Yesterday, I began this three-part series here. It’s based on a quote from Baptist pastor, author and social activist Will D. Campbell, who said “The tragedy of the redneck is that he chose the wrong enemy.” I will say up front there is some hard language on race here. If you get offended, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If the redneck chose the wrong enemy, then who was the right one? It’s right there in the passage from “Brother to a Dragonfly quoted yesterday: the master, the gentry who tricked him out of seven years free labor. The wealthy land owner who sold him a bill of goods, saying “With hard work and thrift, you can be just like me one day”, then proceeded to do everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen, doing so because every dollar someone else had is one the rich man didn’t. The master told the redneck that the Yankees wanted to trample his rights so he would fight a war to preserve a system that was stacked against him. Then, when that war was over, the redneck found himself left to his own devices once again. Until, that is, the master had need of his loyal servant. Because the aristocrat knew he had to keep the poor people separated to regain and preserve his own wealth and power, he told the redneck that smart ass Yankees and uppity niggers were conspiring to destroy his country, take his land and violate his women. And, just as he had in the War, the redneck believed him. Whenever a threat to the master reared it’s head, he trotted that old chestnut out again and again. Oh, the characters may have changed according to the situation, but the theme was the same. Unions were a threat to the cheap labor factory owners enjoyed, so they told workers the unions were communist organizations that would ruin the economy if they took hold. Racial equality was a threat to the separate but (un)equal society that had been so carefully crafted by the Redeemers and their Jim Crow laws, so they told the redneck that if the black man was made equal to the white, it would destroy that society. They were right, it would and it did. The end result, however, was not the chaos that was promised, but just the opposite. The aristocrat continues to sell us that same smelly deal today.
As it always has, the characters in this tired, worn-out drama have changed. Instead of “uppity niggers” seeking to destroy everything that’s good and pure (i.e. white) and their traitorous Yankee allies, the enemy is the “communist” (i.e. populist) coalition known as the Occupy movement, the “gays” and a “nigger” President with the temerity to insist that those with the most in this country pay their fair share. Leading the charge against these threats to truth, justice and the American Way is not the Klan of the Reconstruction, Redeemer and Civil Rights eras. This time it’s a grassroots organization called the Tea Party. Tea Party advocates swear it’s not a racist organization and they’re right; just as the Klan wasn’t really a racist organization, either. Applying that term to these groups implies that preserving the status quo in race relations is their sole intent. In truth, racism is merely a tool to accomplish a goal most members of both groups don’t even suspect: preservation of the master’s power and privilege. Just as he did in the south in the late 1800’s, the master has duped the redneck into fighting his battles for him. It’s not even a new call to arms, but the same old schtick they’ve pushed on us since the country began. The aristocrat is still telling us “With hard work and thrift, you can be just like me one day”. And, it’s just as big a lie as it was back then because every dollar someone else has is one the rich man doesn’t.
Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion to “The Tragedy of the Redneck”.