What IS a Redneck Anyway?

While our friends will tell you there was never a closet where Jeff hid his redneck self, I realize the term “redneck” means different things to different people. It depends on where you live, your personal politics AND the characters with whom you surround yourself. Historically it’s been used in a variety of ways, but one thing is constant–these aren’t “ruling class” folks.

The term “redneck” has been around much longer than Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy (although we all know he made the redneck popular). Most tend to believe it’s an American stereotype that once referred to the red necks earned by poor, Southern farmers who worked in the sun. But not so! The Scots seem to have the earliest claim as they called the rebels rising against Cromwell rednecks in the 1640s. Supposedly those immigrants brought the moniker with them to America.

Redneck has also described Roman Catholics in Northern England, coal miners in the early 20th century, and even factions of Southern Democrats around the turn of that century too. (I know, you thought they were Republicans.)

Urban progressives might say a redneck is a bigot against modern ways and liberal political views. Yet, Ed Abbey, an environmental activist from the 1970s, used the term to mobilize rural folks in an essay, “In Defense of the Redneck,” and coined the bumper sticker, “Rednecks for Wilderness.” You mean there are people who aren’t surrounded by cement who care about trees?

As a transplant to Missouri from the North, I once saw a redneck as a backwoods lout who refused to see the light of modern civilization and its benefits. (Insert choir music) Some may think I’ve regressed, but I think I’ve grown. Today my view is different, I suppose due to the fact that I married Jeff and exposed myself to a whole new culture. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy Classical music, finer hotels and good wine, and my politics are still more left than right.

So how do I describe a redneck today? Many Southern rednecks are fond of the term and proudly proclaim themselves as such. It’s a guy who rebels against authority, he embraces the simpler things in life and places his priorities on working hard and playing harder. He (or she!) may not have a lot of money, a well-appointed home or a manicured lawn, but he can make-do with whatever he’s given. He lives in what we affectionately refer to as a “project-rich environment.” That may be a garage (and sometimes a back yard) full of guys, trucks and parts, muddy boots by the door and a fridge full of Milwaukee’s Best Light to facilitate the creative process.

My type of redneck (aka Jefferson Lee Dempsey) likes having guns, hunts for food as much as for sport, and he loves being able to say that he “outfoxed” the “Man” by making his place more self-sufficient. He cuts and splits wood to help defray the cost of fuel or electricity, and he may even devise homemade alternative energy sources. (You know…solar panels made from beer cans!) He should own stock in a duct tape manufacturer as well as tools, with which he can fix almost anything given a few months or years.

He grew up on Rock music but loves Bluegrass as well as Country, both old and new. (His favorite of all time is David Allan Coe’s You Never Even Called Me By My Name, yet he’ll quote Alice’s Restaurant too.) His man cave is his shop. His main source of recreation is taking to the trails with wheels not a backpack, to play with his buddies.

He sees “politically correct” as a diversionary tactic by those who refuse to acknowledge our differences as well as our responsibilities. “The trouble with our society today…” he starts to say, and I may cringe, but I’ll listen. We’ve agreed that we aren’t going to change each other’s minds on politics much, but we’ve learned to open ourselves to more points of view.

Most important though, is that he can laugh at himself. Guess that’s why I love him the way I do. And I guarantee you that many of the stories I’ll share here will start with Jeff telling me, “Hey, did you tell them about the time…?”


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