Friday, February 23, 2018

Booknote: The Liberal Redneck Manifesto

Trae Crowder,, The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin' Dixie out of the Dark. New York: Atria Books, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-5011-6033-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: humor, rednecks, US Southern Culture, politics, liberals
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

Like many out there, I thought that redneck and liberal was an oxymoron, but Trae Crowder and friends show the concept is possible. Crowder, Forrester, and Morgan set out to show that a redneck can be a liberal, and in the process, they lay out some much  needed, even a bit harsh, truths for their redneck brethren. They don't totally destroy Southern stereotypes (let's be honest: the South HAS worked hard for that bad reputation), but they take steps to show how they can be changed. They write with humor, compassion, and some good knowledge. The book is worth reading because the South has a lot of ugliness and shameful things, but they also have a lot of good and things of pride.

The book is arranged into 12 chapters, and it covers a broad range of topics from food to mamaws and papaws to music to booze and pills. We see the good, the bad, and the truly ugly. In addition to the regular content, each chapter may have some light footnotes, asides, and each other does "porch talks," where they expound on some topic close to their hearts. This is a serious book, but there is plenty of humor throughout, and there are a few moving moments as well. The authors are on a mission to educate rednecks but yankees we well.

The book is a pretty easy read; it has a light pace, so you can read it pretty quickly. Do not be fooled. It may be humor, but the authors give you plenty to think about. I'll add that instead of some stuffy academic treatise on race and class, our faculty book club here might consider picking this up and chilling out a bit. Overall, the book was a very good read.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes. This book had a lot of good lines I wanted to jot down. This is just a small sampling:

On the claim the Mr. Crowder is not unique (I admit that I have a hard time believing it given where I live now, but I am willing to listen. In the meantime, those plenty others, what the hell are they waiting for to rise and be counted?):

"Because that's another thing: I am not some redneck unicorn. I'm not special. There are plenty of liberal-thinking, intelligent country folk out here, and we're tired of people either not knowing or not caring that we're down here, trying to fight against the ignorance and the hate and doing it from the front lines, by God. It's time we made our presence known" (3).

Part of Crowder's motivation for writing the book. And while I get it, he has his work cut out for him and  his team given how the South consistently votes for the worst this country offers. Keep in mind this book came out in 2016, just before the Pendejo In Chief got elected, in large part by those same rednecks. I wonder how the authors would answer to that, and it better not be another "aw, we need to  understand those poor white people"  piece like the many we have seen in the press already.

Part of why the South, rightfully so, deserves the reputation it gets:

" At the same time that people were plagued by these economic issues, white Southerners just could not stop being buttholes. It's something we continue to struggle with. Race relations were. . . not ideal during the postwar years, with white Southerners constantly trying to pass new laws that would effectively treat free blacks the same as they were treated as slaves. Black Southerners, shockingly, were not altogether down with that. This led to constant tension and racial strife (and some pretty sweet music), often erupting in violence. Take all these factors together, and you have a region that's going through some pretty serious shit, and the simple fact is that the South has never fully recovered to this day" (40).

Maybe step one is stop being racist buttholes. But we also have to consider how wealthy upper class whites enabled this, getting poor whites to look down on blacks, mainly for easier exploitation of both groups. It's both about race and class. (This is a point made very clear also in the book White Trash, which I recently read, and I will review soon). Having said that, yes, time to drop the racist bullshit overt and subtle.

On religion and Jesus, which the authors describe as a "salve for the destitute:"

"The point is that sending a message to  people mired in poverty to just give up (and let God take care of  it) is counterproductive at best and dangerous at worst" (52).

Another reason religion is so bad is it leads Southerners to keep voting against themselves. If you ever wonder why those people consistently vote for Right Wing politicians who prey on the poor, you will find that their religion plays a big part, and those politicians know it. So why do they vote as they do?

"Well, because of Jesus. That's why. It may seem like an oversimplification, but that's about the size of it, really. Sometime in the mid-twentieth century, the right wing initiated the frankly brilliant strategy of anointing itself the Party of the Lord. And it worked. Republicans now claim to represent the moral high ground, 'family values,' a 'traditional way of life,' and all that bullshit. Poor people hear these assholes spouting the same kinds of things that they hear their pastor spouting on Sundays, and bam, there you have it. Votes cast and fates sealed, just like that. And when you look at it this way, maybe the Lord is more harmful to poor people than the bottle" (61). 

This is exemplified recently in how the Pendejo In Chief got the evangelical vote, not to mention so many Christians defending politicians like Alabama's pedophile judge Roy Moore (who barely was not voted in, but it was mostly because black women in the state worked to keep him out. Most whites were fine with him). Religion really can be lethal. So, what is the suggested solution?

"Put down the Bible for a minute and pick up some different books. That would be a pretty good start. That and stop buying scratch-offs" (63). 

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