Simon & Schuster, 1997 274pp
ISBN: 0 684 83113 9
The Redneck Manifesto is no joke. Many otherwise educated, socially tolerant Americans might laugh at this book's title. That is precisely author Jim Goad's point:
"A whole vein of human experience, of potential literature, is dismissed as a joke, much as America's popular notions of black culture were relegated to lawn jockeys and Sambo caricatures a generation or two ago. The redneck is the only cardboard figure left standing in our ethnic shooting gallery."
Redneck, cracker, white trash--Goad catalogues all the scapegoating epithets that with popular social consent tag poor whites in this country. It is a social shortcoming, a cruel lacuna in this age of the politically correct, that Americans see no offense in trailer park jokes, accepted that scene in the movie Deliverance (1972) as no surprise, really, and will point to this notable example of the Other in our midst and say, "They're white, being poor's their own fault." Goad takes on a great theme: America's white underclass do not fail because of individual character defects; they have been handed socio-economic straitjackets at birth.
In an impressive command of historical research (including 18 pages of endnotes and bibliography), the author traces a diaspora of the white underclass from European feudal times to arrival in America to the present, demolishing a few popular myths en route. Were we not taught America was about free land, political freedom, and religious tolerance? Or were we told the New World was a dumping ground for Cromwell's foes and, later, Great Britain's surplus population? Most contemporary scholars accept that the majority of whites who came here in Colonial times did so under servile conditions. (A more familiar dumping of undesirables in Australia began after the American Colonies rebelled.) The thread Goad follows is socio-economic oppression: the Haves keeping the Have-nots in want.
With engagingly satiric style, he shows how "white cash" has always pitted "white trash" against blacks with a divide-and-conquer ploy. The message is clear: If the Balkanization of our society and our growing multicultural wars are to end, then first rooting out the classism among whites is a necessary step.
While never dropping his advocacy for poor whites, Goad lost this reader a few times with his wry humor (Did he really mean that the authentic poor-white religious impulse expresses itself in sightings of Elvis, Bigfoot, and UFOs?). Those rhetorical bobbles aside, the argument finishes strongly with a final chapter titled, "Several Compelling Arguments for the Enslavement of All White Liberals." Here Goad recalls another social reformer, Charles Dickens. Like Mrs. Pardiggle in Bleak House, white liberals "think globally, but ignore white trash locally." Another writer, another time, Goad will not let the reader forget oppressed whites among us. The Redneck Manifesto reads true with both the compassion of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and the honest rage of Carolyn Chute's The Beans of Egypt, Maine.
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