Not many people can grow up out in Winfield on a farm, like me, and not harbor a streak of redneck. Sort of how black people call each other the n word, most country folk are accustomed to referring to others like us as rednecks, but arent necessarily crazy about it when someone else calls us that.
A local ex-politicians propaganda sheet recently put me on notice as a redneck, and I was kind of proud of it. They seemed to be trying to make me angry, but I thought it was funny.
Zell Miller is a different story. Hes pretty comfortable with the hillbilly label that people of his North Georgia Appalachian community have been given over the years; he just doesnt like other folks to turn it into an epithet, or use it to look down on those who arent as rich or worldly.
And when Ol Zell blew his top over CBS proposal to redo The Beverly Hillbillies - as a reality show, with real hillbillies - I was cheering for him. Its OK to call me a redneck when I act like one, and I doubt Miller minds being called a hillbilly if its used gently, as a term of affection.
But thats not what the television producers have in mind. They want to find a clueless - and preferably toothless - family to stick in a West Coast mansion wired with television cameras, presumably so sophisticated America can sit back in their own mansions and gawk and laugh at the rubes.
Yeah, real funny. Maybe well wire up Gracewood next so we can poke fun at the mentally handicapped.
Zell didnt think any of this was funny, either, because he can tell the difference between laughing with someone or some snob laughing at someone.
The only minority left in this country that you can make fun of, demean, humiliate, put down and hardly anyone will speak up in their defense are hillbillies in particular and poor rural people in general. You can ridicule them with impunity, Miller says.
Its easy to understand his outrage - Miller doesnt even like Snuffy Smith - but its also pretty admirable to see that the senator last week introduced legislation to create a federal commission that would address persistent pockets of poverty in the Southeast.
Im not so sure another federal commission is the solution, especially not at $20 million a year that would pay to employ a bunch of pencil-pushing bureaucrats. As Miller himself points out, we already have the Northern Great Plains Commis-sion, the Southwest Border Counties, the Denali Commission, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority.
But Millers plan is a start. And we already know some of the solutions are in education, an area Miller worked hard in back when he was Georgias governor. With education, wed perhaps help cut one shocking poverty statistic that was released last week: more than two-thirds of all black children in Georgia are now born to single mothers.
Of all the indicators of poverty, single parenthood is one of the strongest. And now state statistics show that less than a third of blacks in Georgia start life in two-parent families.
It really does make you wonder: When Jesse Jackson, father of an illegitimate child to a single mother, comes to Augusta to protest against a private club, will it do anything to educate or encourage poor people to avoid choices that all but doom their children to perpetual poverty?
Or instead, does he plan to just mug for the television cameras in his own pathetic brand of reality TV?
Zell Miller knows that people in poverty need help, not ridicule. Jesse Jackson doesnt seem to understand the difference.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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