It makes me a little sad that today, I received what could rationally be called the Redneck Primer as an email forward from my very own grandmother. It’s a tract that claims to be an editorial “written by an American citizen, published in a Tampa newspaper,” and goes on to spout beliefs that immigrants should pipe down, speak English, and stop adhering to any cultural norms but those cultivated right here in America. (I guess that means that immigrants should all eat a lot, give up exercise for television, and rip their way through marriages and divorces like it’s going out of style? It’s a little hard to parse this.)

The vagueness of the statement of origin on the essay made me curious, though, so I put in a little bit of search engine time. Doing a Google search for some key words and phrases brought up 38 unique (and 842 total) hits; out of these, most were authored on dates evenly scattered between January of 2003 and the present. I then found one reference which was posted on September 11, 2002 as an email forward, and it stands as the only reference from 2002 (on the Web or Usenet). This made me wonder why the piece seemed to go on a hiatus for the remainder of 2002, and finding that hard to believe, I changed my search string around a little bit. This led to finding another version of the screed with earlier heritage (July 24, 2002); this version didn’t list Portuguese in the group of languages which somehow offended the author, and since it was included as a direct quote in my initial Google string, my first pass had been slanted towards its derivitave. Eventually, I was able to find the original article, not a Tampa editorial but rather a veteran’s advocacy group magazine piece written by an Air Force veteran, originally published sometime around February 13, 2002, and since removed from the magazine’s website. Sometime between then and the end of 2002, the author’s piece was modified in a few ways — the Tampa newspaper bit was prepended, a swipe was taken at Muslim women, and the aforementioned addition of Portuguese was included — and it became the spam chain email that it is today. (I wonder what the Portuguese did to the person who initiated that change?) And of course, after all that, I finally found the Snopes piece that could have saved me all the work.

In the end, I find it interesting how things like this spread and mutate as they wend their way through the ether. That being said, this specific case is much more sad than it is interesting to me. Trawling through the various places that the essay has landed on the internet was frightening; most are shining examples of the complete and total intolerance that has become a defining feature of certain groups in America, and whenever readers were given the chance to respond to the posting, the typical response was something along the lines of “PREACH IT, MAN! GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY, TOWELHEAD!” Knowing that my own grandmother read the essay and felt a resonance with her own beliefs gave me pause, but in the end, I feel OK knowing that she comes from an entirely different generation that began life with a very different worldview, and that most signs seem to indicate that each generation of younger Americans is more tolerant than the last. And it definitely helps to remember that in less than a year, she’s going to be sitting in the front row of seats watching Shannon and I get married underneath a chuppah and standing amongst a wedding party that includes four people who are Jewish, two people who are Indian, one person who’s half-Chinese, and a gay man!


Wow, I wasn’t aware of your American Indian lineage. If you don’t mind me asking, is she Cherokee? Hopi? At least from the Plains tribes?

Because of course if she is of Anglo-European background, I fail to see why it was ok for her family to arrive here and relish their own culture while a “towelhead” needs to leave.

• Posted by: Matt Haughey [TypeKey Profile Page] on Nov 16, 2004, 6:43 PM

can i come to your wedding? i’ll be very quiet and i won’t eat anything.

(i’m kidding.)

• Posted by: alison on Nov 16, 2004, 11:04 PM

I wonder what people would think if they realized that the sort of bigotry in that article was often applied to christian sects. The separation of church and state was designed to protect religion from state interference. Many of the important SCOTUS cases about religious freedom were instigated by Jehovahs Witnesses and Amish sects that had beliefs that conflicted with the godfearin’ christian majority. They refused to salute the flag or say “One Nation Under God” so their children were expelled from schools and their parents discriminated against in employment and subjected to arbitrary taxation.

• Posted by: Charles on Nov 17, 2004, 1:31 AM
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