I had to review a book for my Cultural Anthropology class. I thought I would share the review here, along with a link to the book so you can explore it yourself. It’s a fascinating diatribe, and one that is tartly, refreshingly, honest. I self-identify as belonging to that unique tribe, the Alaskan redneck, so enjoy, and think about it.
“If I’d been talking about black trash, I might be lynched. If I was talking about white trash, I’d merely be another torchbearer in an ongoing national lynching.” -Jim Goad
In the first chapter, Goad points out that ‘redneck’ appears often in contemporary journalism as a slur, having changed from the quaint but genial portrayals fifty years ago, to the cruel and often sadistic caricature it has become in this era. Even Webster’s dictionary, he says, calls a redneck “Ignorant, bigoted, violent…” seemingly without questioning this assumption. He wonders why, in a world where only the group of people can insult others in that group, it is permitted and even encouraged for all groups to pick on the white working class.
Goad’s language is vivid, bitter, and startlingly vulgar as he describes his childhood, and his gradual realization that he was white trash, and resented being talked about in terms that no minority group would have to put up with. In college, he was ashamed of his background, and tried to hide it, but after school was over and he had to work for a living, he grew angry over the stereotyping. It was, he says, “white cash against white trash” and he decided it was time to investigate their revised history of his people.
First, he wondered, where had white trash come from? Europe, obviously, but had they been trashy when they arrived in America? “Most redneck imagery, conciously or not, points to a situation behind the attitude.” Goad goes on to talk about the mistaken assumption that white trash have power, or indeed, have ever had power. White working class has been the oppressor, the understanding seems to be. The rednecks have never been oppressed themselves.
However, since the time of the Romans, there have been white slaves. Even the word Slav comes from slaves, and most truly white-skinned folks are descended in some way from Slavic blood. White trash in Europe… was the serf. In the Feudal era, redneck jokes were told by the aristocracy against the little guys who worked the fields in abject poverty. Blacks weren’t the only culture to come to America in chains. When our country was settled, there were white serfs in the belly of those ships sailing ‘cross the ocean blue.
Goad ponders “I wonder what a white slave of two or three hundred years ago, after being whipped, shackled, beaten, raped, starved, infected, or impregnated, would have thought of the currently fashionable SoHo/boho doctrine of white skin privilege?”
So how did rednecks stop being the victims of the rich whites, and become instead the targets of slurs from all sides? Terms such as ‘cracker’ and “poor whites’ date back to the late 1700s. Hillbilly, a term coined by an outsider to describe a culture he didn’t understand and needed to scorn, appeared in 1900. “To this day,” Goad summarizes, “redneck connotes defiance – stupid or otherwise.” He points out that to this day, the North is punishing the South for having tried and failed to separate themselves from the federal arrangement. Hence the cultural disdain for southern white trash, in particular.
The working class is angry, Goad notes, not at their black coworkers, but the bosses who have oppressed them in one form and another since their ancestors arrived on our shores in servitude. Because the work hard, he points out, their play time is often overloaded, potent with sex, violence, and sheer desire to forget that they will be back at work Monday. “It doesn’t have to feel good,” he says, “it just has to feel.” To match their playtime, the rednecks make their religion even louder, seeking meaning in a world that grinds them down and calls them nothings. Even the demi-religious following of Elvis, Bigfoot, and Aliens, Goad defines as a way to absorb class tensions, to defuse the anger that might otherwise turn to politics.
“When a bomb explodes or a plane crashes in America these days, people have taken to blaming hillbillies rather than Arabs.” Goad goes on to write a scathing denunciation of those who love to hate what they have termed ‘hate groups.’ He notes that those who are becoming intolerably shrill about white trash militia threats are in the pockets of big corporate interests. “So maybe all this chest-thumping about ‘hate speech’ has less to do with racism than it has to do with criticism of government.” Goad’s conclusion is that the mass media has carefully constructed a campaign against the very thing the government fears most: it’s own populace.
Goad’s view on racism is that if the media would stop emphasizing the differences between black and white, would stop talking down to the ‘little brown brother’ then we might actually be able to grow out of allowing race to matter. Equality is not being sought, he points out, but white guilt. Blacks are allowed to be as racist as they want to be, and that is never highlighted in the evening news. Lincoln, he points out, was a white supremacist who only used freedom of slaves as a tool to win a war he was fighting for other reasons.
“I will say, then, that I am not, nor have even been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…” Then Candidate Lincoln, in a debate with Stephen Douglas, 1858.
Goad concludes his manifesto by proclaiming that he is an asshole, and Uppity White Lowlife, and an extremist. He calls himself a recovering liberal, having realized that the group he had joined was really “City kids living on their attorney parents’ trust funds howling that rural rednecks are the oppressors.” They have enshrined the victim, and decided that the victimizer is the Angry White Male. They do not see that they are the problem, not the hard working salt of the earth they love to deride, and who are by and large too polite to point out that the liberals who attack them are being rude.
He ends the book with a call to arms, to take back the respect they have earned with the sweat of their brows, and a motto. Montani Semper Liberi, which roughly translated is: Mountaineers were always free.