Redneck is a derogatory term chiefly, but not exclusively, applied to white Americans perceived to be crass and unsophisticated, closely associated with rural whites of the Southern United States. Its meaning possibly stems from the sunburn found on farmers' necks dating back to the late 19th century. Its modern usage is similar in meaning to cracker (especially regarding Texas, Georgia, and Florida), hillbilly (especially regarding Appalachia and the Ozarks), and white trash (but without the last term's suggestions of immorality). In Britain, the Cambridge Dictionary definition states: "A poor, white person without education, esp. one living in the countryside in the southern US, who is believed to have prejudiced ideas and beliefs. This word is usually considered offensive." People from the white South sometimes jocularly call themselves "rednecks" as insider humor.
By the 1970s, the term had become offensive slang, its meaning expanded to include racism, loutishness, and opposition to modern ways.
Patrick Huber, in his monograph A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity, emphasized the theme of masculinity in the 20th-century expansion of the term, noting, "The redneck has been stereotyped in the media and popular culture as a poor, dirty, uneducated, and racist Southern white man."
19th and early 20th centuries
Political term for poor farmers
The term originally characterized farmers that had a red neck, caused by sunburn from long hours working in the fields. A citation from provides a definition as "poorer inhabitants of the rural districts ... men who work in the field, as a matter of course, generally have their skin stained red and burnt by the sun, and especially is this true of the back of their necks". Hats were usually worn and they protected that wearer's head from the sun, but also provided psychological protection by shading the face from close scrutiny. The back of the neck however was more exposed to the sun and allowed closer scrutiny about the person's background in the same way callused working hands could not be easily covered.
By 1900, "rednecks" was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South. The same group was also often called the "wool hat boys" (for they opposed the rich men, who wore expensive silk hats). A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:
Primary on the 25th.
And the "rednecks" will be there.
And the "Yaller-heels" will be there, also.
And the "hayseeds" and "gray dillers", they'll be there, too.
And the "subordinates" and "subalterns" will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they'll remember it, too.
By , the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as "rednecks", even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.
Linguist Sterling Eisiminger, based on the testimony of informants from the Southern United States, speculated that the prevalence of pellagra in the region during the Great Depression may have contributed to the rise in popularity of the term; red, inflamed skin is one of the first symptoms of that disorder to appear.
The term "redneck" in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandanas for solidarity. The sense of "a union man" dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. It was also used by union strikers to describe poor white strikebreakers.
Late 20th and early 21st centuries
Writers Edward Abbey and Dave Foreman also use "redneck" as a political call to mobilize poor rural white Southerners. "In Defense of the Redneck" was a popular essay by Ed Abbey. One popular early Earth First! bumper sticker was "Rednecks for Wilderness". Murray Bookchin, an urban leftist and social ecologist, objected strongly to Earth First!'s use of the term as "at the very least, insensitive". However, many Southerners have proudly embraced the term as a self-identifier. Similarly to Earth First!'s use, the self-described "anti-racist, pro-gun, pro-labor" group Redneck Revolt have used the term to signal its roots in the rural white working-class and celebration of what member Max Neely described as "redneck culture".
As political epithet
According to Chapman and Kipfer in their "Dictionary of American Slang", by 1975 the term had expanded in meaning beyond the poor Southerner to refer to "a bigoted and conventional person, a loutish ultra-conservative". For example, in 1960 John Bartlow Martin expressed Senator John F. Kennedy should not enter the Indiana Democratic presidential primary because the state was "redneck conservative country". Indiana, he told Kennedy, was a state "suspicious of foreign entanglements, conservative in fiscal policy, and with a strong overlay of Southern segregationist sentiment". Writer William Safire observes it is often used to attack white Southern conservatives, and more broadly to degrade working class and rural whites that are perceived by urban progressives to be insufficiently progressive. At the same time, some white Southerners have reclaimed the word, using it with pride and defiance as a self-identifier.
In popular culture
- Johnny Russell was nominated for a Grammy Award in for his recording of "Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer", parlaying the "common touch" into financial and critical success.
- Further songs referencing rednecks include "Longhaired Redneck" by David Allan Coe, "Rednecks" by Randy Newman, "Redneck Friend" by Jackson Browne, "Redneck Woman" by Gretchen Wilson, "Redneck Yacht Club" by Craig Morgan, "Redneck" by Lamb of God, "Redneck Crazy" by Tyler Farr, "Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night" by Conway Twitty, "Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother" by Jerry Jeff Walker, and "Your Redneck Past" by Ben Folds Five.
- 'Picture to Burn' by Taylor Swift is another successful country song using the word 'redneck', this time in a negative way, where the narrator calls her ex-boyfriend a 'redneck heartbreak'.
- Frank Zappa's song "Lonesome Cowboy Bert" which appeared on the soundtrack of "200 Motels" performed by The Mothers used the term.
- Comedian Jeff Foxworthy's comedy album You Might Be a Redneck If... cajoled listeners to evaluate their own behavior in the context of stereotypical redneck behavior.
- Redneck is mentioned several times on Texas-based animated sitcom King of the Hill by Hank Hill's antagonistic neighbor Kahn.
