Another contributing theory derives the term from such individuals having a red neck caused by working outdoors in the sunlight over the course of their lifetime. The effect of decades of direct sunlight on the exposed skin of the back of the neck not only reddens fair skin, but renders it leathery and tough, and typically very wrinkled and spotted by late middle age. Similarly, some historians claim that the term redneck originated in 17th century Virginia, because fair-skinned unfree labourers were sunburnt while tending plantation crops.
It is clear that by the post-Reconstruction era (after the departure of Federal troops from the American South in 1874-1878), the term had worked its way into popular usage. Several blackface minstrel shows used the word in a derogatory manner, comparing slave life over that of the poor rural whites. This may have much to do with the social, political and economic struggle between Populists, the Redeemers and Republican Carpetbaggers of the post-Civil War South and Appalachia, where the new middle class of the South (professionals, bankers, industrialists) displaced the pre-war planter class as the leaders of the Southern states. The Populist movement, with its message of economic equality, represented a threat to the status quo. The use of a derogative term, such as redneck to belittle the working class, would have assisted in the gradual disenfranchisement of most of the Southern lower class, both black and white, which occurred by 1910.
The "Celtic Thesis" of Forrest McDonald and Grady McWhiney holds that they were basically Celtic (as opposed to Anglo-Saxon), and that all Celtic groups (Irish, Scottish, Welsh and others) were warlike herdsmen, in contrast to the peaceful farmers who predominated in England. U.S. Senator James H. Webb of Virginia uses this thesis in his book Born Fighting to suggest that the character traits of the Irish and Scots — loyalty to kin, mistrust of governmental authority, and military readiness — helped shape the American identity. According to Webb, these people characterized as "rednecks" and "crackers", were unwelcome in the "civilized" coastal regions and were encouraged by colonial leaders to settle the Appalachian mountains, as a bulwark against the Indian Nations. Although sometimes hostile to the Indians, they found much in common with them and engaged in trade and cultural exchanges. In the Appalachians they also encountered pockets of Melungeons, English-speaking people of mixed racial origins (black, white and Native American), whom they traded with and tolerated. Over time, they intermarried with Britons from the West Country of England and Wales, other people with Celtic origins, and absorbed members of other groups through the bonds of kinship.
Fiercely independent, and frequently belligerent, people characterized as rednecks perpetuated old Celtic ideas of honor and clanship. This sometimes led to blood feuds such as the Hatfield-McCoy feud in West Virginia and Kentucky.
In colonial times, they were often called rednecks and crackers by English neighbors. A letter to the Earl of Dartmouth included the following passage: "I should explain ... what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.
The fledgling government inherited a huge debt from the American Revolutionary War. One of the steps taken to pay it down was a tax imposed in 1791 on distilled spirits. Large producers were assessed a tax of six cents a gallon. Smaller distillers, however, most of whom were of Scottish or Irish descent located in the more remote areas, were taxed at a higher rate of nine cents a gallon. These rural settlers were short of cash to begin with, and they lacked any practical means to get their grain to market other than fermenting and distilling it into relatively portable alcoholic spirits. From Pennsylvania to Georgia, the western counties engaged in a campaign of harassment of the federal tax collectors. "Whiskey Boys" also made violent protests in Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. This civil disobedience eventually culminated in armed conflict in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
People characterized as rednecks, and sometimes merely as southerners, serve in the U.S. armed forces at a much higher rate than other Americans. This trend is also present among the Scots in the British armed forces. Stereotypical rednecks, and especially Tennesseans, are known for their martial spirit. Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State" for the overwhelming, unexpected number of Tennesseans who volunteered for duty in the War of 1812, the Texas Revolution (including the defense of the Alamo), and especially the Mexican-American War. During the Civil War, poor whites did most of the fighting and the dying on both sides of the conflict. Poor Southern whites stood to gain little from secession and were usually ambivalent about the institution of slavery. They were, however, fiercely defensive of their territory, loyal to family and home and typically resolute in the cause of independence from the Union.
Although slaves fared the worst by far, many poor whites had "a hard row to hoe" as well. The disruptions of the Civil War (1861-65) and Reconstruction mired African Americans in a new poverty and dragged many more whites into a similar abyss. Sharecropping and tenant farming trapped families for generations, as did emerging industries, which paid low wages and imposed company-town restrictions (see Carpetbagger). Once-proud yeomen frequently became objects of ridicule, and sometimes they responded angrily and even viciously, often lashing out at blacks in retaliation. Destitute whites were increasingly labeled "poor white trash" (meaning financially and educationally worse off than others) and worse; “cracker,” "clay eater," "linthead," "peckerwood," "buckra" and especially redneck only scratched the surface of rejection and slander. Northerners and foreigners played this game, but the greatest hostility to poor whites came from their fellow Southerners, sometimes blacks but more often upper-class whites. Generally, the view of poor white Southerners grew more and more negative, especially in modern movies and television, which have often stressed the negative and even the grotesque while reaching huge audiences. Rednecks have borne their share of this stereotype of lower-class Southern whites who share poverty status with immigrants, blacks, and other minorities.
