Sunday, February 22, 2009
This Redneck thing...
The term "red neck" is controversial to say the least. Origins of this word lead to the condition of poor Southern farmers' red, leathery necks developed as a result of toiling in hot, sunny fields to positive identification of union coal miners who wore red neckerchiefs as symbols that they were pro-union. Historically speaking, these etymologies seem to suggest no negativity. Personally, though a lifetime Appalachian resident and potential redneck, I don't care for the redneck label. I don't want to be considered a redneck by others and I don't use the term to describe my friends and neighbor hill folk. Why? I believe the word smacks of negative connotations to most: images of poor, ignorant, racist Whites with missing teeth and inbred brain cells. Yes, we all laugh at redneck jokes; after all, the old saying goes, "If we can't laugh at ourselves, then who can we laugh at." But, the act of merely labeling somebody as a redneck, cracker, hillbilly, or any other potentially embarrassing term seems inconsiderate and judgmental. I am not a fan of wrapping an individual into a potentially harmful box. Don't think that I am not proud of my Appalachian heritage. I am. I, however, am not proud of anyone defending every part of any one view, belief, or life style to the point of exclusion of tolerance and respect for others. I think cultural pride must be based on decency and positive contributions, not traits of ridicule and outright shame. If you believe you are a redneck, then I assume you take from your experience an understanding that your affiliation with "redneckism" makes you a better person. To me, that is fine because you have that right as an individual to construct your own connotations and life style. From my perspective though, the act of calling anybody else anything so potentially misinterpreted is dangerous. It may not be that big a deal, but my experience says, "Don't use the term." What is implied in being a redneck is where I sense a problem. Rebel flags, the Springer show, "wife-beater" tee shirts, mouths with missing teeth, beer gut men, Daisy Dukes, rusty cars in the backyard, barefoot and pregnant women, and people with a sixth grade education. These all suggest image and connotation to us. Do you think your understandings of these phrases would match the hopes and anticipations of our ancestors'? I believe our Appalachian kin would cringe at what many today consider redneck ways. Instead, they would expect us to dignify our cultures by remembering and practicing the best parts of their inheritance. No, please don't call me a "redneck." Call me "Frank." And, I promise to return the favor.
Posted by Frank Thompson at 8:18 AM