Monday, March 17, 2014

The Redneck Manifesto

The Redneck Manifesto: How Hicks, Hillbillies, and White Trash Became Amerca's Scapegoats
© 1998 Jim Goad
272 pages

Rednecks of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your bills.   Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto is a raucous mixture of southern pride and Marx-esque social criticism which examines the plight of working whites. Although few would take seriously the concept of white plight,  in Goad's eyes 'privilege whites' constitute a minority of American whites;  most are working-class slobs like himself who have been treated as miserably throughout American history as any minority,  even slaves.  His aim is to expose anti-prole bigotry, by shock therapy if need be, and demonstrate that America's big problems are rooted in class, not ethnic tension.

His history might echo A People's History if Howard Zinn had focused on working whites and were give nto telling the reader to "f*** off".  It is a history rooted in class conflict: since time immemorial, a wealthy few have kept most of the power in their hands, and America is no different. Though our national legend involves Pilgrims seeking liberty, in the fact of the matter is that most whites who immigrated came against their wills; they were the poor pushed off the fields, scraped off the streets, and shanghaied across the Atlantic to toil as indentured servants.  Volunteering or conscripting in the Revolution, they died to help create a Constitution which had no place for them, and the centuries of progress that followed brought only more of the same. The Civil War destroyed the economy of the south, but did little to displace the power-elite; industrialism proved even more lethal than the killing fields of Europe's Great War, at least for Americans,  as thousands died every year from factory and mining accidents. The rest of the century was no better;  homes were blown apart as companies tried to crack open the Appalachian mountains like a walnut, with no mind given to the people who lived there, and free trade agreements saw the disappearance of jobs which remained.  To add insult to injury, institutions that persecuted blacks, like slavery and Jim Crow laws, were somehow blamed on the impoverished working class, despite it being just as disenfranchised by local elites. (Documents like the 1901 Alabama Constitution remain equal-opportunity oppressors of the working poor.)  While the 20th century saw various populations gain media shielding and political protection, the white working class remained a common horse to beat on,  a pleasure shared by both formerly-marginalized minorities and the elite.

Against all this, Goad doesn't call for sensitivity; no self-respecting working man would whine. What he does want is for everyone to leave rednecks the hell alone. Making fun of his kin on TV is one thing; everybody likes their scapegoats. What he has his sights on is excessive tax burdens; let the government be paid for by people who receive the services, or the propertied --  and the United States' foreign policy, which typically involves sending the sons and daughters of the poor to fight  to fulfill the elite's ambitions.  War is the harvester of the home, and nothing else.  In addition to calling for an end to death and taxes, Goad celebrates the culture of the white working family,  with chapters given over to "Playing Hard" and  even to "Praying Hard", despite Goad's firm belief that religion and politics are both full of it.

The Redneck Manifesto may have a serious intent, but it's hard to take the delivery as such. Goad is deliberately and enthusiastically vulgar, employing racial slurs throughout to goad the reader, hopefully forcing them to see 'redneck' and 'hillbilly' as pejoratives on the level as  kike, Chink, and yea, even the dreaded "N-word".  That's artistic license,  but his seemingly schizophrenic style --  alternating between informal if serious analysis and seemingly insane ranting,  throwing in nicknames for personalities and employing colloquial spelling randomly  --  can easily throw a reader off. It's surely deliberate; Goad's whole purpose in writing the  book is defy conventional attitudes.

The Redneck Manifesto is a fascinating if problematic book; it's not a perspective I'm used to hearing. Class is a taboo topic now, relegated only to Marxists -- and few working men would give Marx's conflict theory of society a moment's consideration after a half-century of being assured by the TV that in America we're all one big happy middle-class family.  Good luck, too, finding the self-described Marxist who would go anywhere near ethnic consciousness if they are white. As a product of the white working class with a sympathy for Marxist social critique, I had a ball reading this -- even while wading through the eccentric treatment of the English tongue. It's funny, cringingly inappropriate, and yet thoughtful at the same time; a tirade with a point. There's tremendous value in looking at an often ignored segment of the impoverished population, but considering the abuse Goad hurls out, readers other than southerners looking for a sympathetic voice -- of which Goad's is surely one -- might put it down early.

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