September 1, 2014
Home was a small piece of sage canyon land butting against open land. As kids, my sister, brother and I and our friends never gave it much thought biking a mile or so to a friend’s house. On any Saturday we could spend a day riding canyon roads on banana seat bikes never intended for off road. Many of us boys learned to ride a horse but few were serious horsemen. Though we all rode a bit more during our teenage years when we grasped that most of the girls rode horses. We walked canyons and climbed Live Oaks to watch hawk and owl nestlings—we also learned to duck when mamma came at you talons first. We built box traps and trapped raccoons, possums, and an assortment of animals—we also learned the heartache of watching a wild animal die because it could not live in space other than the wide-open. As teenagers we arrived at school during hunting season with guns in the pickup and at last bell were walking steep canyon hillsides. In this landscape of canyons and open sky I became a young man and a redneck liberal
I have not thought about being a redneck for a while, but since I commented in AM Radio Justice about dumbass rednecks, I’ve given it some thought.
I was not saying rednecks are natural dumbasses. No one has a lock on that. From where I stand the are clearly as many dumbass liberals, conservatives, and moderates as there are dumbass rednecks. In other words, one is not a dumbass by virtue of being a redneck. Just the same, we all know many folk do not think very highly of rednecks.
Redneck notoriety begins outside. In the U.S., like many world societies, those people whose work life places them out of doors—normally doing physical labor (farmers, ranchers, construction workers, fishers)—and whose skin the sun has darken, are often understood as something less than. For white folk, the darkened skin is most notable on the neck, thus the redneck. Darkened skin has been used in the U.S. from before the country was formed to set people apart and make those who do physical work as something less than those who do not.
There is a danger in misinterpreting what I have said. So, let us be clear about what I did not say. I did not say white rednecks are oppressed in the U.S. as are people of color. Rather, the white redneck accrues a privilege people of color do not, same as all white—conservative, liberal, and moderate—folk. Which speaks to what seems a long held view of rednecks being something akin to racist. Reality is, in the U.S. system that continues to favor and give privilege to folk of white skin, there are no more racist rednecks running around than there are racist liberals, conservatives, and moderates.
Ernest Bloch wrote, Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist. Knowing the contradictions of our lives helps us hear truth and live whole lives. Some may be surprised to hear there are virtuous redneck values. Yet the life of any individual is virtuous, and that of the Redneck becomes apparent alongside liberal thought. As an aside, there is something appropriate of liberal and redneck informing one another for both have taken their hits in U.S. culture—to get away from the stigma of a word, as many liberals have ran identify themselves as progressive as rednecks have fled to identify as conservative or moderate. To experience one is to experience the other.
Clearly, both rednecks and liberals have values they would do good to leave behind. Yet they both have virtuous values when lived side by side. For instance, rednecks bring the value of busting your butt. This is a value where everyone is to work hard and put all of the being into their work, every day. No one gets out of this, attorneys, plumbers, single parents, welfare recipients, all expected to bust their butt at their work. Married to this value is if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Don’t slack off, and at the end of a day you should be proud of the work you have done.
Those values become virtuous alongside liberal thought. Every person is uniquely created and every person brings unique skills to their community. No one skill is better than another for community needs them all. In this model, the work one does is based on their natural created gift. Since this is the work of their creation, work is not laborious, but natural and enjoyable.
Blending redneck and liberal goes a long way toward creating healthy communities who honor folk’s natural gifts. In such communities, folk bust their butt every day of their life because they are simply living their natural created life. There is harmony in such a community for there is dancing for the dancers, fishing for the fishers, singing for singers, and teaching for teachers. All have a roof over their head and food for their children. In a healthy community of redneck liberals, folk respect their contradictions, do not run from who they are, and embrace the whole of their being.