A Brief History Of The American Redneck | The Communication Blog

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Brief History Of The American Redneck

By Pete Phaedrus

Throughout the United States, many different subcultures and groups have emerged. They can be colorful, unique, and sometimes polarizing. One such group has firmly established itself as a fixture in the American South, and they are known by the nickname 'redneck.' The history of the word is older than most people realize, stretching back hundreds of years.

It began in Scotland in the 17th century, when a group of Presbyterians rejected the bishops who attempted to lead them. They worked hard to keep their religious freedom, even going so far as to sign important documents with their own blood. They identified themselves as part of the cause by wearing red cloth around their necks, and they became known for this. Eventually, 'red neck' became a general term for any Scottish Presbyterian. It is possible that, when many of them moved to the American South to start new lives, they took this nickname with them. Its first recorded usage in the United States was in 1830.

Soon, the word became an even more general term, until it no longer specifically described people of a certain religious group. By 1893, it had come to describe farmers and sharecroppers in the South. Because they were always out in the sun working, their necks were often bright red. This is probably where the modern usage of the word originates.

Within 20 years, the word was used to describe unionized miners. In the Appalachian area, many showed their affiliation by the means of a red handkerchief, which was part of their normal work attire, and this soon became a way to call people as well. Their opponents used it as a negative term.

Similarly, the term in its general use has shifted from describing simple, hard-working farmers to casting a negative light on working-class southerners. It can carry a connotation of bigotry and backwardness. In addition, it is often associated with the Confederate cause, which in turn leads to an association with segregation.

However, many people in the South are working to reclaim the word and give it a more positive feel. People who use the term as a way to describe themselves see it as connoting independence, hard work, and pride. Many comedians have notably worked redneck culture into their acts, in a way that can be appreciated by people throughout America. There are also several singers who have capitalized on their self-identification as rednecks.

Although the word has a long and varied history, it has always been used to describe a people who are very proud and determined. From its origins in 17th century Scotland, to its current use as a way to describe southerners, it remains a popular, if somewhat controversial, term.

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