Friday, November 21, 2008

Gangsta Rappers and Redneck Women

Photo of Gretchen Wilson, country music star

Well I ain't never
Been the barbie doll type
No I can't swig that sweet champagne
I'd rather drink beer all night
In a tavern or in a honky tonk
Or on a 4 wheel drive tailgate
I've got posters on my wall of Skynard, Kid and Strait
Some people look down on me
But I don't give a rip
I'll stand barefooted in my own front yard with a baby on my hip

Cause I'm a redneck woman
And I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raisin'
And I say "hey y'all" and "Yee Haw"
And I keep my Christmas lights on, on my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So here's to all my sisters out there keepin' it country
Let me get a big "Hell Yeah" from the redneck girls like me
Hell Yeah
Hell Yeah

Victoria's Secret
Well their stuff's real nice
Oh but I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal*Mart shelf half price
And still look sexy
Just as sexy
As those models on TV
No I don't need no designer tag to make my man want me
You might think I'm trashy
A little too hard core
But get in my neck of the woods
I'm just the girl next door

Hey I'm redneck woman
And I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raisin'
And I say "hey y'all" and "Yee Haw"
And I keep my Christmas lights on, on my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big "Hell Yeah" from the redneck girls like me
Hell Yeah
Hell Yeah

I'm redneck woman
And I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raisin'
And I say "hey y'all" and "Yee Haw"
And I keep my Christmas lights on, on my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Ol' Bocephus song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big "Hell Yeah" from the redneck girls like me
Hell Yeah
Hell Yeah

Hell Yeah
Hell Yeah
Hell Yeah
Hell Yeah

I Said Hell Yeah

Lyrics of Redneck Woman

The election season featured some pretty memorable moments including this one, a public figure and possible Vice President singing along to the song "Redneck Woman". It really got me thinking about this phenomenon of people embracing with pride terms that have been historically pejorative. The close cousin of the proud "redneck" that may be more familiar is the "gangsta" or "nigga" of the hip-hop culture. The general argument made about embracing these terms in the African American context is that it represents a kind of linguistic alchemy where these words are taken over by the people they are meant to insult and transformed into something positive, a badge of honor. I've always questioned whether this really works and believed that linguistic alchemists are no more successful than traditional alchemists seeking to turn copper into gold. All the glitters ain't gold as they say and loudly proclaiming oneself as a "nigga" or "redneck" doesn't magically change the corrosive nature of these terms into something affirming. I do think that there is an important lesson in the attempt though. If as the Baha'i Faith teaches, human beings are created noble, when we feel that nobility is under assault we will try to defend it, however problematic our approach may be. Both the "gangsta" and the "redneck woman" represent populations and cultures that are widely criticized by those who do not belong to them. Like all human beings, they want their God-given nobility to be recognized and to be treated accordingly. Whoever we may be, if our sincere desire is to encourage positive change in any culture or among any group of people, the worst thing we can do is constantly tell them they are stupid, or immoral, or less than we are. Sadly, self appointed judges of how people should be regularly engage in such discourse, another version of the discourse of disunity I've referred to previously. I think that "redneck women" and "gangstas" are saying, "I want you to see that I am just as noble as you are." The question is, are we listening?

"Those who have quaffed from the ocean of divine utterance and fixed their gaze upon the Realm of Glory should regard themselves as being on the same level as the others and in the same station. Were this matter to be definitely established and conclusively demonstrated through the power and might of God, the world would become as the Abha Paradise. Indeed, man is noble, inasmuch as each one is a repository of the sign of God [the soul]. Nevertheless, to regard oneself as superior in knowledge, learning or virtue, or to exalt oneself or seek preference, is a grievous transgression."
(The Universal House of Justice quoting Baha'u'llah, 1999 Feb 22, Rank of Counsellors, p. 2)