• History
  • Themes
  • Media
  • Significant Scholarship

History

With origins soon after the civil war, the term redneck has been used by the American people to describe a constantly changing group of white Americans. However, there are reoccurring traits in this subculture throughout. Importantly, however, it is important to realize that the term redneck is commonly used as a self describing label as well as a pejorative term. Rednecks have historically a proud group of working-class people, and even proclaim themselves as a redneck. For the purposes of this page, the term rednecks will be used to describe a group of historically white, working class people with a strong sense of nationalism. Additionally, they have often had right wing, racist ideals and have lived in the rural south. Common, more modern stereotypes for rednecks are that they live out in the country, only listen to country western music, and reminisce to days when slavery still existed in America and other racial discrimination. While some of these stereotypes may be truer than others, the origins of the true American redneck is surprising to most. 

 

Sharecroppers posing in a field.

Sharecroppers posing in a field in Georgia. They can be thought of as the original rednecks.

The term redneck has strong agricultural ties. Originally used in the latter half of the 19th century, redneck was a slur used by upper class whites to describe lower class white farmers (Huber 1995). These lower class workers would often have sunburnt, red necks from tending their fields all day; hence the name. Interestingly, newly freed slaves due to emancipation also used this term to both distinguish themselves and gain social status above the poor, white farmers. This slur, and continual socioeconomic restrains caused working class southern whites to fall to the bottom of the white social hierarchy ladder (Boney 1971). In order to gain some social currency and further separate themselves from the now free black men and women, these white farmers would refuse to wear the same head ware that was donned as the black farmers. Instead of wearing the same protective, wide brimmed straw hats that the black farmers could now wear, rednecks would instead wear narrow brimmed cloth hats. In this way, the back of their necks were left unprotected and susceptible to sunburn. Even today, common stereotypes about rednecks talk about the brimming of hats.

Coal miner with handkerchief.

A Pennsylvanian coal miner sporting a handkerchief.

In the 1930s, redneck took a dramatic shift from being a term used for prejudice, to one of unification for white coal miners.With the eventual fall of the majority of sharecropping and agriculture in the south, many poor whites turned to coal mining as an occupation; namely in the Appalachian region (Huber 1995). With this turn to coal mining came the rise of labor unions. To many southern whites, the ideas of labor unions went against American ideologies of earning a hard day’s work, and living off of your own work. Thus, those white, southern coal miners who belonged to labor unions were termed rednecks due to their communist ties (Huber 1995). This was meant as a double epithet, since once again many of these coal miners were converted farmers, who were rednecks back then too. Instead of being prejudiced against and discriminated by the term, union organizers instead used the term redneck as means for unification. By using red bandanas, which were already being used for protection in the coal mining industry against dust, union members could be easily identified. This was prominently displayed in coal miner strikes throughout the 1930s. Unification by the once prejudicial term redneck is still common to some today, however its coal miner ties have faded.

Modern Day Redneck

Sam, a hillbilly who lives in North Carolina.

Sam is a self proclaimed hillbilly who lives in Gertin, North Carolina.

In today’s society, the term redneck does not have a regional descriptor attached to it. Instead, it is used to describe a lifestyle with certain ideals still present from the old south. In a piece done by Vice, various self-reported rednecks described what it means to be a redneck:

“A true redneck don’t give a shit about nothing but putting food on the table, working, and getting drunk. A man ain’t got a job and can’t provide for himself can go to hell as far as I care.”

These ideas of working for your own food and shelter, having a strong sense of self pride, and aggressive and violent tendencies to those view otherwise closely mirrors the traits of an old, southern, poor sharecropper. This lifestyle is consistently shown in another common facet of the modern day redneck, country music (Grimshaw 2002). Modern country music still talks of being able to live off of your own work, being proud of your history and of being American, and even of staying true to the south (for better and for worse). A good example of this stereotypical southern ideology is shown in Brooks and Dunn’s hit song Hillbilly Deluxe:

“Hillbilly deluxe, slick pick up trucks Big timing in a small town Stirrin’ it up right about sundown Black denim and chrome to the bone With a little homegrown Country girl cuddled up Hillbilly deluxe”

Acts of owning large trucks, dating southern girls, and self-identifying as a hillbilly, or redneck, are common themes in country music. Country music even tries to address aspects of racism in the modern day redneck. In staying with southern pride, many rednecks fly flags and wear clothing depicting the confederate flag. While a symbol of pride and history to many rednecks, main stream society views the wearing and flying of this flag as a racist act, and one that self-identifies as a racist. In a song by LL Cool J and Brad Paisley called Accidental Racist, Paisley (a white country singer) says, “When I put on that t-shirt [depicting the confederate flag], the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan. The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south”. He even follows up in the song saying, “I’m a son of the new south”, and even “And I just want to make things right”. The modern redneck as depicted by country music is a person who lives a carefree lifestyle, earns an honest living, and is proud of his history. These ideas have been common throughout the use of the term redneck, and the people it describes.

Liberal Rednecks

The logo of the far left militia group Redneck Revolt.

The Redneck Revolt logo.

