Internal Orientalism of the American South
Rednecks and Fascist Deprogramming
Internal Orientalism of the American South: Rednecks and Fascist Deprogramming
By (in alphabetical order) Reggie Bolton, Melissa Browne, Zac Hyden, Aaron Pollack, Victor Spezzini, Josh Stewart
Redneck Studies is a fascist deprograming agenda. The authors of this paper are all rednecks and we know and sometimes love these fascists. It hurts us to see our friends and family members seduced by a vile and insidious ideology, while at the same time abandoned derisively by the left. It is thus our goal as leftist rednecks to offer a way forward to our friends and family members and to encourage them with love that solidarity is superior to hate.
Our paper grew out of the Redneck Studies Class of The Cooperative New School for Urban Studies and Environmental Justice. It was taught between January of 2020 and April of 2020 and included rednecks from Alabama and Paraguay. The Cooperative New School is an online popular education institution of higher learning that teaches classes on everything from agroecology to urban political strategy to environmental justice futurism to community development. It has been in existence since 2016 and has faculty from two states, Alabama and California and in Mexico.
The term “redneck” has a long been synonymous with the backward culture of the North American Southerner; that ignorant, gun-toting, rebel flag wavin,’ whiskey drinkin,’ country criminal who would just as soon shoot you for stepping one foot on their rental property, as to offer a neighborly greeting, one to be loathed and feared, a villain.
This image of the redneck is a combination of a historical reality and a cultural fiction, part true and part false. The origin of the term can be traced back to the West Virginia coal miner rebellion of the early 1900’s, where working class miners fought in armed conflict for better wages and working conditions from the oppressive ownership of the mine. The mine workers tied red handkerchiefs around their necks in solidarity against their immoral oppressor, and, though defeated, set the stage for future labor unrest across the South.
This history of the West Virginia Mine Wars is intended to replace Neo-Confederate history and culture.
Yet, somehow, this historical reality of heroic rednecks being freedom fighters against tyranny and oppression has been largely forgotten, or scrubbed from cultural relevance, and replaced with the modern, inaccurate villains we know today. This erasure serves global elites by orientalizing working class Southerners. “Orientalism is directly implicated in the creation of national identities. A national identity must be continually reproduced in order to retain its salience and vigor in the minds and hearts of citizens. Hence, nations are “not only constructions, but also continually in the making” (Hage, 1996, p. 465, emphasis in original) (Jansson 2005; 2003).”
Jansson (2005; 2003) argues:
Orientalism as a mode of cultural discourse becomes hegemonic in Western countries. A hegemonic ideology (in the Gramscian (1971) sense) appears natural and displaces competing interpretations of experience. The role of civil society in perpetuating the dominant ideology is emphasized here through its creation of hegemonic “structures of expectations” (Paasi, 1996, 35), which provide the cognitive schemes through which indi- viduals locate themselves in their spatio-temporal contexts and classify peoples and regions. This has political as well as geographical consequences, for as Foucault (1970) warns, the very act of classification he is caught up within webs of power and domination.”
The spatial division of the United States into the North and the South is an exercise of power. It is intended to reinforce, indeed construct, a virtuous national identity by juxtaposing that identity against a violent and ignorant South. Civil society institutions such as the film industry have produced and reproduced these distinctions in very vivid ways, particularly starting in the late 1960s with the advent of Redneck Horror. One such film, Deliverance, is classified by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.”
The film Deliverance (Boorman, 1972), the urban-dwelling “good guys” leave the city, and take an adventurous, kayaking holiday into the Georgia backwoods. There, removed from their element and in the hostile wilderness, they run into savage “rednecks” that violently rape and attempt to kill the urban heroes. The orientalizing discourse around this film is that rural folk are violent, godless, sexually deviant savages. Urban folk are civilized, honorable, good-natured, and innocent.