Generally, there is a continuum from the stereotypical redneck (a derisive term) to the country person; yet there are differences. In contrast to country people, stereotypical rednecks tend not to attend church, or do so infrequently. They also tend to use alcohol and gamble more than their church-going neighbors. Further, "politically apathetic" may describe some members of this group. Until the late 1970s they tended toward populism and were solidly behind the Democratic party, but have supported Republicans since the Carter presidency. Many celebrities like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry The Cable Guy embrace the redneck label. It is used both as a term of pride and as a derogatory epithet, sometimes to paint country people and/or their lifestyle as being lower class.
Although the stereotype of poor white Southerners and Appalachians in the early twentieth century, as portrayed in popular media, was exaggerated and even grotesque, the problem of poverty was very real. The national mobilization of troops in World War I (1917-18) invited comparisons between the South and Appalachia and the rest of the country. Southern and Appalachian whites had less money, less education, and poorer health than white Americans in general. Only Southern blacks had more handicaps. In the 1920s and 1930s matters became worse when the boll weevil and the dust bowl devastated the South's agricultural base and its economy. The Great Depression was a difficult era for the already disadvantaged in the South and Appalachia. In an echo of the Whiskey Rebellion, rednecks escalated their production and bootlegging of moonshine whiskey. To deliver it and avoid law-enforcement and tax agents, cars were "souped-up" to create a more maneuverable and faster vehicle. Many of the original drivers of stock car racing were former bootleggers and "ridge-runners."
Federal programs such as the New Deal era Tennessee Valley Authority and the later Appalachian Regional Commission encouraged development and created jobs for disenfranchised rural southerners and appalachians. World War II (1941-45) began the great economic revival for the South and for Appalachia. In and out of the armed forces, unskilled Southern and Appalachian whites, and many African Americans as well, were trained for industrial and commercial work they had never dreamed of attempting, much less mastering. Military camps grew like mushrooms, especially in Florida, Georgia and Texas, and big industrial plants began to appear across the once rural landscape. Soon, blue-collar families from every nook and cranny of the South and Appalachia found their way to white-collar life in metropolitan areas like Atlanta. By the 1960s blacks had begun to share in this progress, but not all rural Southerners and Appalachians were beneficiaries of this recovery.
Writer Edward Abbey, as well as the original Earth First! under Dave Foreman, proudly adopted the term redneck to describe themselves. This reflected the word's possible historical origin among striking coal miners to describe white rural working-class radicalism. "In Defense of the Redneck" was a popular essay by Ed Abbey. One popular early Earth First! bumper sticker was "Rednecks for Wilderness." Murray Bookchin, an urban leftist and social ecologist, objected strongly to Earth First!'s use of the term as "at the very least, insensitive.
Author Jim Goad's 1997 book The Redneck Manifesto explores the socioeconomic history of low-income Americans. According to Goad, rednecks are traditionally pro-labor and anti-establishment and have an anti-hierarchical religious orientation. Goad argues that elites (and a special distrust of liberals whom belonged to the liberal elite from the Northeast states and the US west coast) manipulate low-income people (blacks and whites especially) through classism and racism to keep them in conflict with each other and distracted from their exploitation by elites.
U.S. Representative Charles B. Rangel caused controversy on February 13, 2005, by referring to Bill Clinton as a redneck in response to Hillary Clinton's refusal to support his views on the Amadou Diallo case.
According to James C. Cobb, a history professor at the University of Georgia, the redneck comedian "provided a rallying point for bourgeois and lower-class whites alike. With his front-porch humor and politically outrageous, the redneck comedian created an illusion of white equality across classes.
Johnny Russell was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1973 for his recording of "Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer," parlaying the "common touch" into financial and critical success. Country music singer Gretchen Wilson titled one of her songs "Redneck Woman" on her 2004 album Here for the Party.
Rockabilly and Southern rock are among Rock and Roll musical genres favored by stereotypical rednecks. In particular, "Free Bird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd are considered "redneck anthems."
The TV series, "The Dukes of Hazzard," followed the adventures of two good ol' boys, Bo and Luke Duke, their uncle Jesse and their cousin Daisy, living in an unincorporated area of the fictional Hazzard County, in Georgia, racing around in their modified 1969 Dodge Charger, "The General Lee," evading corrupt Boss Hogg and his inept county sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. Consistent with a redneck stereotype, Bo and Luke had been sentenced to probation for illegal transportation of moonshine.
In recent years, the comedic stylings of Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, Bill Engvall, and Larry the Cable Guy have become popular through "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" and "Blue Collar TV" television show and film. Foxworthy's 1993 comedy album "You Might Be A Redneck" cajoled listeners to evaluate their own behavior in the context of stereotypical redneck behavior, and resulted in more mainstream usage of the term.
In 2006 Lamb Of God (Band) released an album entitled "Sacrament", on which the third track is entitled "Redneck".
In the 1950s, Bakersfield, California country musicians such as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Wynn Stewart helped develop a unique country music style called the Bakersfield sound. Their influence was so great that Bakersfield is second only to Nashville, Tennessee, in country music fame. Bakersfield continues to produce and influence famous country music artists.
