Night of the Living Redneck

Beware the language you walk yourself into; it will teach you how to talk. The Texas Speaker of the House says that lawmaking committees will spend the next year preparing a colossal vocabulary of criminalization, citizenship, and state exclusion. With such a language ready to go by January, 2009 the Texas legislature will then be able to use this state language to talk up a distance between citizens and migrant workers, throwing the whole scheme over the state in the form of police-hungry law that will erect little fences everywhere to keep our migrant neighbors caged wherever they happen to live.

In order to walk themselves more deeply into this language of them illegals versus us citizens, the legislative committees will only have to keep circling around well-marked gravesites where Southern redneck language lie buried and yet ever gracious to rise from the dead at the tiniest glint of a ring. A proper redneck, you may recall, is the kind who goes wherever he damn well pleases, including down to the Alamo if that’s what it takes to get a farm he can call his own.

So you might think that a proper redneck would show some respect for anybody who goes wherever she damn well pleases, certainly despite any finger-waving from men who wear suits or tin stars. In fact, I think, today’s proper rednecks, I mean the kind who don’t lie down in graveyards, are very likely to be the same people putting migrant labor to profitable use on an hourly basis doing all kinds of necessary work.

In a famous Fourth of July speech Frederick Douglass once asked white Americans how they can deny the humanity of people who are everyday being asked to do human work. And so the authentic redneck of Texas is in no position to deny the humanity of migrant workers who everywhere provide that “first tier” labor without which proper redneck existence would have no roads to travel, and few farms to travel between.

Therefore it’s a sad and shameful agenda that the Texas Speaker has announced for next year. And we can only hope that some ghost of Christmas future will rattle him into night sweats for as many hours as it takes to see the violence he is conjuring for all of our grandchildren in the decades to come. Because if the Confederate heroes of Texas died for anything useful, at least they could teach us that when you pretend to ignore the humanity of people whom you put to work on a daily basis, then you only keep adding to the price that justice will require you to pay back in pounds of flesh.

In any state that speaks a language of democracy, we find every reason possible to take down fences and barriers between peoples. Wherever in Texas people are working, shopping, and paying rent, they are quite often paying federal income taxes. They are always paying sales taxes. And let’s not forget that unless their landlords are philanthropists their rent includes property taxes, too. Now, in ordinary redneck language we have a phrase that describes a system which takes all these things from a person and yet denies her the right to vote. Do you know, Mr. Speaker, what that phrase is?

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at:


Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. Moses is a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative. He can be reached at