As a result of the prevailing orientalizing discourse on the South, working class Southerners adopt neo-Confederacy as a sort of “fuck you” to global elites and come up with all sorts of absurd and ridiculous excuses to support the Confederacy. Both the discourse of orientalism and the inversion of such discourse serve to erase the actual history of American rednecks, which is a long tradition of quasi-anarchic resistance fighting possibly going as far back as the Irish resisting the Romans. By adopting the inversion of orientalist discourse, we become active participants in our own oppression, fraying the bonds of solidarity, thus, denying both oppressor and oppressed liberty and justice.
The primary goal of this paper is to redefine the redneck, not only to its original definition and its association with the Southern United States, but also as a global working class of peoples that are oppressed by systematic power and injustice, in societies around the globe.
Global elites seems like an incredibly sanitized term. As rednecks, we have known our enemies to be yankees. We know this because they come into our communities, condescend to us, and act like we’re a bunch of ignorant rubes. How many times did the NY Times go to a Walmart parking lot in the South, interview some roofers about Obama, get predictable answers, and use it as an orientalizing discourse? We have dealt with this our entire lives and we have seen experienced yankee activists and organizers come to the South, stay two years, throw their hands up, and leave, and would prefer if they stopped coming at all.
But, yankees is not that good of a term either. It harkens to neo-Confederate interpretations of Southern history. Thus, we must look for a term from other Souths such as Latin America. What we have come up with in conversations with immigrant activists through the Redneck Studies class and in Birmingham is the term “yankis,” a slang term from parts of Latin America that would probably literally translate as global elites. Our enemy is the yanki empire and we stand in solidarity with peoples throughout the globe who resist them as well. The American South is part of the Many Souths, or as we have talked about in class, the Deep South. The Deep South is pretty deep, but the American South is not deep enough and we aim to change that.
As Theodore Allen (2014) tells us, the Yanki empire developed white supremacy to divide the working class. Whiteness was invented by Virginia planters after Bacon’s Rebellion to prevent working class solidarity on plantations. Bacon’s Rebellion was a rebellion of European and African indentured servants and whiteness was invented by labeling Europeans as white and giving them special privileges such as the ability to own land to guarantee their allegiance with European planters. It has been the most effective strategy of divide and conquer of the working class throughout the global empire. So effective a strategy that the working class histories of white people, such as neo-Confederacy are completely drenched in white supremacy to the point that it is almost indistinguishable to divorce redneck history from white supremacy itself, making redneck culture difficult to celebrate without coming across as also white supremacist. We aim to change that, writing a history of rednecks that is anti-racist, enables solidarity, and is something that we can be proud of.
For instance, global elites blame the Civil War on the entire Southern United States and not just the planters and the governments they controlled. Bourbon planters and Northern industrialists were fine with slavery until it became a significant competitive advantage for Southern planters (Gray 1930). (39% of Alabamians voted against secession). Northern Yankis temporarily turned on their colonial administrators in the South until Reconstruction, which Dubois (1935) called a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” was sabotaged by Southern planters and Yanki industrialists. At that point, they remade their alliance with the Southern yanki proxies and allowed them to reinstitute white supremacy in the form of black codes and Jim Crow laws. Meanwhile, the North ghettoized its black population with zoning laws and restrictive covenants. Although de jure slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, de facto slavery continued with convict leasing (Blackmon, 2008) and even today millions of black people are locked in cages (Alexander, 2010; Wacquant, 2009).
This reading of the Civil War is intended as a supplement to W.E.B Dubois’s (1935) interpretation of the war as a black proletarian revolution and to give rednecks a way to celebrate our history without celebrating the Confederacy. It is not a competing theory. Multiple histories can exist alongside each other and people can still be in solidarity. As an example, the Young Patriots, a redneck organization, the Black Panthers, and the Young Lords worked in solidarity in spite of divergent histories in Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s (Sonnie, Tracy, and Dunbar-Ortiz, 2011). Original Young Patriot, Hy Thurman once told us that he thought the Rainbow Coalition was about commonality, while the Panthers thought it was about antiracism. In fact, the Young Patriots used the Confederate Flag in their organizing for a number of years. Fred Hampton said of the flag, “if we can use that to organize, if we can use that to turn people, then we need to do it.” Solidarity doesn’t require unified agreement and both interpretations are true.
