steve-oden-column

What makes a redneck? The much maligned socio-economic stereotype is much more complex than urban -- and those who profess to be “urbane” -- observers of the human condition might think. I happen to be a redneck expert because it takes one to know one.

I have never been ashamed of my rednecked-ness. Consequently, my credentials are buttressed not only by genetics, ancestry, language and societal experience, but also by having lived north of the Mason Dixon line where I was the butt of jokes, insults and prejudice.

Yes, rednecks are a persecuted class. But unlike federally recognized minorities, there are no special protections for us. Polar bears and endangered bats get more government attention than rednecks... but I digress.

It’s wrong to assume that rednecked-ness is based on lack of education and ambition or an addiction to pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles, love of bluejeans, ball caps, guns and the Bible, an attraction to tractors and country music honky-tonks and a diet of red meat and beer. Thus, if one casts aside those preconditions of eligibility, about anyone can be a redneck.

Rednecked-ness is a state of mind, not necessarily an influence of region, income or social order.

I know and appreciate Yankee rednecks. There is not a lot of difference between a Michigan Upper Peninsula Yooper derived from Native American and European stock and a West Virginia hillbilly. Both are rednecks. The taxonomy is not difficult if you open your mind to the incredible diversity.

The majority of rednecks are not poor, white trailer trash. That’s an image the media cultivates because it is easier to poke fun and criticize than to explain why there are billionaire rednecks. Or redneck poets, novelists, college professors, scientists, generals, philosophers, entertainers, inventors, astronauts, even presidents of the United States.

In the classic sense, to claim membership in the redneck species, you should have a mix of Native American and Scotch-Irish heritage. Concerning the former, your percentage of Indian blood might not be enough to achieve membership in a tribe, but if your great-great-grandmother or grandfather claimed quarter- or half-breed status you’re not too watered down to be a redneck.

Rednecked-ness long ago outgrew the Native American bloodline qualifier and became accepting of all rural cultures. For example, I have a friend who is a Laotian redneck. He was a refugee in his native country. His family and fellow community members were rounded up and herded into camps and then deported. Sound familiar? (Read about the Trail of Tears if you don’t understand the association.)

This friend, Sam, and his Southeast Asian immigrant countrymen are more comfortable with the redneck label than many of us. He calls it a lifestyle choice that binds many who dive into the melting pot of our great nation and emerge as productive, taxpaying rural citizens.

Sam applies oriental logic that if you are not urban, you are rural; and if you are rural, the redneck moniker probably applies. If Sam is not a redneck, tell me why he has a freezer full of deer meat and a jacked-up 4x4 hunting truck in his garage?

Sam’s wife, Mei, is a beautician. They aspire to build a log cabin in the woods on a 100-acre spread of prime hunting ground and keep his venison-packed freezer on the front porch, where the pit bulldog and coon hound can guard it.

“I sort of like the idea of shooting deer off the front porch while I sit in a rocking chair,” Sam says, speaking like a true redneck. He is an NRA member and owns a so-called “assault rifle.” He also makes a good living as a technology consultant and programmer.

His wife eyes redneck life as an opportunity to own horses and raise goats. She wears cowboy boots and loves to line dance. She also has a collection of plastic flamingo yard ornaments.

She adds, “I am cool with tractor tire flower beds, too, but what’s up with that thing about old cars on concrete blocks?”

Some things about rednecked-ness still get lost in translation.

■ Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama.