Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Sometime in the mid-90s, I grew to really hate Jeff Foxworthy. I'd tell some guy (always some guy) that I was from Memphis and he'd look real delighted and say "Memphis! Hey did you know you might be a redneck if..." And this poor sap always thought he was the first person to assail me with that played out witticism (currently, this guy is the same guy who finds out I'm a vegetarian and says "if God didn't intend us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them of tasty meat." Siiiiiigh).
Dammit, Jeff Foxworthy (I'd think). You've just handed entitled yankee elitist another tool with which to paint my home in broad, condescending strokes. Stupid.
But, in retrospect, I wasn't being fair to Jeff Foxworthy. It's not his fault that your average New Yorker thinks that everyone from the south is exactly the same (I pick on poor New York, but, honestly, I think it's just the most provincial place in the world. This may be more due to my Chicago-ness, than my southern-ness).
When I was growing up in Memphis, the word "redneck" meant something. And it meant something pretty serious. It didn't mean someone who didn't have a lot of money and wasn't fancy (we'd probably call that guy a 'good old boy'). We saved "redneck" for people who were stupid and lazy who nevertheless believed like gospel that the reason they didn't have anything was because someone took it from them. And that someone was probably black. We never called someone a redneck affectionately. It was a word with a very specific invective that we reserved for people that were dangerously stupid.
And the clearest nonverbal indicator of a redneck was the goddamn confederate flag. If someone had a confederate flag painted on the back window of their truck, it meant something really specific - and everyone knew exactly what that was.
As a quick aside, take this lyric from Sweet Home Alabama: "In Alabama we love our governor." This didn't mean "step off, yankee, from our politics." It meant we love George "Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever" Wallace. In Alabama, the song was saying, we love our white supremacist, segregationist governor.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but this isn't something to be proud of.
I love the south. I love southern accents in all their various forms. I love the literature and that particular, friendly warmth that southern people enjoy. I especially love that accent. Honestly, a good Tennessee accent sounds like honey on my ears and is especially refreshing after all these years amongst that godawful flat Chicago one.
But from my vantage point of internal southern-ness, I know that there ain't enough lipstick in the world for the confederate pig. In other words, Governor McDonnell, knock it off with Confederate Month nonsense. Unlike Jeff Foxworthy, people aren't condescendingly misunderstanding the redneckitude of what you mean. On the contrary, we know exactly what you mean.
*Edited to note, an old buddy tells me I've got it wrong on Sweet Home Alabame. Check out comments.