Central Pennsylvania (also referred to, pejoratively, as "Pennsyltucky") is often seen as redneck country, as in Democratic Party strategist James Carville's reputed description of the state: "Philadelphia at one end, Pittsburgh at the other, Alabama in the middle." Rednecks are reportedly living in rural parts of New England, the lower Midwest states and along Chesapeake Bay.
Other exclaves can be found throughout the oil-producing areas of Alaska. In the second half of the 20th-Century, concurrent with the development of the oil industry and pipeline, large numbers of Gulf Coast petroleum workers moved to Alaska for high pay and adventure — and many stayed. Rednecks had relocated to the Pacific Northwest, the Rockies, and North-Central states in fairly large numbers.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are sometimes said to be the home of rednecks in Canada, due to its similarities to Texas (oil, farming, and ranching). Like rural people elsewhere, some Canadians continue to see this as a highly offensive term while others have claimed it and proudly describe themselves as rednecks. This difference often arises because the former consider the term to connote racist beliefs while the latter believe it implies traditional rural values (e.g. work ethic, honesty, self-reliance, simplicity and individual freedom).
In Brazil, the term "caipira" is used to define inhabitants from the countryside of Brazilian states (chiefly rural); they are considered the Brazilian counterparts of American rednecks.
In Mexico, the slang term "Naco" can be used to define a lower-class Mexican who displays qualities similar to North-American rednecks such as ignorance and low-brow tastes. This word is used by middle to upper class White Mexicans in Mexico and white Mexican-Americans in the United States.
In Guatemala, the slang term "Muco" is a pejorative term used as a race-discriminative term for the native people called "Indios". A "Muco" is an "Indio" who pretends belong to a higher economical-status than the one that he belongs to.
In Nicaragua, the slang term "jincho" is a pejorative term used to describe people with poor education or from the countryside. Also, "jincho patarrajadas" as a pejorative in arguments literally "bruised feet fool" implying that people from the countryside walk barefoot.
In Panama, the slang term cholo, originally used only as a racial definition for people of mixed Spanish and Amerindian ancestry, is used to pejoratively refer to poor and uneducated rural people, since the vast majority of these people come from this sort of background. While it is applied universally to country people of all backgrounds by capitalinos (people from Panama City), in the interior (Panamanian slang for countryside) the racial connotation is retained, particularly by upper class white landowners and people from provincial capitals, along with the idea of rural backwardness. Among cholos themselves the word is used as a term of endearment particularly from men towards women. By extension it is also used to jokingly and condescendingly label someone who is not up to date on current trends and/or is not tech-savvy. In Puerto Rico the term "jíbaro" can be considered a rough equivalent of the word "redneck" since it is used to refer to residents of rural areas that typically work as farmers or manual-laborers. It is also similar to the term "redneck" as it can be used pejoratively or complimentary. In the latter sense it is used to refer to "true boricuas" that live a rugged life of farming and maintain typical Puerto Rican traditions and values alive. In the pejorative sense however, it refers to uneducated rubes who are close-minded and oblivious to the ways of the modern world.
"White cracker" or simply "cracker" was originally a pejorative term for a white person, mainly used in the United States, and still is in many instances. It has also, however, increasingly been used as a proud (or self-deprecating) term by some American whites in reference to themselves (see Florida Cracker & Georgia Cracker).
The term "goat roper" is sometimes used as a term of derision for unsophisticated rural people in the Southwestern United States, Arkansas, and Gulf States. It alludes to the belief that a person who raises or "ropes" goats is inferior to a cowboy or cattle rancher. This term may have roots in the range wars between ranchers and sheep or goat ranchers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term is used in some western communities to describe individuals who prefer a western/cowboy image, but not the rugged life-style (e.g. "Him in a rodeo? Only if he's roping goats with the kids.")
The term "peckerwood", an inversion of woodpecker, is also used, but usually only with negative connotations. It was coined in the 19th century by Southern blacks to describe poor whites. The origin of the term is unknown, but this word is still used by Southern blacks to refer to Southern whites.
"Swamp Yankee" is a term used by urban Yankees to describe rural New Englanders and New Jerseyites. The name is denoted for their choice of residence in swamps, grasslands and/or dense forests long avoided by upper-income urbanites. "Swamp Yankees" actually want to live facing suburban areas for work opportunities.
In Canada, "redneck" is used in much the same way as it is in the United States. It is mostly used for people from the Prairie provinces and rural areas in British Columbia and Ontario. The term "blueneck" is a recently coined corollary of redneck. Its meaning can vary significantly based on usage. It can refer to a "cold-weather redneck" from Canada, Alaska or other cold areas of North America. It can also be used to signify a "leftist redneck.
In Scotland, the term 'teuchter' (pronounced [ˈtjuxtər]) is used, mainly pejoratively, by lowlanders in reference to their highland cousins, who they often view as rural or backwards. The name presumably derives from Scots teuch, 'tough'. Interestingly, the name of the main tribe living in what is now Highland Scotland in the Iron Age was the Caledonians, probably meaning 'the tough people' (a quo the Latin name Caledonia for Scotland).