Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Redneck Elite

“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

The tavern floor is covered in snowy bootprints. Blue-collar country men sit at the bar, sipping bottles of Labatt's and chatting about the oncoming blizzard. They're unconcerned. It's just one more CNY winter, nothing to get riled about.

The door opens and a suit walks in. He takes a seat at the far end of the bar, well away from the grizzled locals, and orders a Scotch. The regulars, a homogenous crew of flannels, Northface fleeces, and Carhartt coveralls, go silent. One, a bleary-eyed mechanic with a shaved head and a nose like a rotten potato, shakes his head. "Uppity fucking city-folk," he mutters. He orders a round for his buddies, deliberately ignoring the well-dressed newcomer.

The man next to him, wearing a newsboy cap and reeking of stale urine, clamors gleefully, "Hey, Johnny decided to be a white man!" That's what they say when somebody buys them a drink. Only white men are generous.

Xenophobia, the fear of foreigners, is widespread throughout many rural areas in America, and the rural suburbs of Syracuse are no exception. Insular communities cherish their well-known surnames, family connections, reputations, honest dealings, and time spent in one area. Travel outside the community is alright, as long as you come back. Living anywhere other than the town you grew up in is seen as betrayal. Moving up in the world equates to snobbery and arrogance. There's nothing a country boy hates more than somebody thinking they're better than he is, except for maybe a black man in the Oval Office.

Where does this value system stem from? Nas said it best, "Niggas fear what they don't understand, hate what they can't conquer."

My father, a country preacher with no formal education beyond Bible school, taught me a fundamental Greek concept that has stuck with me to this day. Knowledge (epignosis) is a list of facts, which leads to understanding (sunesis, literally, "the flowing together of two rivers"), which leads to wisdom (sophia), the practical application.

To conquer this fear of what we do not know, then, it seems clear that the process begins with knowledge. Oh, if only someone would invent a method or create a system that could give us this magical "knowledge" thing!

These are the men with their snowy boots and their 11 AM beers, their bigotry and their snark. Without a worldview shaped by education and experience outside their comfort zones, they craft their own narrative: a story in which only white men buy each other drinks, outsiders with their outside knowledge and fancy edumacation are suspicious creatures deserving of distrust, and everybody has magical bootstraps with which to pull themselves up... but only so far.


  1. I went to college in Oswego for 4 years, although I come from downstate, and I remember this description of local life well. I knew a lot of people at Oswego who were from the areas you talk about and this was the same as it was 20 years ago. Amazing considering how well connected we are now, people still want to stay intensely local.

    The article in Gawker drew me to this blog, so keep up the good work.

    1. I too came from to this blog from Gawker, and I'm overwhelmed to see so much of my own opinion outlined by someone else from Syracuse. As a professor at OCC, I can just attest to your assessment not decry it.