I Ain’t No Redneck. Or Am I?

An old pickup truck is going muddin. Which for the non southerner, driving thru a lot of mud that sprays up all over your truck.

When I moved to the great big city of Los Angeles from Georgia in 2003, I knew the stereotype of Southerners as being dumb as a box of rocks and hooking up with cousins. I know it’s a load of b.s. (okay, I’ve stumbled across it a few times on Ancestry, but that was a long time ago). However, I tried to mask my accent into a neutral tone. People would say “Oh, I thought you were from the MidWest”. Not what I was aiming for, but okay.

Once you’re living in L.A. where people come from all over to live in this magical land, you find your Southern crew who become replacement family members. They might not be the cool folks you’re hanging out with, but you go to them for anything serious. You get each other. You know the struggles, not fittin’ into society back home, the Southern kin folks who hold a grudge for you leaving your roots, the free-for-all lifestyle that’s polar opposite of back home and you’re sharing the love of it, and you can let your hair down in front of these people without needing a blowout first. And these folks don’t have to be from your homestate exactly. Anywhere in the southeast, some Texans, and Oklahoma is a shoo-in. Only Northern Florida counts as Southern people. Miami are city folk and the other beach towns are snowbirds or Northern retirees.

As the years went on and I established myself in California, I saw that I didn’t need to mask my accent. The more I embraced it, the more I forgot to ‘talk proper’. Now 20 years later, I’m loud and proud of my Southern roots.

This past weekend, a neighbor had a friend visiting from San Jose and said they were coming over to say Hi. I quickly cleaned my dinner dishes and got semi-gussied up.

When they arrived, The Friend gave me a great big hug and said she’s a hugger. It turned out, she lived in Georgia for many years working as a nurse, and she grew up in Miami. Okay, she’s my people. Three whole hours they were here and we talked and laughed and had a great time. Or so I thought.

When they were leaving, I initiated the hug and told The Friend to come back any time. As they walked down the hall, I poked my head out the door smiling ear to ear, watching them and thinking what a great night this turned out to be. Until…the only part of their conversation I could hear was The Friend saying  “…..ol Georgia redneck”. I froze.

Did she just refer to me as a redneck??? Should I walk over there and clarify this? Because I am not a redneck! I closed my door and my blood began to boil. How dare she call me that! Did I say something that could have come across as racist? I retraced all I could of the conversations. It was a perfectly nice evening until the redneck comment. Should I talk to my neighbor tomorrow and passive aggressively say that I overheard it and it wasn’t cool? Do I need to start covering up my accent again? Is everybody getting this impression of me? I laid in bed thinking about it.

The term redneck has changed over the years – at least for me. I know the jist was a person working hard in the sun. But at times it meant Southerner, good ol boy, people who listened to country music and drove pickup trucks. Then as years passed, possibly while I was on the West Coast, the term redneck meant white trash or racists and I heard it that way in media and from the mouths of others, as well as from Southerners back home. Therefore, The Friend called me white trash!

The next morning, I called one of my Southern friends in Los Angeles. She grew up in the very Southern edge of Georgia and partly Northern Florida, where most of her family were. I unloaded about the nice 3-hour visit, then being disposed of as white trash. At first, she confirmed I’m not a redneck. Then, she explained that in Florida, it is an endearment. “What??? Call me hillbilly, country, Southern belle, anything but a redneck! That’s not endearing.” She explained that it means a country person or Southerner in Florida, but in Georgia it’s offensive. I had a hard time buying into this idea.

I decided to Google, as this convo must’ve happened before. Whatdya know? Her theory was correct according to some. Although, it’s been an interchangeable term that I myself have used for white trash or racists in any part of the United States. I think this is why it struck a chord with me. I only saw it my way.  

As I thought about it, my cousin and his friends in high school were the ‘redneck’ clique. They liked country and drove 4-wheel drive trucks. Proud country boys. And they weren’t all white. And if I were gonna assume that it’s bad, I needed to think of the people who call themselves rednecks, and I’ve heard a country song once by a female artist, about being a redneck.

Look, I still don’t want to be referred to as that, but I’m trying to take it as The Friend saying I’m a Georgia Southerner. I don’t know everything, but I might feel uneasy the next time The Friend is in town.

And by the way, if I hear you call me a redneck, I’ll open up a can of whoop ass on ya, slap the mascara off them eyelashes, beat you with an ugly stick, then I’ll spread a rumor about you that Clorox won’t warsh off.


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