Redneck and proud of it! What’s wrong with this picture?

Unlike many of my left-leaning colleagues, I like to keep politics out of the classroom. Ditto for those thorny social issues. We don’t discuss abortion or gay marriage in my classes unless it’s somehow in the context of the day’s lesson.

Well, it’s a good thing I’m on sabbatical this fall. Were I in the classroom today, campaign strategy and communications would certainly have been dragged into the discussion. And I would almost certainly have been ranting about this…

Yesterday, at a political rally in nearby Greene, Ohio, Gretchen Wilson sang her hit song, “Redneck Woman,” after which she introduced VP candidate Sarah Palin as someone with that “same maverick attitude.”

I applaud the “maverick” label for the McCain campaign, as it helps to separate the ticket from W’s administration. And McCain has earned the badge. But “maverick” and “redneck” just ain’t the same thing, dadgumit.

To the gathering of her faithful here in Ohio, Palin opened by saying: “Someone called me a redneck once and I said, ‘Why, thank you.'”

Thanks for labeling me a redneck?  Were I seated at the campaign “table” of McCain-Palin, I’d have to ask: Does Gov. Palin not understand middle America? Or does she understand it all too well?

It’s the last question that scares me, because it raises some serious ethical issues.

Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania coal country, I know a little about rednecks. Yep, where I come from, Iron City Beer and Redman chewing tobacco are part of the food pyramid. Rednecks were part of my social circle, and among those I called “good friends” back in the day. I played ball with them, hunted rabbits with them and drank beer with them – sometimes all in the same day.

Here’s what I know about rednecks after living among them:

Rednecks are an intolerant lot. They love to bully those different in looks, economic status or beliefs.

Rednecks eschew education. They go to school because it’s the law, but their parents have little involvement in their kids’ education. “That’s why they pay teachers, ain’t it?”

Rednecks don’t respect the environment.  Not theirs and not the one we share with them. You know the stereotype of a car up on blocks outside a dillapidated clapboard house with an old couch on the porch? It’s not a stereotype where I grew up.

Rednecks don’t get the concept of “community” or “law.” They’re self-centered — fueled by arrogance and driven by ignorance. The law is something you work to get around.

As a professional communicator and campaign strategist, would you EVER counsel your client to adopt the label of “redneck”?

The polls clearly show the McPalin ticket in trouble. Maybe they think Redneck America will help them catch Obama. Unfortunately, those dumbass college boys running their campaign forgot the most important characteristic of rednecks. They don’t vote!

By adopting theme of “redneck girl” and embracing the title, Sarah Palin comes dangerously close to also embracing the racist values that divide us — the intolerance for people different from ourselves.

Rednecks? They want nothing to do with the likes of Barack Obama. He’s black, he’s articulate, he’s educated and he’s thoughtful. He is all they are not. Rednecks aren’t the kind of folks I want on my side. But unlike our esteemed candidates, I don’t live in a win-at-all-costs world.

A former client of mine, a lifelong New Yorker (Yanis, you out there?), once marveled that I survived my childhood in Appalachia.

“I understand the muggers in Brooklyn,” Yanis said. “They kick your ass to take your wallet. It’s just business. Rednecks? They kick your ass because that’s just the way they are. How do you reason with that?”

You don’t, Yanis. You don’t.

To celebrate one’s “redneck” status is divisive and plain wrong. Even Joe the Plumber would agree  – if he were really were a plumber, but that’s another post for another time.

So yeah, I’m happy I’m not in the classroom this semester. Because I’d have no choice but to stage a few rants about the redneck strategy of McCain-Palin and their party of “family values.”

As my redneck friends used to say: “Pshaw.”

***********

Note to Governor Palin: If Ms. Wilson can’t make your next rally, let me suggest you invite Randy Newman to sing his classic, “Rednecks.” This song tells you what the breed is really all about, and if you take time to study the lyrics, you might just rethink your position.

Disclosure: A registered republican since 1982, I crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary this year.  I didn’t leave the GOP.  The party left me. The strategy of McPalin reinforces my decision each day. Kinda sad.

19 Responses to Redneck and proud of it! What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. Breeze says:

    Having also grown up in western Pennsylvania, I recognize much of what Bill describes here. At the same time, it’s important to me to denote that “redneck,” as illustrated here, does not equate to “blue collar.”

