Residents See Red Over Name of Bar

By Michael Tunison
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dana Tropeano let out a yelp as she was tossed from the bucking, twisting mechanical bull. At the tables in front of her, men in cowboy hats and overalls, drinking beer and wolfing down barbecue, hooted and hawed. Kid Rock's "Cowboy" blasted from stereo speakers.

On the other side of the room, Tropeano's fellow waitresses, in skimpy white camisoles and hiked-up jean shorts, howled lustily and gyrated on a bar as they poured raspberry schnapps into the gaping mouths of barflies below.

Somewhere in the raucous revelry, Playboy Playmate Sandra Hubby was making an appearance.

Charles County's newest bar just opened for business. And while the yuks and yee-haws cranked up inside, controversy cranked up outside.

Seems some of the county folk -- residents and officials -- are irritated by this rollicking establishment along the main drag in the small town of White Plains. Not because of the rollicking, as is usually the case with bars vs. neighbors. No, it's the name on the sign that juts out toward one of the county's most-traveled roadways:

Rednecks Saloon & Grill.

"Southern Maryland suffers from an image of being somewhat backwards, and we've come a long way in working to counter that image," said Marcia Keeth, chief of community development services for the Charles County Economic Development Department. "I suppose that there are people who are proud of being a redneck and think it's a good thing. We're trying to show people that we are a modern suburb of Washington, and this certainly doesn't make our job any easier."

The bar used to be called Tailgates Sports Bar, but the owners, Jesse and Mike Haiden, say they turned it into Rednecks for no other reason than that they wanted a country bar.

"I have no idea why it would bother people," Jesse Haiden said. "I think that it's ridiculous. The name of a business doesn't reflect on an entire county."

The new look certainly plays up the stereotypes that some attach to the term "redneck." Flanking the front door are two toilets acting as flower beds. The sign on Crain Highway features red lettering on a camouflage background. But it's not these accouterments that customers are noticing.

"I miss Tailgates. I used to go in there all the time, and I liked it because it was a mixed crowd," said Kelly Copsey, 22, of La Plata, who works at Damon's Grill in Waldorf. "Now it's an all-white crowd."

"This is ugly," said Waldorf resident Kevin Dillard. "It sends the message to a certain group of people that they are not welcome in the county. It could also affect the county's ability to attract the type of business they would like to bring to the county."

Charles County Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) said he hadn't received any official complaints but added: "I've spoken to several residents who are dismayed by the name itself. It contrasts significantly with the statements set forth by the county in terms of its vision of diversity and providing a strong potential for business development. Perhaps [the owners'] intentions are good. I don't know. I don't want to pass judgment before I meet them. I wish they would invite me to come so they could educate me as to why this is something positive for the county."

Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D), who represents the district the bar occupies, said, "I agree that the business does not project an image we would like to associate with the county, but I don't think it's in our purview to dictate what establishments put on their signs as long as they conform to sign ordinances."

"Redneck" is one of the many barbs tossed in the never-ending struggle between city slickers and country dwellers. The term first appeared in Mississippi in 1891 as a way for Southern Democrats to defame populist farmers bent on wrestling political control from the establishment, said Patrick Huber, associate professor of history at the University of Missouri-Rolla who has written an essay titled "A Short History of Redneck: The Fashioning of a Southern White Masculine Identity." It is now lobbed at people in just about any rural area.

Today, there's a duality in redneck culture, Huber said. There's the sanitized, pop culture version that embraces country imagery and working-class values. Entertainers such as Jeff Foxworthy have made a cottage industry out of it.

Then there is the extreme, Huber said, a self-imposed identity of racists. He cited a store in Laurens, S.C., called the Redneck Shop, a museum and retailer of Ku Klux Klan paraphernalia.

It's an especially sensitive term in an exurb such as Charles County, where development continues apace and where suburban and rural lifestyles, as well as new and old populations, sometimes mix uneasily. African Americans are moving into the county; they now account for 35 percent of the population, compared with 26 percent in 2000.

Racial conflict has racked the county. This week, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) called on FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to investigate 25 recent hate crimes. So some residents are puzzled that someone would pick such a name for their business.

"It's almost asking for a problem with a name like that with some of the things that have gone on in the county," said Greg Hines, 37.

"Although the term is kind of derogatory, no one should say what someone calls their business," said David Warner, 21, of La Plata, while dining in Waldorf. "However, with the background of the county, there are certainly many reasons why it shouldn't have that name."

The customers at the Rednecks grand opening said the name is just a benign signifier of country living.

"As a minority, I'm not bothered by anybody who considers themselves a redneck," said Jesse King, 33, who is Mexican and Native American. "White people feel like they want to be offended by it, but they don't really know what it means. People call Southern Maryland redneck country. A redneck is a country-going person; it's nothing more than that."

"I don't mind being called a redneck," said Jerome Sutehin, of Waldorf. "It's like being called a yuppie. You wear a certain kind of clothes and drive a certain kind of car. It's just got a bad rap, I guess."

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