The level of confusion associated with going to Berkeley coupled with my deteriorating mental health made an already difficult transition especially trying. I was going to study with a black woman, but I couldn’t help be ashamed of my people’s violence toward black people in the South and of my own transgressions as a younger man. I feared going to a place where I knew my accent and even my dress would set me apart from everyone else and would always wonder if people saw me as an ignorant racist simply because who I was and where I was from. This set in motion a long relationship with redneck self-hate and loathing of my people and our history and would take years to overcome. As I would later learn, there’s no place for rednecks in academia, especially not redneck political radicals.
I recieved an internship with Appalachain Sustainable Agriculture Project in Asheville, North Carolina where my anthropology commiserator, drinking and tailgating buddy Ginger was living with her iron pumping closet homosexual George. The job and the city were great. I basically just researched ag policy at ASAP and spent my time hanging out with radicals that had invaded the city. It was the only place in the world where you can meet a Black Panther and a Klansman at the bus station in the same week.
I spent my time going to all manner of events and acting like I knew everything and was everything. I even insulted Julia Butterfly of tree sitting fame. This was my first attempt at activism outside of on campus activism. New activists, and I was not immune to this, generally think that they know everything and that the reason that the world is not just is because nobody else knows what they’re doing. There’s quite a bit of this within all activist circles, and it does get to people, but it’s especially pronounced among new activists. I pretty much went around tell everyone that they were racist and challenging all of the experienced activists, not accomplishing much but making people annoyed. But, activism and organizing are something that people learn by doing. Reading books like Rules for Radicals without an organizing context is like new poker players reading Doyle Brunson’s book. You come out thinking that you know all the strategies and tactics, but you basically just piss people off and have no idea what you’re talking about. I was this person. Certainly, it would be helpful if elders recognized this dynamic and aided young activists instead of just going around and bad mouthing them.
Ginger and I would have dated had the situation been different. I met her right after I separated from Joyce and we had a similar penchant for causing trouble in the true redneck tradition. The chemistry between the two of us obviously got under George'a skin, and his constant shit talking about everyone, especially gay people, pissed me the fuck off. His no good, trash drug dealer friends made me uncomfortable - that was something that I had put behind me.
Everything came to a head sometime in early July. We were supposed to all meet at a restaurant. Ginger warned me that he was going to confront me and he certainly did. He insulted just about everything about me, but it mostly boiled down to "you think you're so smart." I told him that we should work it out. He threw a glass of water in my face and left.
Internalized oppression. I know we're used to talking about this about people of color but it applies to rednecks too. The problem with George wasn't that I thought I was smart, which I most certainly was and am, but that George had been told his entire life, by media and culture, that he was stupid. My confidence in my intelligence, which probably does border on arrogance, reminded him of the deep seated inadequacy inculcated by a culture, especially that of bourgeois intelligentsia, that tells him that his culture is vulgar. There are only so many times that the Academy or the Library of Congress can recognize Deliverance(s) as "historically, aesthetically, or culturally significant" without starting to believe it just a little bit.
The effect of media and culture on redneck consciousness is to tell us both that we are the true Americans through our hard work, and, subsequently, to tell us that our oppression and poverty are caused by our cultural shortcomings. It’s to tell us that we are the superior race and then to demean us when we repeat what has been told to us. Like my father and my first wife, both of whom are white, working class Southerners, the American nation abuses and manipulates us, telling us that we are both occident and orient, but mostly it just tells us to stay in our place. Head down. Work hard. Be thankful for what you have. Don’t complain too much. These are redneck values. They clearly don’t serve us well.