Not All Rednecks

An Unpopular ~Opinion~ Truth

Redneck. What does that word conjure in your mind? More likely than not, you think of someone uneducated. Southern. Probably racist and proud of it.

You’re wrong.

We’re not all like that. In fact, most aren’t, but I’m not here to speak on behalf of every redneck in America. I’m only here to share my truth. American rednecks fall into two main categories. Northern, and Southern. We share a lot of the same culture. When I first moved to The South, I felt welcomed. It was comforting. After years of living in Urban sprawl, I felt at home again.

It’s the little things

I grew up poor. That’s no secret. My mom worked 3 jobs, and put herself through college, trying to make ends meet and make a better life for my little sister and I. My childhood was a cultural hodgepodge. My family is from Mexico; we’re from the mountains and always have been. The first european blood only entered our bloodline 5 generations ago, with mi Bisabuelo. I’m the 3rd generation born in America; we’ve barely been here a hundred years. When we moved here, we moved to the closest place that felt like home. The mountains. Upstate NY to be precise. Colder than we’re used to, but mi familia have always been hearty folk. Before I was born, mi madre, she moved to New Jersey. But by that time, we’d already become what y’all would call rednecks. We used that term with pride. I grew up in New Jersey, a combination of four cultures. Redneck American. Mexican. Czech (My mother’s mother’s mother). And just a little bit of that quintessential Jersey rage. My grandmother, who we sometimes called Abuelita, sometimes Baba (short for Babička), lived with us, and always made sure we knew where we came from. Cultural identity, pride in our heritage, it was crucial. We switched easily from Spanish to Czech to English, with some Nahuatl thrown in for fun. But we were also rednecks. I grew up learning to shoot, to hunt, to fish. By the time I was 5, I could skin and clean a deer, catch and cook my own dinner on the shores of the lake we held our summer family gathering at in Upstate NY. I have fond memories of those times.

They’re not always good things

I came out as bi when I was 14. Full blown queer at 16. I became a Gnostic Christian at 17, an utter repudiation of the faith the rest of my family held. Mi madre y mi abuela understood. The rest of the family, not so much. Some would say it was the redneck side that caused them to reject me. Some might call it a product of our heritage, and the Catholicism that ran so deep with us ever since my great great grandmother married a Spaniard and first brought white blood and white faith into our lineage. (Until then, we’d lived in the mountains. The Old Ways, the Old Faith. Still on guard against The Black Tezcatlipoca.) I disagree. Hate may be a byproduct of upbringing in many cases, but nothing my family stood for or believed would have caused them to reject me so. I think it was fear. Fear of change, fear of the unknown, and fear of seeing me rejected by this country we’ve come to love so much. Fear that we’d still be seen as outsiders. As strange. A fear we’ve come to know all too well.

The North ain’t some shiny bastion of understanding

As I mentioned, we’re from Mexico. I’m the lightest skinned member of my family. I have distinct memories of mi madre and my little sister being called atrocious things in the supermarket. At the gas station. Horrible words. Told to “Go back home”. These people, they weren’t rednecks. This was New Jersey.

Everyone can hate

I escaped a lot of the racism my mother and little sister saw, for many years, until I was 13 and was sent to live in foster care, for reasons I won’t discuss here. I’d always experienced that hate and racism second-hand. I saw it happen to my family. Never me. Until I entered highschool in East Orange and got jumped by a group of black kids. “Cracker.” “Whitey.” Accusations of my family profiting off slavery. Remember, my family moved here in the early 1900’s. At first, I was angry. I was assaulted because of the color of my skin. Not who I was. Not my heritage. Instead of hating these kids, I tried to understand why they felt the way they did. Perhaps because of my upbringing, and because of how I’d seen my own family treated. At the time, my foster mother was black. I went home that day, covered in bruises, with a black eye. Instead of letting her fuss over me, I asked her “Why?” I knew slavery had been a thing in America. I understood discrimination from an acedemic standpoint. The silent observer. Reading about it, seeing my mother and sister experience it. I’d never been a victim myself. We stayed up late talking about it. I just wanted to understand why anyone would hate someone based on nothing more than their appearance.

It’s always fear

Fear and ignorance. My classmates were afraid; they’d grown up hearing about the atrocities their family had undergone at the hands of the white man in The South. They were ignorant. Ignorant of where I had come from, through no fault of their own. I went back to school the next day, and I found the kid who’d instigated the assault. I hugged him. I told Andre that I could never understand what his family had been through, but that I knew something similar. We ended up talking. I told him about my family. Where we were from. What we’d experienced. We became friends. For a brief time, we even dated. Understanding was key.

The South

That understanding would be key to the future. When I moved to The South at 20, I was out, loud, and proud. Some of the nicest, kindest people, I met down there. Just like in my family, there’s a strong sense of pride. Pride in culture, in heritage. But there’s also understanding. Love. At first, my neighbors didn’t know what to make of this rainbow-haired, heavily tattooed, angry looking girl who’d spontaneously cuss someone out in spanish, only to apologize, and offer them a hug. But they took the time to get to know me. To understand. I did the same.

It’s not the rednecks. It’s everyone.

There will always be hate in this world. It’s not exclusive to any one group, race, or religion. Rednecks don’t hate by default. Neither does anyone else. We must combat hate where we can, but we can never eradicate it with more hate. To eradicate hate, we must first eradicate fear and ignorance. We can only do that when we share our stories. Our experiences. Our love.

My father’s side of the family fought the Nazis in WWII. I will never allow them to hurt the ones I love. I will fight to my last breath to preserve the rights of all around me. But I also remember that the hatred I see is born of fear, and fear of ignorance. I will never hate a person. Only their actions, borne of their fear.

If you try to hurt me, I will hurt you back. I will fight you with everything I have. But afterwards, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. I’ll bandage your wounds. I’ll share my story with you, and ask you to share yours. Maybe, just maybe, you can understand me. I can only hope.

Written on August 12, 2018