Taking an position of all out opposition to the rich elite white liberal class, while standing up for the under-represented “redneck”, Jim Goad sets out in his book “The Redneck Manifesto” to critique liberalism as it applies to the poor white class of America. Goad seeks to demonstrate that liberal hypocrisy has imposed a double standard against the “redneck” and that there are long standing historical and social bases for the perpetuation of this underclass of our American society. He asserts that the rich white liberal elite have long oppressed the poor of all races, particularly the redneck, and that the emphasis on multiculturalism is just another form of “divide and conquer” to prevent the poor from uniting in their common interests. Overall, Goad demonstrates that society must acknowledge the deliberately ignored social strife imposed on the white working class.
The Double Standard
Goad establishes in his first chapter the double standard that exists among white liberals against the “redneck.” He performed an analysis of internet “hits” of the word “redneck” compared to the word “nigger.” He found that the word “nigger” was more often referred to when quoting what someone else had said, whereas “redneck” use is often a direct insult. He goes on to relate, “Multiculturalism is a country club that excludes white trash. Its refusal to view terms such as “white trash” and “redneck” as race-specific and class-specific lends itself to a mountain of contradictions that would be comical if they weren’t dangerous” (p.22). He goes on in the same paragraph to provide several examples where certain characterizations of non-whites are taboo, but equally derogatory characterizations of whites are permissible, such as “Dumb manifestations of American blackness are explained away as “culture,” while white trash’s peccadilloes are blamed on stupidity.” He asserts that liberal characterizations of the “redneck” are one of a lazy sod who has only himself or herself to blame for his or her poverty and status. Goad demonstrates that society blames the redneck for his own situation while “there’s no shortage of socio-illogical alibis for any other group’s aberrant acts” (p. 23).
However, he points out how liberals have long viewed that only white people can be racist because in order to institute racism, you have to have power. He points out the hypocrisy in this sentiment when he states, “And this is where the alt-pundits and lib-babblers fail in their assault on rednecks. They speak of white trash and white privilege as if the terms were interchangeable… Rednecks are portrayed as the embodiment of white power, when the only time they’re likely to encounter a powerful white man is when the boss barks at them down at the factory” (p. 23). This is also an important aspect of his thesis, because society has long ignored the plight of the poor white precisely because it erroneously equates the poor white male with the rich greedy capitalist.
Goad also takes a very strong stance against diversity and multiculturalism because it tends to ignore the redneck. He criticizes the hypocrisy of liberal class because “It ‘celebrates diversity’ yet consistently frowns on the experience of the white working class” (p. 22). He points out the hypocrisy of the upper class white liberal elite and its tendency to mimic the cultures they wish to “celebrate” without absorbing a deeper understanding of the history of that culture.
He envisions a time when, even though being a redneck is “un-cool” now, one day these upper class white kids will emulate the redneck style, “As usual,” Goad says, “they’ll just gobble up the stylistic trappings and discard the experience as if it were a banana peel” (p.34).
I believe this prediction on his part has already happened with the trucker hat, torn jeans, and flannel fad that swept the nation a few years ago. As Goad suggested, mainly white liberal kids donned this apparel, and yet there remains an overwhelming amount of poor white men and women in the Appalachian region, among other parts of our nation, forgotten by these same young white liberals.
Historical Oppression of the “Redneck”
Goad conveys that the derogatory view of the working class white has been historically established in our social hierarchy. He goes back to the time of the feudal serfs, who essentially, were slaves to the rich landowner class. These serfs were often arbitrarily beaten and brutalized by their landlords. When society evolved during the industrial revolution, and it became possible to manage large tracks of land without a peasant class, many of these peasants fled to the cities in search of sustenance. However, they were just as unwelcome in the city as in the country. They left their status as serfs only to become indentured servants. At this point, they were no better than property, fit only to work to death and free to be bought, sold, and traded by their masters.
He relates this tale of the white slave to our national history as well. America was a favored location for ridding Mother England of undesirables, including indentured servants, criminals, and disfavored religions and ethnic minorities (such as the Irish). Masters often treated these white slaves just as bad, if not worse, than black slaves. Once America gained its independence, criminals and indentured servants were then sent to Australia instead.
I’d like to make note of the etymology of several terms created though our history to disparage the lower class whites of society. Pagan, from the Latin pagus, meaning “country”, was a term of disparagement for those people living in rural areas. (p. 42) The Picts of ancient Britain were often disparaged by the ruling British and Roman classes in much the same way rednecks are today, even being subject to a term similar to “trailer trash” and inbreeding jokes. (p.42) Goad relates that the Slavs were so often subject to enslavement by various empires that “Slave” comes from a bastardization of the word “Slav”. (p. 44) Even the word “serf” comes from the Latin servus meaning “slave”. (p.45)
Liberal Perception of the “Redneck”
Often, bigotry directed towards the redneck is justified by the liberal elite on the basis that rednecks are inherently bigoted. This is the very definition of “prejudicial”, or that the liberal elite automatically judge the redneck as bigoted before they give him a fair chance. (p. 75) The redneck tends to be viewed as something foreign to the urban dwelling liberal. “Our stereotypical, pop-up, cardboard-cutout, cereal-box redneck figurine is a Social Martian under all the prongs of bigoted stereotyping… the mainstream consistently depicts the redneck not as itself, but as a cultural weirdo.” (p. 76)
In colonial America, the poor white class was often subject to systematic oppression imposed by the wealthier plantation owner class. One such “gentleman” by the name of William Byrd II argued fervently for the separation of the wealthier Virginia from the poorer North Carolina. He termed the poor of Carolina as “Lubbers” and called them “indolent wretches” who “loiter away their lives through aversion to labor.” (p.77) Goad points out that he blames these “Lubbers” for not doing anything, when there was nothing for them to do. As the plantation system evolved, poorer whites were pushed to the boundaries of the colonies to work infertile land and to serve as a buffer to the Native American threat posed to the interests of the wealthy class. Rather than take the blame for their situation, Byrd put them blame on the “Lubbers” and their “disposition to laziness”. (p. 78) Unfortunately, this sentiment isn’t far removed from the liberal view today that if a white person is poor, it is due to their poor choices, rather than their poor circumstances imposed on them by the elite of society.
Goad concludes that, “America’s hate affair with white trash is, ultimately, self-hatred. Guilt projection.” (p.100) The elite use the redneck as a scapegoat to cover for their culpability in the role they played regarding the redneck. The redneck has become their mirror showing them what they have historically done to all poorer classes, and that scares the elite. Thus, they must demonize the redneck in order to secure themselves on their moral high ground. They “celebrate diversity” in the same way an adulterer goes to confessional. “Bless me father, for I have sinned, but I don’t want to admit it to my wife.” However, by far the greatest benefit from demonizing the redneck would be the control factor. By pitting the lower classes against one another, the elite place themselves in a position where they stand to benefit. Thanks to “multiculturalism”, they doubly benefit, as they are the ones pulling the strings. Ultimately, Goad asks us to consider the historical and contemporary plight of the white underclass, which has never had an institutional champion to promote their interests.