Why I'm Not a Redneck

I grew up as a white boy in Alabama during the early 1960's, before the bitter end of segregation, so why am I not a redneck? Well, actually I'm 3/16 Cherokee Indian, although I don't really look like it, but growing up at that time in the white suburbs of Birmingham didn't exactly nurture my reddish roots, so I guess being significantly Cherokee is not why I'm not a redneck. I was however a very smart little kid, who read books all the time and liked to build things, but more about that another time, since it's also not why I'm not a redneck, really.

In the summer of 1965, I was nine and slot cars is what I was into. I hand-built my own lightweight frames out of piano wire and painstakingly rewound the stock electric motors, so that my little cars literally whizzed past the others. At the slot car track where I liked to race there was a misfit fellow in his mid-thirties named Red minding the counter. I say misfit, because Red was from California, which in those days and in those parts might as well have been Mars. Red had a crew cut which didn't hide his natural carrot top, hence the nickname. Red spoke beatnik and actually used words like "babes" at the end of his sentences, which didn't endear him much to the local guys. He wore cotton velour shirts and drove a Buick Wildcat convertible, both powder blue, which did endear him to certain young housewives with kids my age at the hobby center. He was always extra nice to me, my mom, and my seventeen year old sister, who he liked flirting with and making her blush, though not in any sleazy, dirty old man sort of way.

Red clearly enjoyed watching me trounce the local competition on the slot car track, which gradually attracted not only other kids my age, but older guys, older than Red even, who drove from as far away as Mobile and Huntsville to compete in Birmingham against the little kid who was me. Red would close up the place early sometimes and give me a ride home, hoping my mom would invite him in for coffee so he could chat her up and my sister, too. Red treated me like a miniature adult, which I liked, and we had conversations that I remember to this day, more than forty years later. He was quite the philosopher in his own California, beatnik way.

One thing that puzzled Red, not being a Southerner but instead being, well, a beatnik from California, was all the "unpleasantness" perpetrated by whites on blacks, which in Birmingham, Alabama during that summer of 1965 hung in the air so thick you could cut it with a knife. The behavior of the local rednecks confused him and he talked about them in a whimsical, detached sort of way, like he was describing a movie he had just seen. I explained to him that some rednecks who didn't like city folks moving to the farm country to raise horses had actually burnt our house down, so rednecks weren't just out to harm black people, but everyone they didn't like. Anyway, that summer Red engaged me in an extended, rambling dialogue about what might solve Alabama's race problems, which he claimed didn't exist in California, although maybe he'd forgotten about a county called Watts that exploded a bit later in the "race riots", and I was actually there in Watts when it happened, but that's another story.

While still living all the way out there in California, Red had learned about the inhibition reducing effects of LSD and so one of the solutions Red envisioned was a kind of LSD-induced universal love fest involving all the races in Alabama that would naturally end in just one race of "tan" people with no more big color differences. My contribution to Red's solution was to dream up a delivery system for the LSD, a Sunday morning line up for a sugar cube "vaccine" similar to the polio drive then underway for children, only this time for adults under the guise of stopping some public health menace.

Now all this was clearly heady stuff for a nine year old kid living in Birmingham, Alabama in 1965, reading H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe, and maybe it goes a little way towards explaining why I'm not a redneck. I don't know, you decide.

By the way, it's now 2008 and high time for all of America to stop playing footsie with race issues, don't you think? As it turns out, Barack Obama is one of those "tan" people Red and I envisioned so many years ago, although that's not why I support him for President of the United States. I would do that even if the guy was green, and I think you should, too.

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...a Czech-speaking American expat living in Prague since 1993.

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