The Redneck is the only cardboard figure left standing in our ethnic shooting gallery. All the other targets have been quietly removed in deference to unwritten laws of cultural sensitivity. We no longer have Stepin Fetchit, but Jim “Ernest” Varney still rears his po ‘bucker head. Instead of Amos “n” Andy, there’s Beavis and Butthead or Darryl and Darryl from Newhart. White trash are open game. The trailer park has become the media’s cultural toilet, the only acceptable place to dump one’s racist inclinations.
To buttress this wild, implausible-sounding contention, I conducted a short, pseudoscientific study of how the mainstream press handles the race-specific terms of “******” and “redneck”. Mouse in hand, I clicked my way through an internet search of the Detroit Free Press archives from 1987 through the first six months of 1995, plus a more limited probe of the San Francisco Chronicle from August 1994 to May 1995. The search yielded one hundred seventy three occurrences of the word “******” compared to one hundred fifteen instances of “redneck”. Due to limitations in my internet software, I was unable to search for phrases such as “white trash”, but it seems reasonable that “redneck” and “white trash”, as well as “cracker”, “honky”, “hillbilly”, and “hick”, occurred with sufficient frequency to achieve at least a rough numerical parity with “******” and its synonyms. But it isn’t until one analyzes how the slurs are handled – as well as who’s doing the slurring – that the raw numbers begin to have any meaning.
First the rednecks…
Redneck 115 Hits
These citations can loosely be divided into the following categories:
THOSE CONPEMPTIBLE REDNECK CLOWNS…….39 HITS
• Rednecks are depicted as psychotic and repellent (“a fat, sloppy, redneck moron”: an oleaginous redneck”: “a twisted, sneering, redneck maniac”; etc.).
• Rednecks are stereotyped as alcoholic lushes (“a beer-swilling redneck’: “beer-suckin’ redneck”; and six instances of the phrase “redneck bar”).
• Rednecks are portrayed as worth y targets of ethnic satire (“redneck humor” and the current surfeit of “You might be a redneck if….” Jokes).
• Two references in this category linked rednecks to those old sex-pathology standbys, inbreeding and incest.
REDNECKS AS FOREIGNERS…26 HITS
• The redneck experience is treated as something otherworldly, isolated from the mainstream both geographically and ideologically (“far-flung redneck burgs”; “a rustic, redneck South”; “redneck territory”; and “a redneck city in Texas”).
• The redneck boondocks are consistently portrayed as enemy locales from which any sensible person should flee. After fleeing, the rehabilitated redneck is observed apologizing for his roots. (“Lilly’s husband, Ralph, has climbed up from his redneck background… to spite his socially superior wife”; and “I was a product of the redneck area where I was raised, and I’ve tried through Buddhism and EST to support another side of myself”).
YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT A RENECK IS…22 HITS
• These citations are telling in their lack of descriptiveness, for they tend to assume that the reader’s mind is already embossed with stock images of what constitutes a redneck. The stereotype is presumed to be so fully fleshed as to need no explanation(“redneck women”; “a redneck drill sergeant”; “redneck ecstasy”; “a great redneck walk”; etc.).
REDNECKS AND ETHNIC IDENTITY…28 HITS
• The word “redneck” is used by whites as a defiant self- descriptor (REDNECK AND PROUD license plates; song lyrics that state, “They call me a redneck / I reckon I am”).
• In five instances, blacks are quoted using the word to describe lowlife whites. This, interestingly, is never viewed as racist.
• Rednecks are fingered as the primary source of prejudice (“a redneck Klansman”; “a bigoted redneck”; “redneck racism”; etc.).
• Finally, in only six out a hundred and fifteen total hits, the term :redneck” is scrutinized as possibly being a racial slur. Six out of a hundred and fifteen – less than five percent of the time. The other hundred and nine times that “redneck” is used, it’s done with the unblinking certitude that slurring rednecks is an OK thing to do.
Not so the ******s.
******: 173 Hits
“******”, of course, occupies a cranny far beyond “fuck” in our Pantheon of Unutterables. Predictably, EVERY TIME that “******” surfaced, there was some implied or overt repulsion with the word’s usage. The “N” word is universally condemned as an “ugly gutter epithet”, an “obsenity”, and “the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the American language.” The “******” data is perhaps best analyzed when split into three categories:
WHITES SAY “******”…133 HITS
• Many of these references involved well-publicized racial bloopers by Great White Dopes such as Ted Danson, Marge Schott, and Mark Fuhrman. Several others reprted on controversies and lawsuits arising after public officials or other injudicious Caucasians uttered “******”.
• A full hundred and nine of these citations discuss the trauma experienced merely by being called a ******, likening it to a “verbal lynching” that in several instances leads directly to violence. In seven cases, blacks are seen as justified in assaulting someone after being labeled a ****** by a lighter-hued human.
BLACKS SAY “******”…33 HITS
• Blacks use “******” self-referentially, an inverted reclamation of a word others had used to disparage them. It’s identical to how some poor whites stubbornly refer to themselves as rednecks.
• In eleven instances (more frequently than the ten times they refer to themselves as ******s), blacks put the term in whitey’s mouth. In other words, they accuse whites of saying “******” without any evidence that they actually had (“What? You never seen a ****** before?”; “They still look at you like you’re a ******”; and “A black man with a million dollars is a ****** with a million dollars”).
• Blacks reject the term outright (“There’s no such thing as a ******, so the word has never bothered me”; etc.).
• Blacks acknowledge that whites usage of “******” has seriously waned (“Nobody comes out and calls you a ****** anymore”; “You don’t hear the word “******”. No one ever says that anymore”; and “No one ever called me a ******”).
“******" OCCURS NEXT TO AN ANTI-WHITE SLUR… 7 HITS
• A black man who was kicked off a bus after the white driver said, “Let the ****** walk” complains of his treatment at the hands of “that redneck driver”.
• A black activist who objects to being called a “******” while at college asks. “Why should I beg some cracker to integrate me into his society when he doesn’t want to?”
• In reviewing a street fight where whites and blacks traded taunts of “******” and “honky”, the commentator only bemoans the fact that “******” was used.
• A white schoolteacher insists he “never, ever said ‘******’ around students” and underlines his assumed open-mindedness by adding, “I call whites ‘white trash’ if they’re trashy.”
White devil that I am, I saved the most damning statistic for last: In every occurrence of the word “******”, the writer was quoting someone else’s usage of it. But in eighty out of the hundred and fifteen instances of “redneck”- more than two of every three times the word popped up-it was the WRITER using “redneck” as a noun or adjective to degrade low class whites. Think about it – no writer on any American daily newspaper would be able to say “******” without getting fired. But if the neck’ red, the light’s green.