American South-Global South
Deliverance is a horror film about constructing an other out of white rednecks in Georgia. The film depicts a violent, ignorant, and sexually deviant redneck who attacks a group of urban men who are spending the weekend canoeing in the wilderness. This narrative is a vivid example of Said’s (1978) orientalism.
The stigmatization of a group as “the Other” always implies a relation of power. The negotiation of power in Deliverance happens not only on an interregional level, but also between classes. The new, educated, and “redeemed” Sunbelt white South needed to construct its own “Other.” In the post–civil rights era, African Americans, the other “Others,” seemed to be off limits. Hence, what better demographic group to serve this function than the historically stigmatized poor white southerners?
The orientalization of the American South and specifically white working class Southerners can be found in other media representations such as Easy Rider where a Southerner murders Captain America, exemplifying how the depraved identity of the American South is constructed against the virtuousness of the United States of America. The Beverly Hillbillies presents a vision of the American South as unable to adequately function on the sophisticated West Coast and Hee Haw shows nothing more than a bad caricature of American South culture.
Furthermore, there are material consequences to this orientalization. Timber is the largest industry in Alabama with 7 out of every 10 acres being timberland. Like the Global South, Alabama’s economy is dependent on natural resources and is an export economy. 86% of that timberland is privately owned and 60% is owned by people outside of the county that holds the land. In addition, property taxes in Alabama are the lowest in the country and are almost impossible to change because they were enshrined in the 1901 Redeemer Constitution. Alabamians do not own our own natural resources, like the Global South.
Orientalization allows for the exploitation of the American South’s natural resources, the theft of our wealth, by blaming us for the conditions that we live in. Sound familiar? It’s the same story told about the Global South for hundreds of years. There is a natural alliance between the American South and the Global South.
The Importance of Popular Education in Deprogramming Fascists
Popular education is a pedagogy that is democratic, non-violent, and peaceful (Freire, 1968; Horton, 1990; Ransby, 2003). It intends to devolve the hierarchical relationship between the teachers and students creating student-teachers and teacher-students. It starts with what students and teachers bring to the educational space based on their experience and builds on what everyone already knows, learning and sharing with each other. It requires vulnerability and love.
Modern antiracist practice is the opposite of this type of education with white people. White people are seen as monolithic all suffering from what is essentially a psychological disease called whiteness. There is little differentiation between classes of white people. In radical left religion, the only sin for which one has to repent is being white and the entire practice of antiracism is nothing more than indoctrination and resembles a fundamentalist religion. It is violent, because the banking method of education is violent, to white people and utterly ineffective in deprogramming working class fascists. No one is going to listen to a white privilege narrative if they live in a trailer park, and while maybe it is technically true that a white person who lives in a trailer park is better off than a black person who lives in a trailer park, it is a distinction so fine that it couldn’t possible resonate with the lived experiences of rednecks. In popular education, human beings learn by sharing their lived experiences.
Antiracist practice targeted at bourgeois white people who have the privileged educational tools to understand what is meant by the discourse and who have the time to do the requisite reading to understand the gritty details of institutional racism makes sense. Converting rednecks to an activist culture that requires the erasure of our working class identity in order to participate is violent and will, ultimately, utterly fail.
That is not to say that rednecks should not address racism, but the ways we address racism must come from us, not bourgeois academic created and controlled narratives about race. We believe in solidarity and building community through popular education. We believe that the conversations around the dinner table, around the campfire, and at church are perfect moments for all of us to explore who we are and all of our relationships to oppression. The lived experiences of rednecks are lived experiences of oppression and colonization. How could we not be in solidarity with other colonized people once we discover these things?
The Young Patriots, the Black Panthers, and the Young Lords shared the experience of police brutality in Chicago and eventually the Young Patriots recognized that, though it was bad in Uptown, it was worse in Panther and Young Lord neighborhoods. Rednecks have a long tradition of hating the cops and we created an entire illicit industry, moonshining, and an entire sport, NASCAR based on that hatred.
