latte and think “dumb ass tofu eatin’ tree hugger, for the price of 2 of those I could have bought a pound of coffee”.

    It’s not racism, just the unfortunate reciprocal bigotry of people who can see only the difference in each other while totally missing the similarities.

    • I get where you and Sam are coming from. No mutual antipathy between the educated and uneducated isn’t new…Andrew Jackson, Ma Ferguson, etc, etc.

      However, I’m arguing that redneck has become code for Scotch Irish. We’re not mocking the unlearned, we’re mocking a particular ethnic group. It’s a little like Reagan’s “welfare moms.” We knew who he meant.

      I think mocking people for ignorance is fair game. As my posts have long argued, slamming people for behaviors that are chosen is fair, slamming them for characteristics over which they have no control is not.

      I’m arguing that redneck humor has crossed the line from friendly, and just banter, to something much nastier.

      Could be wrong, but that’s the argument.

  4. If I accept your premise that the majority of poor white Americans are Scotch-Irish which I do not, then perhaps I could see your argument that urban progressives are increasingly dismissive of that demographic as retrograde and irrelevant. In which case I agree, it is a bad and divisive thing.

    From previous engagements I get it that we are encouraged to debate points rather than tone, but in passing I will mention as I hinted above…Intelligence is situational and while Howard Sprague might be the smartest guy in Mayberry that would be meaningless were he to be suddenly dropped off in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with only the clothes on his back and a penknife in his pocket.

    Knowledge comes in many forms and mocking others for not embracing a particular lifestyle and belief system is not only poor sport, it risks the fraternity upon which this country was founded. If the shit ever does hit the fan we might want these folks on our side.

  5. From what I can gather (with the usual caveats about using Wikipedia as a quick ‘n dirty resource), it seems like it would be bit out of both arguments, both explaining the behavior in terms of racism, or of classicim/culturism.

    Numerically, there’s just not enough of them for the redneck stereotype to apply only to them. When the insults are bandied about, they’re about far more than a mere 5.4 million people. On the other hand, it seems that the stereotyped characteristics of today’s Bible Belt, mountain South, and other rural regions are pretty much artifacts of Scotch-Irish cultural influence. Since there is a tendency among this “target” group to revel in their self-deprecation, as though priding themselves in what urban Americans (stereotypically) see as rank yokel backwardness, at the very least there appears to be willing a co-optation of that Scotch-Irish cultural influence, even if those influenced are completely unaware of the cultural origins of their mocked behaviors and characteristics.

    This strikes me as very similar to the “wigger” culture, in that sense. We’ve got one urban culture that creates its own signs, and another that gloms on to them. This raises a question. If we had one pejorative to use for both the source culture and the descendant/influenced culture (which I don’t believe we do), and we used it to describe people who, in general, embrace that culture’s signs, would that be racist? I’m inclined to think so, for that which receives the opprobrium of those using such epithets finds its roots and soul in a subculture of a particular racial group. If that’s the case, then I would think, in that sense, “redneck” and similar terms do bear the stink of racism about them.

    I’m still left wondering, though. In my comparison, wigger culture is, I think, quite self-aware about their co-optation of a different culture’s signs. Would it make a difference if someone is unaware of the origins of their cultural identity? Case in point, consider what me might call “2nd generation wiggers,” white kids with older siblings into that subculture. The younger sibling adopts it from the older. Does derision of the culture, in general, amount to racism against the 2nd (and later) generations? If not, then one might argue that racism is indeed not a factor when referring to, um…whom, exactly…”rednecks” as rednecks.

    A last thing I’d share for consideration is, oddly enough, a lecture on the history of the American Revolution, because I think Professor Freeman has some interesting observations on what it meant to be a British colonist.

    “Professor Freeman discusses what it meant to be a British colonist in America in the eighteenth century. She explains how American colonists had deep bonds of tradition and culture with Great Britain. She argues that, as British colonists with a strong sense of their British liberties, settlers in America valued their liberties above all else. She also explains that many Americans had a sense of inferiority when they compared their colonial lifestyles to the sophistication of Europe. Professor Freeman discusses the social order in America during the eighteenth century, and suggests that the lack of an entrenched aristocracy made social rank more fluid in America than in Europe. She ends the lecture by suggesting that the great importance that American colonists placed on British liberties and their link with Britain helped pave the way for the Revolution.”

    I’d been thinking about this for a while now prior reading your excellent post, Otherwise. I think what we see going on today bears a striking resemblance to the attitudes back then, which might be instructive going forward as both camps are forced to come to terms with each other. Mr. Dilatush has an excellent point when he suggests that we jeopardize American fraternity, but I think it’s also a two-way street. High society in England maybe did have a thing or two of value to share with their benighted brethren across the pond. We certainly had much of value to share with them.

  6. Redneck is not a racist term anymore . It has becomes a fashionable to be a redneck . Rednecks are gun totting, bush voting , bible reading , truck driving , hardworking , army supporting and everything american loving folks . What wrong if they love trucks and muscle cars . Whats wrong if they love ford and chevy instead of mercedes and bmw . I love redneck . I pity yanks , hippies and so called liberal who in the name of refinement , took away basic human nature from americans . They all want to be like londoners . Fuck em . This is america .

      • Sorry u got me wrong . I’m not trolling. U know these days republicans are cracking redneck jokes , to get southerner’s vote . And rednecks are proud of it . These days internet is full of redneck forums and community . Redneck clothing , apparells and accesories are a trend now . I think u r just looking through the wrong lens . Take these things light hearted . Rednecks will complain , if u cal them so . Instead they take it as a praise . And as for ur link , my standard doesnt allow me to reply u with the same stick .