    I spent the summer and holiday breaks from college working in a steel mill back in the Pittsburgh area. And though I took a lot of razzing from my co-workers for being a “college boy” working as “summer help”–their favorite line about my kind was “Summer help; some aren’t”–they not only accepted me, they became invested in my success. They asked how my classes were going, sure. They reminded me to do well so I wouldn’t be working in a mill when I was their age, yes. But I mean they were literally invested.

    During my first holiday break at the mill, I met a trucker named Bob McAnallen. He came to the mill once a week to pick up loads of finished steel. If I was available, I helped him load and tarp his trailer. The last time I saw him that winter before heading back to Kent for the spring, Bob hit me with a proposition: If I made Dean’s List in the coming semester, he’d pay me fifty dollars. And he’d do so for every subsequent semester I made the list. When I came back to the mill for the summer, I came with my grade report attesting to my Dean’s List status. Bob came by at the end of the week as usual, and I showed it to him. He came back the following week with a check for me.

    That’s the the difference between the redneck sensibility and the blue-collar ethic.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Breeze. I never worked in the mill or the mine, but both my grandfathers did. Blue collar they were. Redneck they were not — though they did drink Iron City!

    What troubles me as much as anything about this election is how the McPalin ticket portends to represent the working guy, you know, Joe Six-Pack with a butt crack. It’s simply not true. If you’re having any trouble choosing your candidate in this race (and I know you are not), then you simply haven’t reviewed the platforms.

    Now, about your making the dean’s list. Nobody’s gonna believe that story, man. Give it up. There’s a Jeff Foxworthy joke in this somewhere. I just can’t think of it.

  3. Marilyn says:

    Bill,

    What a great post. I’ve often wondered throughout this election season why Palin’s redneck attitude necessarily qualifies her for office. We’ve seen her elicit aggressive insults and personal attacks toward Obama on the campaign trail, and I’m not even going to get into the mound of trouble she’s in as governor. Since when have irresponsibility, deceit and hypocrisy been qualities that we admire in our leaders?

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hi, Marilyn. Nice to hear from you. I don’t know that irresponsibility, deceit or hypocrisy have ever been qualities we admire in our leaders. But we sure do see a lot of it, don’t we? Here’s hoping your Montana rednecks aren’t quite so intolerant.

  5. Jason Falls says:

    Well I have to say this is the first time I haven’t quite agreed with or gotten where you were going.

    I’m a redneck and I’m proud to be one. I’m tolerant, well-educated, respect the environment and the law. Certainly, there are those I grew up with — In Eastern Kentucky and southern West-by God-Virginia — that might not fit those descriptions but applying a single brush stroke to anyone who is defined as being redneck is irresponsible.

    I do like Jeff Foxworthy’s definition of a redneck: A glorious absence of sophistication. Not education. Not intellect. Not tolerance.

    There is virtue in them thar hills, professor. And in them thar people. While some of them do aptly fit your description. Others, like me, and the millions of others who out grew, but were raised in rural settings and communities where religion and family was centric to every aspect of daily life and have therefore been deemed “uncivilized” by city folk, do not.

  6. Bill Sledzik says:

    I grew up there, too, Jason. Just a bit farther north. We both know how to converse with the good old boys. But neither of us is a redneck. We just grew up around a few.

    The rednecks I refer to are not the folks who simply lack sophistication. I’m not insulting hard-working, blue-collar folks at all. (Breeze made that point better than I could).

    The rednecks I’m referring to are — well, I describe them in the post. I didn’t create the definition. Check dictionary.com to see what I’m talking about. I did not consult Foxworthy.

    I’m speaking more of the rednecks in the Randy Newman song, not the ones in a Blue Collar Comedy routine. Foxworthy’s rednecks are sorta lovable, and they always have beer and bourbon (though seldom up to our quality standards!).

    Thanks for stopping by and for defending the country boys. I’m one of you.

  7. Alison says:

    Part of this is regional differences. I live in Ohio. Was born and raised here. But I spent 5 years living in North Carolina, where redneck is a term of pride to many people. We hashed this out one night with some friends from Georgia and came to realize that Midwesterners tend to use the term hillbilly with a sort of reverence towards a simple, salt-of-the earth type of person. But rednecks, to a Midwesterner, are often thought to be selfish and prejudiced, among other things. In the South, it’s the opposite. Hillbillies are thought of as backwards folk who don’t get it and red necks are hard-working good, ol boys. I’m over-simplifying – but the understanding of the labels really does differ from region to region.

  8. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Alison. When I get my ass kicked next week because of this post, I’ll be wondering if it was a redneck or a hillbilly (lol). Yep, where I grew up, the “hillbilly” was more of the Jeff Foxworthy, country bumpkin character. Generally harmless, and always willing to share his whiskey, ergo always welcome at my place.

    My intent wasn’t to insult country folks, but to point out that positioning oneself as a “redneck,” especially when one is running for the nation’s second highest office, is really a dumb marketing move. No way, no how, is a “redneck” getting my vote — even if she winks at me, doggoneit!

  9. Breeze says:

    So we’ve laid out the differences/similarities between rednecks and hillbillies. Where, then, do hayseeds, shitkickers, and clodhoppers fall on the continuum?

    As for my humor-worthy tale of academic distinction… I didn’t say that I ever earned another check from Bob, did I?

  10. Eric says:

    I guess “redneck” is all in the eyes of the beholder. I once expressed support for the 2nd Amendent in a conversation about hunting. Apparently, to some among my liberal friends, that qualifies you for the title. That and enjoying NASCAR and being a veteran.

    If those ARE the qualifications, then count me in! Except for maybe the NASCAR part. Still can’t get into it.

  11. Bill Sledzik says:

    Glad you dropped in Eric. It’s been a while. You point to something important here — the way words and meaning shift over time, often influenced by pop culture. Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy (and a handful of country singers’ songs) have turned the image of “redneck” into something soft and fuzzy. The rednecks I have known — and the rednecks of the dictionary definition — are anything but affable. They are bullies and bigots.

    I’m using the dictionary definition in this post (with a little help from Randy Newman). So in that sense, my “redneck” isn’t in the eye of the beholder, but in the eye of the folks at Webster’s. There was a time we used reference books to bring about agreement. Not so much any more.

    I hear you about the 2nd Amendment. Try being a college professor in the land of the liberals and standing up for the right to bear arms. Yeah, I still have an NRA card, though that crowd really pisses me off almost as much as the rednecks.

    And if anyone calls you a redneck for being a veteran, by God, they deserve to get their asses kicked. Call me and I’ll come over and help (but I’ll leave the Smith & Wesson at home if it’s all the same to you).

    NASCAR, I think, has done a pretty good job shaking the redneck image. But I’m like you, I can take it in small doses, but it’s not my idea of how to spend a Sunday afternoon.

  12. Tim Roberts says:

    I’ll leave the redneck/hillbilly debate to the experts, but this white, middle-class child of the ‘burbs bets his house that Obama would define a redneck as someone who clings to guns and religion! Not exactly what I would call a “thoughtful” comment.

  13. Bill Sledzik says:

    Well, folks, it was not my intention to malign a group of people or a set of beliefs. My intent was to showcase a bad campaign strategy that — by definition — celebrates bigotry and provincialism, terms the dictionary (and I) have long used to characterize the “redneck.”

    I’ll try to lighten up next week, OK?

    Meanwhile, let’s all lighten up and watch Michael Polk’s proposal for Ohio Secession! Red State No More! It’s a hoot, unless you’re from Cincinnati.

  14. […] on the McCain campaign’s “redneck” strategy, read my right-leaning professor’s blog, Redneck and proud of it! What’s wrong with this picture?  Bill Sledzik author of ToughSledding is a member of the Republican party; however, he chose to […]

  15. Allison says:

    I see the strategy and it isn’t working. It stopped some time ago for McCain/Palin. By allowing the use of “terrorist” and “off with his head” at rallies, only fuels fire and shows that they were losing steam even then. Finally when McCain used his maverickness (yes, I made up a word), he was booed by his supporters for correcting uneducated individuals who used those terms. I think it was a little too late then, don’t you?

    However, I guess tomorrow will speak volumes above all the lies, campaign ads and cleverly written speeches for both candidates. Can’t wait to watch the coverage.

  16. Narm says:

    I am a redneck and extremely proud of it. I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up on a farm and enjoying the small-town redneck life.

    Now? I am an extremely tolerant man excited at the prospects of getting someone such as Senator Obama in the White House.