Outside the United States
Historical Scottish Covenanter usage
In Scotland in the 1640s, the Covenanters rejected rule by bishops, often signing manifestos using their own blood. Some wore red cloth around their neck to signify their position, and were called rednecks by the Scottish ruling class to denote that they were the rebels in what came to be known as The Bishop's War that preceded the rise of Cromwell. Eventually, the term began to mean simply "Presbyterian", especially in communities along the Scottish border. Because of the large number of Scottish immigrants in the pre-revolutionary American South, some historians have suggested that this may be the origin of the term in the United States.
The exact Afrikaans equivalent, rooinek, is used as a disparaging term for English people and South Africans of English descent, in reference to their supposed naïveté as later arrivals in the region in failing to protect themselves from the sun.
- Florida cracker
- Georgia cracker
- Old Stock Americans
- Stereotypes of white Americans
- Culture of the Southern United States
- Country (identity)
- List of ethnic slurs
- Class discrimination
- Bogan, Australian term
- Plain Folk of the Old South
- Redlegs – poor whites that live on Barbados and a few other Caribbean islands
- White trash
- Harold Wentworth, and Stuart Berg Flexner, Dictionary of American Slang (1975) p. 424.
- "Redneck - Definition and More". Merriam Webster. Retrieved January 25, 2014.
- Huber, 1995,
- Anthony Harkins, Hillbilly, A Cultural History of an American Icon, Oxford University Press (2004), p. 39.
- Wray (2006) p. x
- Ernest Cashmore and James Jennings, eds. Racism: essential readings (2001) p. 36.
- Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) pp. 17–19
- See online
- John Morreall (2011). Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor. John Wiley & Sons. p. 106. ISBN 9781444358292.
- Robert L. Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang (1995) p. 459; William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary (1993) pp. 653-54; Tom Dalzell, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z (2005) 2:1603.
- Huber, Patrick (1995). "A short history of Redneck: The fashioning of a southern white masculine identity". Southern Cultures. 1 (2): 145–166. doi:10.1353/scu.1995.0074. S2CID 143996001.
- Frederic Gomes Cassidy & Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English VOL.IV (2002) p. 531. ISBN 978-0674008847
- Elaine Stone (2018). The Dynamics of Fashion. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 254. ISBN 9781501324000. Retrieved April 17, 2019.
- Kirwan, Albert D. (1951). Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics, 1876-1925. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. ISBN 9780813134284.
- Patrick Huber; Kathleen Drowne (2001). "Redneck: A New Discovery". American Speech. 76 (4): 434–437. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-4-434.
- Kirwan (1951), p. 212.
- Sterling Eisiminger (Autumn 1984). "Redneck". American Speech. 59 (3): 284. doi:10.2307/454514. JSTOR 454514.
- Patrick Huber, "Red Necks and Red Bandanas: Appalachian Coal Miners and the Coloring of Union Identity, 1912–1936", Western Folklore, Winter 2006.
- James Green (2015). The Devil Is Here in These Hills: West Virginia's Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom. New York: Grove Press. p. 380. ISBN 9780802124654.
- Bookchin, Murray; Foreman, Dave. Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman. South End Press. 1991. p. 95.
- Kyff, Rob (August 3, 2007). "Embrace Slurs, Reclaim Pride". Hartford Courant. p. D.10. Retrieved 2010-06-30.
Many southerners have adopted the disparaging term redneck as a banner of pride.
- Page, Clarence (July 18, 1989). "'Redneck' is not a word that a politician should take lightly". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Archived from the original on September 27, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2010.
- Watt, Cecilia Saixue (11 July 2017). "Redneck Revolt: the armed leftwing group that wants to stamp out fascism". theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
- Robert L. Chapman and Barbara Ann Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang (3rd ed. 1995) p. 459.
- Ray E. Boomhower (2015). John Bartlow Martin: A Voice for the Underdog. Indiana UP. p. 273. ISBN 9780253016188.
- William Safire, Safire's political dictionary (2008) p. 612
- Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) p. 18
- "Milestone: 'King of the Hill'". hollywoodreporter.com. May 11, 2006. Archived from the original on October 8, 2007. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
- Fischer, David Hackett. (1989) Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
- redneck (1989); Oxford English Dictionary second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Herman, Arthur, How the Scots Invented the Modern World. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001, p. 235.
- Jean Bedford, A Dictionary of South African English, Oxford
- Abbey, Edward. "In Defense of the Redneck", from Abbey's Road: Take the Other. (E. P. Dutton, 1979)
- Ferrence, Matthew, "You Are and You Ain't: Story and Literature as Redneck Resistance", Journal of Appalachian Studies, 18 (2012), 113–30.
- Goad, Jim. The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (Simon & Schuster, 1997).
- Harkins, Anthony. Hillbilly: A cultural history of an American icon (2003).
- Huber, Patrick. "A short history of Redneck: The fashioning of a southern white masculine identity." Southern Cultures 1#2 (1995): 145–166. online
- Jarosz, Lucy, and Victoria Lawson. "'Sophisticated people versus rednecks': Economic restructuring and class difference in America's West." Antipode 34#1 (2002): 8-27.
- Shirley, Carla D. "'You might be a redneck if ... ' Boundary Work among Rural, Southern Whites." Social forces 89#1 (2010): 35–61. in JSTOR
- West, Stephen A. From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1850–1915 (2008)
- Weston, Ruth D. "The Redneck Hero in the Postmodern World", South Carolina Review, (Spring 1993)
- Wilson, Charles R. and William Ferris, eds. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, (1989)
- Wray, Matt. Not Quite White: White Trash and the Boundaries of Whiteness (2006)
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