The common parlance of “acknowledging your privilege” is nothing more than a quasi-religious confession of faith that does nothing more than create white saviors. It requires white people to deny their self-interest in activist spaces and make sacrifices for the movement with no thought of benefit for themselves or for people like them. A person who sacrifices for others and expects nothing in return is a savior. Solidarity not saviorism.
Is white privilege real in the most technical, academic sense? Yes, absolutely, but we’ll get to that later; we’re too busy trying to survive in this neoliberal hellscape ourselves.
We are not oppressors.
The Automotive Free Clinic
If you want a coalition to address itself to real changes in this country, white people must start building those institutions inside the white community. - Kwame Ture [Stokely Carmichael]
As part of the popular education process of the Redneck Studies Class, the authors of this paper created a new institution called The Automotive Free Clinic. Bolton, Stewart, and Pollack are the board members, Hyden, an Automotive Service Excellence certified auto technician, is the shop foreman and executive director.
The shop is a mobile shop that does basic maintenance and repairs on a pay what you can basis for labor on the repairs. In a city, Montgomery, Alabama, home of Rosa Parks and Hank Williams, that has little in the way of public transportation, keeping people’s cars on the road is pivotal in them being able to get to work, the doctor, school, church, and the grocery store. In Montgomery County, only 7.88% of households don’t have access to a vehicle (Bailey 2020, personal communication). The problem is not having access to a vehicle, but keeping vehicles on the road. It is a project designed specifically to serve the needs of the working class. It also harkens back to the Black Panther Party and the Rainbow Coalition who organized the community by serving their needs.
The AFC can be seen as a form of reparations. Our first service event was Free Oil Change for Single Moms, which served three black and one white single moms. Our first grant repaired a blower motor and resistor for a black single mom, a wheel bearing and tire balance for a black woman elder, and a brake job for a black single mom.
The Automotive Free Clinic also supports land reform for all working class peoples of the American South.
There are also feminist aspects arising organically from the praxis such as explaining clearly and simply to women (and anyone else) exactly what is wrong with their vehicle. We have found that women in particular feel especially disempowered by automotive repair because of the inherent misogyny of the industry.
It is important to note that feminism and antiracism emerge from the praxis of The AFC. The practice of antiracism and feminism are not particularly applied theory or even really ideological or planned. They come from the application of socialist principles in a real world situation. The hashtag of The AFC is “redefine work,” meaning that not only is the so-called productive labor of repairing vehicles work, but also community organizing and general care for the community. This praxis is naturally anti racist and feminist. In fact, it never occurred to us that The AFC could be seen as a form of reparations until we repaired a black elder’s truck on Juneteenth.
The purpose of this paper is to lay out a strategy for deprogramming fascist rednecks. The current options for rednecks are to be an oppressor who oppresses people actively or to be an oppressor who submits to the authority of black and brown people. Given the choices, it is easy to see why some rednecks go full on fascist and others just have fascist tendencies. We want to provide the opportunity for rednecks to not be oppressors and to work in solidarity with all working people on Earth, to resist the Yanki empire with black and brown folks across the globe.
This means autonomously writing our own history, creating our own culture, developing our own antiracism and feminism, and it requires people in the movement to TRUST US.
Popular education is the key. Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee was founded on rednecks coming together and solving their own problems. It was one of the first organizations to do integration work and it did it with working class people. The history of rednecks fighting for leftist causes is long and largely untold, but, unfortunately, in recent years, we have become the enemy. This does nothing but serve the actual oppressors.
Stokely Carmichael argues that whites should organize poor whites around economic interests and political disenfranchisement.
There are several programs in the South where whites are trying to organize poor whites so they can begin to move around the question of economic exploitation and political disfranchisement. We’ve all heard the theory several times. But few people are willing to go into it. The question is, Can the white activist stop trying to be a Pepsi generation who comes alive in the black community, and be a man who’s willing to move into the white community and start organizing where the organization is needed? Can he do that? Can the white activist disassociate himself from the clowns who waste time parrying with each other and start talking about the problems that are facing people in this state? You must start inside the white community.
We agree. This is what it looks like.
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