David just called a while ago to tell me about something he heard on the radio. He listens to NewsTalk while he's driving between jobs and keeps me informed of interesting tidbits he hears on there. Today they were talking about how the term Redneck is no longer politically correct. I asked him what is the new politically correct term. He said that we are now to be called and to call ourselves Appalachian Americans. LOL Doesn't that sound fancy? But we think that's just ridiculous. I'm not offended by the term Redneck, or even Hillbilly for that matter. I'm proud of my heritage. I can trace my lineage all the way back to pre-Revolution. And that means the American Revolution, you know, back in 1776 when we declared our Independence from England. I'm an All-American Girl and proud of it. (I'm not implying that you have to be able to trace your history back that far to be 'All-American'. A naturalized citizen is All-American too in my view.)
And we also think that many people around here will be offended by this new term because they will think that people are making fun of them. Rednecks are pretty simple people, and by 'simple' I don't mean dumb. We think of ourselves primarily as Americans, just plain Americans. We don't feel the need to attach some distinguishing adjective to our American-ness. And I think we'll continue to call ourselves Rednecks or Hillbillies just like many black people (African Americans if you must, though most all of them weren't actually born in Africa) still use the "n" word with each other. I don't like the "n" word and don't use it, but who am I to tell black people that they can't use it? I hope that 'Redneck' won't go the way of the "n" word and become totally controversial.
When I call myself a Redneck I am saying that I come from a rural background, as opposed to an urban one. I grew up watching the Beverly Hillbillies and laughing at it because it struck a nerve of truth. Certainly, it was exaggerated to the hilarious extreme, but there was an element of reality to their simple view of life and their ingenuity in functioning in 'high society.' Granny actually reminded me a little of one of my grandmothers, though we never, ever ate 'possum. It's funny to note here though, that in Tennessee a few years ago the State Legislature passed a law (TCA Section 70-4-115) that allows people to pick up roadkill for their personal use and consumption. This has been the butt of many jokes, but for the practical Redneck it makes perfect sense to be able to take a dead deer off the road and use it instead of letting it stay there and waste. I've never picked up roadkill myself and don't plan to, but I can't say that I would never do it.
I suppose I'm treading on delicate territory here, but I'm not one to avoid touchy subjects. From my viewpoint it looks like there is a kind of Redneck Renaissance trying to assert itself by taking more pride in our rural heritage and expressing our comfort with that. We aren't ashamed of our Redneckness as some in our parents' generation might have been. They seemed to want to forget their origins and move away from their roots. My own mother was pretty uncomfortable with her rural background. She saw it as a weakness of some sort. I think she'd be a little horrified at my own claim of being a Redneck.
What we have begun to accept now is that there are many varieties of Rednecks. There are the trailer park Rednecks. And there are the farming Rednecks. And there are the more sophisticated Rednecks. And there are the highly educated Rednecks. And there are even Nouveaux Rednecks (previously more urban or suburban people who move out to the country) kind of like the Nouveaux Riches. There are good Rednecks, and there are bad Rednecks, just like any other group.
For a great article about Redneck heritage read this archived story from Parade Magazine. And WBIRTV has The Heartland Series that celebrates our heritage and spotlights local artisans, traditions, etc. It is a wonderful, award-winning series that has been produced for 20 years.