It’s Time To Stop The ‘Redneck’ Slurs
Posted on 01.19.09 by Danny Glover @ 6:23 pm
How ironic that a black columnist at a major newspaper in New York today celebrated the historical significance of two black men, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, by using a racially loaded slur.
In brief, the redneck South had lost the shooting conflict of the Civil War, but had won the policy fight that allowed it to create a lower and separate nation of its own laws right inside of the United States.
Yes, that’s right, “redneck” is a slur. Some folks in the 21st century, including myself, embrace it as a symbolic term of endearment for the hard-working everyman. But historically speaking, “redneck” is a stereotypical slur aimed unfairly at all white Southerners, and then some, for more than a century now.
Back in 1995, the academic journal Southern Cultures published a lengthy essay on the history of rednecks. I have a copy of that issue, and Stanley Crouch’s bigoted jab at rednecks via the New York Daily News sent me running to the bookshelves for it.
Here is one enlightening excerpt (be forewarned that it includes a more familiar racial slur for blacks):
Black Southerners of all classes, too, used redneck — along with poor white trash, cracker, peckerwood and a host of other slurs — to poke fun at poor white country folks, whom they regarded as morally and socially inferior to themselves.
Black sharecroppers, for instance, challenged the Southern racial hierarchy in the [1920s and 1930s] when they hollered while working in the fields: “I’d druther be a N—– an’ plow ole Beck … Dan a white Hill Billy wid his long red neck.”
And here’s another theory on the etymology of “redneck” from the article:
African American slaves used peckerwood, a folk inversion of woodpecker, to refer to their poverty-stricken white neighbors who had sunburned necks while adopting the blackbird as a symbol for themselves. The red head of the woodpecker may in some way be related to the term redneck.
Whatever its derivation, the origin and early usage of the slur suggest that it ridiculed not only the sweaty, drudging labor of white farmers and sharecroppers but also their perceived deviation, at least a limited one, from a pale white complexion. From its earliest usage, then, the pejorative term redneck reflected clear connotations of both class and color difference.
The article does note that racist white farmers and sharecroppers who wanted to distinguish themselves from blacks may have brought the slur on themselves. The theory goes that they refused to wear the same wide-brimmed hats as blacks in the field and ended up with sunburned necks.
But the bottom line is that “redneck” entered the American vernacular as a direct result of bigotry and condescension — both of whites toward blacks and blacks toward whites.