My conversation with Thaddeus below made me think of this old Etherzone column of mine from 2006. This one’s for you Thaddeus:
There is something very satisfying about enthusiastically embracing the epithets that are hurled at me by my enemies…err…critics. Apparently, I am not alone in this. Retired Senator Jesse Helms once earned the knick-name “Senator No” because of his tendency to vote against legislation. As a result he began to proudly wear on the Senate floor a button created by his opponents with that moniker, and the name was quickly adopted by his supporters as well.
Well I intend to carry on in that grand tradition. When my detractors call me a “bible-thumping fundamentalist” I reply, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace, but I am trying hard to live up to that description.” When they say I want to “dismantle the entire federal government” I object, “No, not the whole thing. I want to retain the border patrol.” When they say I am a “reactionary” I plead, “Please don’t leave out ‘knee-jerk.’” And when they claim I’m “living in the past” and “want to roll back the clock,” I suggest, “1776 might be a good place to stop.”
But there is one epithet that until now I have only been able to embrace half-heartily at best. My tendency to grouse about Lincoln and his invasion as well as my Georgia raisin’ and fondness for fishing, pickup-trucks, country music and professional rasslin’ have often earned me the label of “redneck.” This is usually in jest, but it is sometimes, especially in a political context, a definite term of derision.
Some Southerners have embraced the term. Gretchen Wilson’s hit “Redneck Girl” is a prime example. On a more scholarly note, Dr. Clyde Wilson uses it fondly in his essay “The Rednecks Did It.”* (If you have time to read all the replies, there is a lengthy and enlightening discussion on the mixed meanings of “redneck,” and the concerns I have about whole-heartedly adopting the term.) In brief, the problem I have with the word “redneck” is that it seems to have at least two meanings. It more benignly implies rural, usually Southern but not exclusively, unsophisticated, favoring “mass” culture to “high” culture, and working class among other things. This is generally the way Jeff Foxworthy uses the term, for example, or the way Charlie Daniels uses it in his song “What This World Needs is a Few More Rednecks.” (“What most folks call a Redneck ain’t nothing but a working man, who makes a living by the sweat of his brow and the calluses on his hand.”) I have no objection to this aspect of the term.
However, it also less benignly connotes excessive alcohol use, chewing, dipping, and smoking, Hell-raising, underemployment, and various other social pathologies. Here we have dueling Southern stereotypes. On the one hand we are all supposed to be a bunch of Bible-Belt fundamentalist, and on the other we are all hard-drinking, tobacco spitting, degenerates. Of course, both elements exist as they do in any society. I will admit, for example, that there are a few pious Yankees among all the apostates, but all Southerners can not fit both stereotypes. Of course logic never stops the Yankee in his attempts to demonize Southerners. And for the oh-so-modern Yankee, the two indictments are equally negative. By their reckoning it is just as bad to be a true believer as it is a semi-literate, hard living, alcoholic.
As I stated above, I am just a sinner saved by grace, so I find the Bible-Belt stereotype worth embracing and nurturing. One of the most noble aspects of the South is that is has retained its religious orthodoxy to a much greater degree than the North, despite all the insults of modernity. But as someone who was raised in one of those Southern church-going households, I’m not sure I want a label that implies excessive drinking and partying. Unfortunately, I believe some who have embraced the “redneck” label are glorying in the more unsavory aspects as well. The above mentioned Gretchen Wilson’s follow-up hit “All Jacked Up” is a perfect example.
So with that disclaimer and some trepidation, I can now say that I have found a variation of the term that I can embrace. I have at last found my true niche. I am a “white-collar redneck.”
First, a little personal background. Since I am a physician I can no longer credibly claim working class status, although I proudly claim working class roots. I am well educated and reasonably professionally successful. As a result, I often find that people will make certain assumptions about my tastes, preferences, beliefs, etc. It is often assumed that my success has caused me to reject the more stereotypically “redneck” aspects of my Georgia roots for more “appropriate” pursuits and interests. It really throws them off when they discover my interest in professional rasslin.’ An interest that has waned significantly since Yankee Vince big-footed the smaller regional promotions and replaced them with his irreverent soft-porn, but that is an essay for another day. It is fun to watch their jaws drop when I defend the Confederate flag, contend that contrary to Yankee received wisdom the South is not the sole repository of racial strife, or tell them that I belong to the Gun Owners of America because the NRA is too wishy-washy. On hearing these revelations, I am often told that, “Gasp. You sound like a redneck.” As I said, sometimes this is said in jest, but other times it is definitely not used flatteringly.
But if Charlie Daniels is correct with his “sweat of the brow” and callused hands references, can I truly be a “redneck?” My wife frequently suggests that I am actually a “wanna-be redneck.” (The nerve of her!) She even suggests that my desire to buy a four wheel drive pick-up with at least a six inch lift and the work boots, flannel shirts, and jean jackets that I frequently wear are an effort to “overcompensate” for my professional and scholastic success. (Again, what nerve!) She says I am too bookish and strait-laced to be a “real redneck” and that my more “redneck” pretensions amount to wishful thinking at best or posing at worst. She has even compared my antics to super diva J. Lo’s laughable protest in song that she is still “Jenny from the block.” (As you can tell, my wife speaks her mind.)
Just recently someone described me as an enigma. But thankfully, I need be an enigma no longer. A few days ago I Googled some term and one of the articles that returned in the search was “Beware of the White-Collar Redneck”* (WCR) by Rabbi Marc Howard Wilson. Intrigued, I explored further. According to Rabbi Wilson’s liberal mind this was definitely a term of derision. Note that we must “beware” of the WCR as if he is some sort of guard dog seeking to maul us. But, happily for me, the WCR is not defined by his excessive indulgences but by his failure to uncritically accept all the Rabbi’s liberal assumptions. I will deal with his article specifically in a future essay, but as for not uncritically accepting all his liberal assumptions, I readily plead, “Guilty as charged.” For now, I would just like Rabbi Wilson to know how thankful I am that he has finally identified my true niche. Now when my wife pokes fun, I can tell her that I am in fact a redneck, a white-collar redneck, that is. It sure beats being an enigma.
*There are supposed to be a couple of links in the original, but for some reason they are not intact.