Is Making Fun of Rednecks and Hillbillies Racist?

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.

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About lippardcd

Assistant Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University.
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9 Responses to Is Making Fun of Rednecks and Hillbillies Racist?

  1. kirk says:

    continually concentrating on racism and reminding minorities how much of a Victim they are is the best way to keep a people ” in their place “. Al Sharpton & Rev. Jackson are the Best at this practice while at the same time becoming very wealthy. It has always surprises me how the same people that they victimize do not see how they are being Pimped out.

    • lippardcd says:

      Kirk, I would disagree. Often whites and some racial minorities attempt to suggest that racism solely exists just because we talk about it. Are you suggesting that if we took the Ronald Regan approach of being color-blind that the discrimination and disparities racial minorities face would go away? By the way, what does this have to do with the ways in which whites are portrayed on TV?

  2. Sid says:

    Actually….look who runs Hollywood and entertainment mostly. It’s not Whites…so it is actually another minority group perpetuating these myths.

    • lippardcd says:

      Sid, which groups are you suggesting that are running the media? What about who watches these sort of shows? Do you think it is racial minorities that love Duck Dynasty or could be just whites?

  3. chutcher says:

    Sorry, but you are just wrong. Making fun of “rednecks” is absolutely no different than making fun of other cultures/races.

    You state that “it is white folks making and perpetuating these stereotypes“, which is been far from my experience in the professional world.

    I am an educated and successful Southerner with a heavy southern accent. I have had many “redneck” type of jokes thrown at me from many minorities over the years.

    For example, I had one black coworker from Chicago say to me “I didn’t think people like you were educated”. He would throw little snide comments like this my way every chance he got. If I would have said that to a minority I would have been fired instantly for racism.

    Another time I went to California for business and I went to a bar for a beer at the end of the day. A black guy overheard my accent while I ordered from the bartender, approached me, started to harass me, and wanted to take me outside to kick my butt because he assumed I was a racist redneck.

    You keep telling yourself that this is somehow different than other types of racism. You obviously wrote this article based on your “ivory tower” educational opinion without any real life experience in this area.

    • lippardcd says:

      Nope, Chutcher. I’m a successful southerner too. Grew up in the backwoods of western North Carolina learning how to plant and hunt. First-generation college student who made it big but to most of my family they think like you do – “I’m just being an uppity white trader.” So, yes, I’ve had the same experiences you have but this isn’t about race, it is about social class. It is those upper class folks that are making fun of you and as for the TV shows I mentioned, those aren’t produced by Blacks out to get the white man. They are produced by whites using a cartoon of white folks to get a few laughs. Even more interesting is the fact that white America is the number one viewer and supporter of these stereotypes. So, I do know where you are coming from being picked on as a “redneck” but brother, you might be wrong in the since that black folks are out to get us through the redneck stereotypes. It could be more like people trying to put some of us whites into stereotypical boxes. It sucks to be the object of negative stereotypes and prejudice, huh?

      • Irate_Carolinian_Mike says:

        You dance around it only when it’s a white southern guy getting marginalized… If it was a person from any other ethnic/social background getting harassed or made fun of you would label it racism in a heartbeat. A blind man could see what you’re doing here. You’ve either let yourself get brainwashed or you’re covering your own @$$ because you don’t want your bosses at App State to see you calling a select group of whites being marginalized “racism”. The fact is a white person from the south (and southern Appalachia in particular) coming from an impoverished family background will face the exact same amount challenges as an inner city Hispanic or Black person with an impoverished family. Drugs, violence, a myriad of social and economic obstacles , and a seemingly never ending bombardment of bigoted insults along the way… I’m sorry but what you’re sellin’ here is a load of crap and I ain’t buyin’ it.

        C’mon your own ancestors were forced out of their homes by the end of a musket 400 years ago and made to settle on plantations in Ulster, Ireland. In 1641 thousands of them were murdered during the Irish Rebellion, and even more later on during the Williamite War… They left Ireland and came to America and when they got here they were marginalized even more and were basically forced to hack out a living in the mountains removed from the more gentrified society. They didn’t face slavery, or the flat out oppression of slaves and their descendants but we certainly have been screwed over just as long. Its time society started making some changes and glossing over 400 years of ridicule, marginalization and in some instances down right hostility towards us ain’t gonna cut it! Your article is offensive, and you may kiss my ass.

      • lippardcd says:

        Did you read the post? I suggested that it is a complex subject and it is racist, as well as classist. However, I think you missed the point that it is NOT non-whites that predominantly call low-income whites “rednecks” and “hillbillies.” These lovely terms represent wealthy white views of other whites. Now, is that racist in the since that other races are calling out whites, nope. However, it is racist in assuming that the “Irish” weren’t white but they sure did own their place as “honorary” white status by turning on their low-income and enslaved black brothers to become slave foreman and lynching parties to show wealthy whites they deserved a seat at the table. Pay attention to the history of how those “ethnic” whites became American whites and you’ll see that it was paved with the blood of oppressing others to earn that status. A great book on this is David Roediger’s Wages of Whiteness. And yes, whites have treated other whites pretty badly due to racist and economic views. Never said they didn’t if you had read the entire post. Cheers!

  4. Big_Bad_Wolf says:

    People and there opinions. Well here is mine : FUCK IT. Is being racist the problem or is paying them bigots attention the problem? If you pick on someone it is usually to get a rise out of them. Don’t give em the satisfaction! The only time you should give a shit is when it becomes physical. Simple comments in my opinion aren’t enough to mess with me. Its a waste of time and shows how pathetic people can be.

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