A growing concern I hear from students and people I talk to about race relations is that white people face racism just as much as anyone else in the 21st century. Particularly, people often point out the recent proliferation of reality television shows like Duck Dynasty, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Moonshiners, Lizard Lick Towing, and Buckwild as evidence of white slander. Most of these shows depict low income white folks (and some of them rich as in Duck Dynasty) whooping it up and living on deer hunting, moonshine, and family feuds. They also bank on the various low income white stereotypes that many of the “participants” are undereducated, conservative, and traditionalists living in the rural and untamed hinterlands of America.
Of course, this is not a new categorization of low income whites. Some of the most prosperous and longest-running televisions shows in America have used the hillbilly or redneck stereotype to entertain us like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dukes of Hazzard. Don’t forget Jeff Foxworthy and all his pards in the Blue Collar Comedy Tour and the imfamous, “Git R Done!” Even my employer, Appalachian State University, uses a hillbilly as a mascot and has a football game every Fall with a rival university called, “The Battle for the Ole’ Mountain Jug” (moonshine that is). I also remember in the 1990s and early 2000s of a growing brand of clothing, Dixie Outfitters, capitalizing the “redneck” genre of dipping Skoal, owning shot guns, and having hunting dogs.
But, the question remains whether this is a racist depiction of white folks in America? As a sociologist, I will say yes and no. As suggested by a recent article on the subject (see this link), this may be more about social class warfare than racism. Truly, what continues to happen across America is middle and upper class folks getting a laugh out of stigmatizing the poor as backwards and simple. We also seem to want to hold on to these notions of rurality and rugged individualism to assure us that Americans are still Americans. These depictions of low income whites also continue to keep some whites “in their places” or stigmatize them so that when they do enter the job market with a southern draw or say “ain’t” that they are unemployable. Even the recent television show, Rocket City Rednecks, demonstrates this need to place keep white folks in check based on social class even if they do have advanced degrees in astrophysics and engineering.
However, what makes this not directly about race or racism is for two reasons. First, it is white folks making and perpetuating these stereotypes and enforcing them as human value markers on its low income white society, not other racial and ethnic minorities. This a primary function of racism in that one racial or ethnic group views themselves as superior to another and enforces it. Unfortunately, this whites calling out whites. Second, as suggested by Rebecca Scott in her article, “Appalachia and the Construction of Whiteness in the United States,” stigmatizing low income whites as redneck, hillbilly, or white trash does not take away their privilege as whites when in competition with non-whites in any social setting. In other words, while being a redneck may make you sit at the feet of some wealthy white counterpart like Warren Buffet or Donald Trump, it does not mean that you face the same racial oppression as a black or Latino neighbor in your trailer park. Or, maybe a better example is even though the nightly news and public discourse would tell you that racial and ethnic minorities are the sources of most poverty, drug abuse, and crime, we never really note that actually white folks are clearly the leaders in rates of poverty, drug abuse, and crime. Of course, a vulgar Marxist will tell you that really you do have something in common with your minority neighbors because let’s face it, you’re all still poor in a society that ONLY benefits wealthy whites.