    After reading your post I couldn’t help but feel pure anger and disgust at how quickly you dismiss people from a culture you don’t identify with. In fact, your first point about them being intolerant is completely hypocritical considering your being intolerant of them. Your complete dismissal and disrespect of “rednecks” is no different than the racism you are accusing them of having.

    Having been part of countless community groups that helped plant trees, taken part in government programs to help promote housing for various species of birds as well as taken extensive measures to help clean the rivers and ponds in my community – I find your accusation that small-town, redneck residents having a larger carbon footprint than that of large urban areas is laughable. The small-towns of America work hard to keep the land clean and healthy – because they live off of that very same land.

    And your feelings about small-towns not having any form of community pride is also a uneducated, false statement. I’ve seen countless churches, schools and families supported through community drives. I’ve seen families with almost nothing still give to charities. If not in the form of money, volunteering and leading groups is seen in everyone. Small-towns are not run by governments, they are run by the community and the pride within these communities. Most are not paid for this support – it is done because of belief in the community.

    Next time you are going to single out an entire group please look in the mirror and make sure you aren’t talking in some ways about yourself. Basing your entire concept of that group of people from what you see at some NASCAR race or stereotypes in the media is as unfair as you accuse them of being.

    Do you not understand how quickly you are playing into the GOP’s portrayal of big-city elitists? Do you not understand that you are doing exactly what they want – and turning your bitterness into a reason for educated small-town Americans to feel anger towards the big-city mentality?

    So as much as it might drive you crazy, my friends and I are going to start up a bon fire, drink some cheap beer and crank on the Lynyrd Skynyrd.

    Then we’re going to go vote for Barack Obama.

    Because we are educated, tolerant and proud of this country and what this country should be.

  17. Bill Sledzik says:

    Hey, Narm. Sorry you chose to interpret my post that way. Did you read the comments that followed?

    Let me clarify –again: Rednecks do not constitute a culture or a social class. “Redneck” is a noun that describes an unsophisticated person who exhibits the qualities of bigotry and provincialism. “Redneck” is a mindset that is driven by ignorance and intolerance. I didn’t write the definition, dude. You need to take this up with the folks at Webster’s.

    Sorry to break the news to you, buddy, but you are NOT a redneck. You are simply applying an incorrect label to small-town, blue collar folks. Don’t do that, OK? I’m one of those small-town folks, and the label insults me. Before you embrace it so readily, let me suggest you read the lyrics to Randy Newman’s tune. He sorta nails it, ya know.

  18. Narm says:

    I think it is pretty obvious that in today’s culture “redneck” has come to have a different meaning.

    I see your point and also understand the overall implications to the election – the GOP’s constant narrowing of their party and their supporters seems to have lost them this election. McCain was never part of this ultra-conservative movement and for whatever reason sold his soul to them for his campaign. Too bad, he had both the opportunity and reputation to pull in a lot of voters that would not normally consider themselves republicans.

    Though I don’t think anything would have stopped the Obama movement.

    Anyways – in light of this conversation I found the following site and thought you might find it interesting. Obviously Obama never refers to HIMSELF as a redneck, which is the difference – but still thought it went along with your post enough to make it worthy of posting.

    http://www.rednecks4obama.com/

  19. Bill Sledzik says:

    Clearly there are a whole lotta folks out there who have adopted Jeff Foxworthy’s definition of the word. I haven’t, and will never consider “redneck” to be a compliment. But I’ll meet you halfway on that one. Language morphs. That said, I can’t go along with rednecks as a “demographic.” We’re not there yet.

    I remain troubled by the undercurrent of intolerance that the McCain-Palin campaign seemed to celebrate. And I doubt McCain favored it. Take “Joe the Plumber,” who said Obama “tap dances like Sammy Davis, Jr.” Do you see the racist code in that? OK, Joe said it, not McCain. But Joe then became a centerpiece of the campaign.

    I agree with you about McCain. I have always respected him, but he had to do what he had to do (suck up to the far right and religious right) if we wanted the nomination. He doesn’t have to do that anymore. Maybe, just maybe, he can lead a bipartisan effort from the Republican side and help unite the country. I honestly think he will, as he is a patriot and a class act.

    Sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Maybe us two good old boys can meet for a beer someday. But not the cheap stuff, OK? And nooooo Lynyrd Skynyrd, please. Too redneck for me.

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