What it Really Means to be a Redneck

rushThere are times, though few they may be, when an example presents itself that allows us to broadly characterize a worldview.  Right now is one of those times, and our example comes to us from the mouth of he who claims to represent the American right. 

Here he is, in his own words:

I think in the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentlemen we have another crisis simply too good to waste. This will play right into Obama’s hands — humanitarian, compassionate. They’ll use this to burnish their — shall we say — credibility with the black community, in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community, in this country. It’s made-to-order for ’em. That’s why he couldn’t wait to get out there. Could not wait to get out there.

And he later added:

We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the U.S. income tax.

I don’t want to waste any time discussing the specifics of Limbaugh’s comments because they speak for themselves.  Instead, I want to focus on the implication of someone who addresses millions of people making these sorts of statements. 

But before we go there, a brief sidebar: what is a redneck?  If you skim the Wikipedia entry, you’ll find a series of definitions dating back to 1830s Scotland, where Presbyterian Church government supporters wore a red cloth around their necks to signify their political position. More modern usage includes the regional one we’re all familiar with (the red neck in this case being a literal description of a sun burn on the exposed part of a farmer’s neck), but also a broader definition applying to white, rural and usually poorer socioeconomic groups of people in any part of the country.  And of course just about everyone has heard comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck…” routine that jabs at things like dating your first cousin.

While all of those pieces have their place in the etymology of the term “redneck,” I want to take the definition in another pejorative direction that has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, region, race, intelligence or one’s predilection for dating relatives.  For the definition I am presenting here, the only prerequisite is that you read Limbaugh’s quotes, and then read them again, and then think about them for a few minutes. 

If your takeaway after digesting his comments is that this is a man whose worldview is worthy of emulation, then you are, by the definition I am presenting, a redneck. 

To put a finer point on that, you are either unable or unwilling to withhold cynicism in the interest of compassion. You either confuse or purposely conflate political motives with moral imperatives. You either passively or actively endorse insincerity and shamelessness as appropriate means of drawing attention. And you are paranoid, or at the very least willing to tacitly support paranoid messages designed to appeal to mistrust, fearfulness and anxiety.

There’s a sense in which I think we owe Limbaugh a thank you for clarifying something that usually isn’t so clear.  By showing with unabashed ferocity the true face of his worldview, and then defending it without the least equivocation, he has given everyone a rare “in or out” moment.  If his worldview is worthy of emulation—that is, if you’re “in”—then you fully deserve the title of redneck and all dubious honors thereunto appertaining.  

I have to hope, though, that most people are “out” whether they’re on the right or anywhere else. Reasonable people on the right and left can disagree reasonably, and they deserve to have their positions represented by credible voices.  Limbaugh has made perfectly clear that he simply doesn’t fall in that category. Instead, he’s established as strongly as possible, with words as plain as anyone can hope for, that he’s the manipulative voice of redneckism, and proudly so.  


9 thoughts on “What it Really Means to be a Redneck

  1. Here’s the problem with calling Limbaugh a redneck: it implies the hate speech he spews is born of ignorance. Rush Limbaugh is a lot of things, but ignorant he is not. Instead, his form of hate speech, like that of his sister in crime, Ann Coulter, is born of the manipulation of truth to much more devious and powerful purposes. That requires smarts and cunning. Worse, that speech is uttered under the guise of “entertainment”, the cowardly stance Limbaugh and the neo-cons hide behind when rightly accused of hate-mongering. The man is evil, pure and simple. But, sadly, because he is “entertaining”, he gets ratings and is still allowed to make such preposterous statements from his radio pulpit. My wish for Limbaugh and his ilk is not to have him get fired, but for thinking people not to take the bait. Giving him anymore thought or airtime than he deserves plays right into his hands.

  2. so, are you a “redneck” if you agree with amy goodman and naomi klein that progressives should mobilize now to prevent the U.S. neo-liberal hegemonic conspiracy from profiting from the disaster in haiti?

    this was the left’s first instinct in responding to the crisis: naomi klein tailoring her “crisis capitalism” conspiracy theory (which she plagiarized from lyndon larouche) to the disaster.

    i’m not playing tu quoque here. i’m generally offended that we can no longer rely on the assumption that earthquakes and hurricanes aren’t things you can place blame for.

    but of course, you’re feeding at the same corpse. or feeding from it; not so much on the gazelle itself, but the leavings of the jackal who fed on the gazelle.

    about your confused “redneckism”, er, thing (wordcount padding? hollow theme-ish looking thing?)

