Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Mighty Uncomfortable Read

A couple of years ago, on a rainy day down in the Outer Banks of North Carolina where we Jingos take our summer repose, I was desultorily cruising a shopping mall with Son Freddie, killing time while Wonder Woman and Daughter Betty satisfied their female yearning to fondle small perfumed consumables. We drifted into a store that sold NASCAR memorabilia, hoping to beat our ennui with some hot automotive action -- despite knowing little and caring less about motor sports. A personable young store clerk spotted us, attempted to engage Freddie, aged about eight at the time, in a friendly chinwag:

"Hidy, youngster! You like NASCAR?"

"Uh, I guess..."

"Who's your favorite driver?"


Now here's a confession: There was an impulse in me, resistible yet quite plainly there, to draw myself up to my full height, look coldly down my patrician nose, and intone, in my best Brahmin drawl, "Madame, my son does not have a favorite NASCAR drivaaaah..."

Now what the hell was that all about? Touchy, touchy!

Well, I was just reflecting my upbringing, I guess, a principle drilled (subtly, delicately, pianissimo) into me from birth: You are not a redneck.

Well, sure, of course, my forebears hail from liberal, boozh-wah Minnesota; moonshine stills and snake-handlers are pretty damned thin on the ground in those parts, but that's not what we mean when we teach our children, You are not rednecks.

We mean: They are Other....


Have been squirming my way through the astonishingly aptly named Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto (Simon & Schuster, 1997), treading on eggshells.

If you don't read carefully, you might go in one end a nice, tolerant person and come out the other a hood-sportin', skinhead cross-burner. That's where you think Goad is going with this book. But only if you don't read carefully. Do that, and there's a hell of a lot to chew on in here.

Goad's major points are:
  • Rednecks are the last people in America it's OK to have a ridiculously hateful view of: toothless, booger-eatin', sister-rapin', *Cheez-Whiz-gobblin', dumb-as-a-box-of-hair inbreeders. Such a description applied to any other ethnic group would result in a richly deserved ass-whoopin'. Why not for rednecks?

  • Britain offloaded its criminals and underclass and debtors and whores and generally inconvenient people on America's shores until the Revolution; only then did they start in on Australia. Our classroom history books spend about a sentence on this, while devoting whole chapters to African slavery. We think of indentured servitude as some kind of benign apprenticeship, a New World job-training program, but, Goad shows with impressive command of primary-source materials (not to mention language that brooks no tenderness), it was indistinguishable from slavery: indentured servants were chattel, bought and sold in chains, their families broken up, under hideous working conditions, earning subsistence compensation for stoop labor.

  • After their periods of indenture were up, these people were shunted off into the expanding western frontier, to provide a buffer betwen the Indians and the plantations they'd been thrown off of. No forty acres and a mule, no seed money, no GI Bill, no nothin'. Go. Result: Grinding Appalachian poverty and a permanent underclass of booger-eatin', sister-rapin' etc.

Now, if you stop here, all you have is pretty pointless Angry White Male rage. But Goad doesn't stop here, and that's why I'm even bothering with this. Goad rips the undies off the Filthy Little Secret that so many, in Red states and Blue, don't have the stones to cop to.

Kids, the Blot on the American Soul ain't race. Or it ain't JUST race.


Why does the Left keep losing elections? Because we've forgotten who it is we advocate for. We've lost sight of what caused a Left to exist in the first place: Class conflict.

Since the world began, the Haves have crapped on the Have-nots, made laws that perpetuate the dominion of the Haves, kept Have-Nots in chains. They exploit our xenophobia, teaching us to hate each other, deflecting our attention from the nauseating gulfs of wealth between Us and Them. I don't think I have to lecture anybody about this; it's right there in the history books for you to see. And when the Left became an affinity group of aggrieved-victim identities instead of an advocate for a monolithic Working Class, it weakened what unites us and strengthened what divides us.

And now we scorn poor whites, their religion, their sports, their culture, as if we didn't need them. And they goddamned well know that, because they're not stupid.

And they vote in droves for a guy who screws them sideways, who hands their taxes to the Haves, who sends their sons and daughters into insane military ventures -- because he at least doesn't appear to scorn them, or laugh at them. Or get uncomfortable when they talk enthusiatically about NASCAR.

Fences need mending, folks. Fences need mending.

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