The always awesome Will Campbell has an article online about Elvis Presley as a redneck that provocatively explores the nature of racism in America:
America is a racist society to the core and we all know it. Ah, we have dressed it up now. We don’t need a Bilbo, a Pitchfork Ben Tillman to scream “nigger!” from the courthouse steps on election eve to keep poor whites voting right. We have code words. Is it not obvious that last year’s election had to do with race. When we heard talk of welfare abuse it meant welfare for black people, though statistics show more whites than blacks on welfare, when we heard, “…get rid of affirmative action,” it was from those wanting to hang on to the piers of privilege being mildly threatened by enterprising and struggling minorities. “Teen-age pregnancies” meant black teenagers having babies. “Crime in the streets and let’s build more prisons” was a euphemism for incarcerating and executing more black people. Was that not obvious? And is it not manifest already that the next presidential campaign will be waged on that same cunning and pernicious ground? Perhaps not as brazen as the Willie Horton syndrome but the message will be loud and clear.
I think I can make a case that the poor, white, rural, working class, the redneck, is guilty of less true racism than any other group in white American society. Not guilty of less prejudice, perhaps, but less racism. There is a distinction that must be made between racism and prejudice. And between racism and racialism for that matter. (Racialism. A concept that you might want to consider.) I am not saying that all or any one of the poor, working class are without prejudice. History would not bear me out. We can be educated, or converted out of prejudice; sheer raw, naked bigotry. But racism is a condition; the structures, the institutions in which we move and breathe and have our being that give white males the advantage. That is what racism is. Every one of us afflicted with this incurable skin disease called whiteness is a racist. That does not mean we hate black people or wish them ill. It simply means that our skin color has given us ascendance. That is what racism is. Prejudice is something else. Something on a more conscious level. The “redneck” is less racist because he operates from a base of considerably less power. It is not the poor, rural, laboring class that produces the rulers, the governors, the managers of this present age that harbors the racist cycle.
The article is from 1995, by the way, just to put the “last election” comments in their proper context.