    a redneck is a white field laborer. it refers to a sunburnt neck. that is all. it has no deeper historical context than that. it is a social and racial pejorative for southern poor whites. just as “wetback” refers to poor mexican laborers and refers simply to a teeshirt stuck to the torso with sweat.

    the word had always been the only permissible racial slur in polite conversation because it’s the one progressives use to characterize and personify “reaction”, and remains so to this day.

    sometime circa 1995, some radicals got hip to the fact that “redneck” was not just racist, but also classist, and so they had to find some “we were always/never at war with eastasia” context for the word. so they dug into the history books and found some obscure historical footnote and appropriated it as a revolutionary context for a word which didn’t acquire it’s common coinage until 100 years later on another continent.

    no doubt, a glimmering of that consciousness is what motivated you to meander so:

    “I want to take the definition in another pejorative direction that has nothing to do with socioeconomic status, region, race, intelligence or one’s predilection for dating relatives.”

    note that you manage not to suppress your racial, religious, socioeconomic assumptions of the “redneck”, but rather you expand the slur to include incest. of course that’s the standard form progressive caricature of the red state, red voter, “redneck”.

    having failed to suppress the racial/social content of the word in the touch-off, you proceed anyway to suggest you have a new definition apart and aside from the racial and social content: one who has some sort of political affiliation with the red state, red voting political opponents you would ordinarily characterize as rednecks to begin with.

    if the idea is that what limbaugh said is so bad that his badness is sui generis (which, per the examples of ms. klein and mr. glover, it isn’t) that it deserves it’s own pejorative, then it could be “purple” or “shoelace” or whatever.

    but you said a whole bunch of stuff about “redneck”; because you lack the creativity to come up with anything but the standard pejorative progressives apply to conservatives. and then you ineptly tried to weasel out of the racist and classist baggage which goes with the use of that word.

    my point is this: you are a bad writer.

  3. jummy, while I’m flattered that you’d write an essay-length reply longer than the original post, it’s clear that you either (1) only skimmed the post or (2) didn’t understand it. I’m guessing it’s some of both, with a serving of intentional misreading thrown in.

    Most of what you said doesn’t justify a response. In fact, it’s hard to decipher what you’re trying to say (“leavings of the jackal who fed on the gazelle”?). Your train of thought is erratic–your points and non sequitur references don’t mesh. I suspect you have a difficult time explaining yourself in conversation, yes?

    In any case, I will respond to this line: “that you manage not to suppress your racial, religious, socioeconomic assumptions of the “redneck”, but rather you expand the slur to include incest.” This also doesn’t justify a response, but for the sake of clarity, no, my definition doesn’t include any of these elements, and if you look at the demographics of Limbaugh’s audience you’ll see that they clearly do not match up with these so-called assumptions (assumptions, by the way, which are yours, not mine). And “incest”? — how disingenuous of you to ignore the obvious reference to Jeff Foxworthy’s well-known joke. Perhaps you should write him a book-length diatribe as well. I’m sure he’d enjoy it.

    Finally, since you rely so heavily on misdirection, obfuscation and ad hominem, I suspect you enjoy writing–or, more accurately, enjoying listening to yourself–but have very little to say that amounts to anything substantial. That being said, I am glad to provide you with a forum to vent your frustration. A comment section should be able to accommodate a range of responses, including those from the irate and verbose.

    My point is: you’re welcome.

  4. inmyhumble — thank you for your comment, and your points are well taken. I don’t really disagree with you, but would like to point out that I’m not calling Limbaugh a redneck, but rather arguing that he’s manipulating the mistrust and fears of people who embrace a paranoid worldview. Actively or by default, his fans are identifying him as someone whose thoughts are worth digesting and regurgitating. But I am in full agreement with you: he is a cunning, calculating manipulator guided by self-interest and ambition, and is well aware of the effect of his words.

  5. In defense of rural Americans, I’d like to point out that Conservative media has a de-facto radio monopoly over much of the more thinly populated parts of the country. Driving across Arkansas last year, I noticed that the college radio stations, that back home would have been broadcasting NPR- “All Things Considered”, or “Morning Edition”- played nothing but classical music, that the only political talk broadcast was The Fat One, or one of his Demented Army of Clones. (And Jesus was sprawled EVERYWHERE across the whole dial.) So keep in mind that rural Americans are being offered a strictly limited number of political veiwpoints.

    I’d also like to note the “redneck” isn’t a perjorative coming from Jeff Foxworthy, but coming from a writer from “Scientific American” it probably is. One of the factors driving rural conservativism is resentmentment against urbanites, and the political views that they hold. How can Progressives convince rural Americans that they have their best interests at heart, when we’re calling them “rednecks”?

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