By the 1970s, the term had become offensive slang, its meaning expanded to include racism, loutishness, and opposition to modern ways.
Patrick Huber, in his monograph A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity, emphasized the theme of masculinity in the 20th-century expansion of the term, noting, "The redneck has been stereotyped in the media and popular culture as a poor, dirty, uneducated, and racist Southern white man."
The term characterized farmers having a red neck caused by sunburn from hours working in the fields. A citation from provides a definition as "poorer inhabitants of the rural districts ... men who work in the field, as a matter of course, generally have their skin stained red and burnt by the sun, and especially is this true of the back of their necks".
By 1900, "rednecks" was in common use to designate the political factions inside the Democratic Party comprising poor white farmers in the South. The same group was also often called the "wool hat boys" (for they opposed the rich men, who wore expensive silk hats). A newspaper notice in Mississippi in August 1891 called on rednecks to rally at the polls at the upcoming primary election:
Primary on the 25th.
And the "rednecks" will be there.
And the "Yaller-heels" will be there, also.
And the "hayseeds" and "gray dillers," they'll be there, too.
And the "subordinates" and "subalterns" will be there to rebuke their slanderers and traducers.
And the men who pay ten, twenty, thirty, etc. etc. per cent on borrowed money will be on hand, and they'll remember it, too.
By , the political supporters of the Mississippi Democratic Party politician James K. Vardaman—chiefly poor white farmers—began to describe themselves proudly as "rednecks," even to the point of wearing red neckerchiefs to political rallies and picnics.
Linguist Sterling Eisiminger, based on the testimony of informants from the Southern United States, speculated that the prevalence of pellagra in the region during the great depression may have contributed to the rise in popularity of the term; red, inflamed skin is one of the first symptoms of that disorder to appear.
The term "redneck" in the early 20th century was occasionally used in reference to American coal miner union members who wore red bandanas for solidarity. The sense of "a union man" dates at least to the 1910s and was especially popular during the 1920s and 1930s in the coal-producing regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. It was also used by union strikers to describe poor white strikebreakers.
Late 20th and early 21st centuries
Writers Edward Abbey and Dave Foreman also use "redneck" as a political call to mobilize poor rural white Southerners. "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". However, many Southerners have proudly embraced the term as a self-identifier. Similarly to Earth First!'s use, the self-described "anti-racist, pro-gun, pro-labor" group Redneck Revolt have used the term to signal its roots in the rural white working-class and celebration of what member Max Neely described as "redneck culture".
As political epithet
According to Chapman and Kipfer in their "Dictionary of American Slang", By 1975 the term had expanded in meaning beyond the poor Southerner to refer to "a bigoted and conventional person, a loutish ultra-conservative." For example, in 1960 John Barlow Martin expressed Senator John F. Kennedy should not enter the Indiana Democratic presidential primary because the state was "redneck conservative country." Indiana, he told Kennedy, was a state "suspicious of foreign entanglements, conservative in fiscal policy, and with a strong overlay of Southern segregationist sentiment." Writer William Safire observes it is often used to attack white Southern conservatives, and more broadly to degrade working class and rural whites that are perceived by urban progressives to be insufficiently liberal. At the same time, some white Southerners have reclaimed the word, using it with pride and defiance as a self-identifier.
In Scotland in the 1640s, the Covenanters rejected rule by bishops, often signing manifestos using their own blood. Some wore red cloth around their neck to signify their position, and were called rednecks by the Scottish ruling class to denote that they were the rebels in what came to be known as The Bishop's War that preceded the rise of Cromwell. Eventually, the term began to mean simply "Presbyterian", especially in communities along the Scottish border. Because of the large number of Scottish immigrants in the pre-revolutionary American South, some historians have suggested that this may be the origin of the term in the United States.
Dictionaries document the earliest American citation of the term's use for Presbyterians in , as "a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians of Fayetteville [North Carolina]".
The exact Afrikaans equivalent, rooinek, is used as a disparaging term for English people and South Africans of English descent, in reference to their supposed naïveté as later arrivals in the region in failing to protect themselves from the sun.
^Ernest Cashmore and James Jennings, eds. Racism: essential readings (2001) p. 36.
^Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America's Scapegoats (1998) pp. 17–19
^Robert L. Chapman, Dictionary of American Slang (1995) p. 459; William Safire, Safire's New Political Dictionary (1993) pp. 653-54; Tom Dalzell, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: J-Z (2005) 2:1603.
^Patrick Huber, "A short history of Redneck: The fashioning of a southern white masculine identity." Southern Cultures 1#2 (1995): 145-166. online
^ abFrederic Gomes Cassidy & Joan Houston Hall, Dictionary of American Regional English VOL.IV (2002) p. 531. ISBN978-0674008847
^Kirwan, Albert D. (1951). Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics, 1876-1925. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. ISBN9780813134284.