Modern society and media has often portrayed self-proclaimed rednecks with stereotypes of being from the south, poverty, and being supports of white nationalism and white pride; stereotypes also applied to Alt-Right Subcultures. In recent years, however, there has been a large push back of these stereotypes being associated with the redneck label. In response to the election of President Trump, a group of far left militias from Colorado and Kansas formed the Redneck Revolt. The revolt is founded on core principles of anti-white supremacy, anti-capitalism, and anti-patriarchy. The militia group has branches across the country, and has members from various political, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

In less extreme cases, even poop culture has begun to try and reclaim the Redneck handle from the disparaging stereotypes. The now internet famous comedian and self-proclaimed redneck Trae Crowder has used YouTube to post videos of himself mocking and refuting ideals of trans-phobia and bigotry. Using the handle the “Liberal Redneck”, he aims to reform common societal stereotypes of rednecks to ones of being educated and tolerant. In his most famous video, he responds to an evangelical minister’s transphobic rant on transgender bathrooms. Crowder’s goal is to influence a new wave of southern rednecks to be more tolerant, and let more close-minded rednecks that times are changing (Huntsberry, 2016).

Edited by: Noah Fluharty

Themes

1) Humble Living

From the white sharecroppers, to the union coalminers, to the current blue collar workers of today, the term redneck has always been used to describe people of the lower to middle working class. Being a redneck means earning your own keep and being able to support yourself and your family, even if it means working a hard manual labor job such as farming and coalmining. Rednecks do often do not view themselves as poor or lower-class; rather they take need to work blue-collar jobs to make ends meet with a sense of pride (Huber 1995).

2) Authenticity of Being a Redneck

Being a “true” redneck often involves some sort of display of authenticity. Whether this involves wearing billed caps and red handkerchiefs, joining a militia, or even displaying your views online in forums, being a redneck means that you are proud of it and are willing to let others know. In some cases, this may include the disparagement of other subcultures and minorities for your own gain.

3) Stigmatization of Rednecks

Common stereotypes of rednecks are that they are southern, uneducated, and have right wing political views. However, the term redneck has been used to describe a wide range of Americans since its origin, and includes from various regions, religious beliefs, political views, and even race and ethnicity.

Edited by: Noah Fluharty

The song “Accidental Racist” by LL Cool J and Brad Paisley. This controversial song describes a conversation in which Brad Paisley apologizes for wearing racist redneck symbols such as the confederate flag, and LL Cool J accept the apology.

The song “Hillbilly Deluxe” by Brooks and Dunn. The song depicts typical redneck ideas such as driving big trucks, dating southern girls, and living a carefree lifestyle. These ideals are common much of modern day country music.

Vice follows a self-proclaimed redneck who has lived off the land of Alabama for years at a time. Cambo lives off the land in the Alabama wilderness, and displays the Redneck themes of earning his keep and humble living.

Trae Crowder’s famous Youtube video looks to dispel redneck stereotypes of transphobia. Here he responds to a southern’s minister’s views of anti-transgender bathrooms.

Edited by: Noah Fluharty

Books

Goad, J. (2014). The redneck manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks and White Trash became Americas scapegoats. New York: Simon Schuster Paperbacks.

This book describes the plight and history of the hillbilly (redneck), and how they have been treated in American history. It is written from the view of a self-identifying redneck, Jim Goad.


Carr, D. (1996). A Question of Class: The Redneck Stereotype in Southern Fiction. Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

In this book, Carr describes the decent of the redneck stereotype into poverty and how it is accepted by themselves. Additionally, Carr also examines the presence of rednecks in southern literature from antebellum to contemporary writers.


Williams, J. C. (2017). White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press.

Williams describes how the working class of America has been confused for being poor. Instead, the middle class does not seek to join the upper-class, and instead seeks to upheld their own personal values. This book looks at the class to which many rednecks belong.


Articles

Beech, J. (2004). Redneck and Hillbilly Discourse in the Writing Classroom: Classifying Critical Pedagogies of Whiteness. College English, 67(2), 172. doi:10.2307/4140716

Boney, F. (1971). The Redneck. The Georgia Review, 25(3), 333-342. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41396796

Fox, A. A. (2007). Real country: Music and language in working-class culture. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

Grimshaw, M. (2002). ‘Redneck religion and shitkickin’ saviours?’: Gram Parsons, theology and country music. Popular Music, 21(1), 93-105. doi:10.1017/S0261143002002052

Huber, P. J. (1995). A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity. Southern Cultures, 1(2), 145-166. doi: org/10.1353/scu.1995.0074

Huber, P. (1995). A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity. Southern Cultures 1(2), 145-166. The University of North Carolina Press. Retrieved December 17, 2018, from Project MUSE database.

Oconnell, A. (2010). An Exploration of Redneck Whiteness in Multicultural Canada. Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 17(4), 536-563. doi:10.1093/sp/jxq019

Shirley, C. D. (2010). You might be a redneck if…” Boundary Work among Rural, Southern Whites. Social Forces, 89(1), 35–61 doi: 10.1353/sof.2010.0081

Edited by: Noah Fluharty