Legions of politically correct journalists, not to mention politicians, dance around dozens of terms in the English language whose sole intent is derision, but “redneck” still remains the most acceptable form of ethnic slur in this country.
First documented by the OED in 1830 when it was applied to the Presbyterians of Fayetteville, Arkansas, redneck has a long history of opprobrium. Three explanations for this usage are offered: first, it could be a reference to a ruddy neck caused by anger; second, it could be a reference to sunburned necks caused by working in the fields all day, lastly it could be a reference to pellagra, a vitamin B deficiency that can turn the skin on the back and neck red. (How Presbyterianism came to be involved is a matter of speculation.) In Afrikaans rooinek is a disparaging term the Boers applied to the British in the 1890s and later became associated with any unwelcome European immigrants to South Africa. ‘Redneck’ is also documented as a reference to striking coal miners in West Virginia who wore red bandannas as a means of group identification in the 1920s.
Its current usage in this country is regarded as a matter of course and without censure for its application to rural white Southern Americans. We who are subject to this opprobrium take it in stride, but we should not. As in the case with what is now commonly called “the ‘N’ word”, our voices, too, should be raised in protest. Here’s mine.