Last August, as I walked around the Crawford County Fair with my dad, taking in the sights of cowboy hats and camouflage, the smells of funnel cakes and farm animals, and the sounds of country music I’ve grown up loving, I felt just about as American as I’ve ever felt. But one thing stuck out to me and left me feeling uneasy. Why, in 2013, in Pennsylvania, are there blankets, T-shirts, baseball caps and key chains adorned with the Confederate flag?
My first thought was that this was just a bunch of northerners wishing they had been born south of the Mason-Dixon. But then I thought, would the flag be any more appropriate if I was in the south? To the contrary, I think it would be even more offensive. This brings me to the question: what does the Confederate flag mean today, and where is its place, if any?
If you’ve kept up with popular culture news lately, you’ve probably heard about country artist Brad Paisley’s collaboration with rapper LL Cool J, who paired up to record a song titled “Accidental Racist.” Just from the title, before I even listened to the song, I was shocked and disgusted. There is no such thing as an “accidental” racist, no matter what the justification. Racism is not an accident.
Intrigued, I listened to the song and looked up the lyrics, the most notable of which are (LL’s parts are in parentheses): I’m just a white man (If you don’t judge my do-rag), comin’ to you from the southland (I won’t judge your red flag), tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be. I’m proud of where I’m from, (If you don’t judge my gold chains), but not everything we’ve done (I’ll forget the iron chains).
Stephen Colbert put it best (as usual), when he said, “That’s a pretty good deal, Paisley. LL will forget 250 years of enslavement if you accept his taste in accessories.” While Paisley has defended the song saying he was just trying to start a conversation that has become, as the song says, “the elephant in the corner of the south,” I’m not buying it.
As a long-time Brad Paisley fan who saw him in concert just last summer, I am thoroughly disappointed in him. After reading up about his defense of the song, it is clear that his intentions were good. However, that’s what makes it even worse, in my opinion. Paisley accomplished nothing with the song, and instead, comes off as blatantly racist (and not the “accidental” kind).
Of course, Paisley isn’t the only one still proudly flaunting the Rebel flag. Even in Ohio, the flag pops up every once in a while. Whenever I see it, I want to ask the person wearing it what exactly they’re trying to express by sporting the flag. I’m not saying they should be ashamed of themselves, but … wait, yes I am.
The more fervently someone defends the pure intentions of the flag, and the harder they plead that it only represents Southern pride, the clearer it becomes that they don’t fully understand the discriminatory effects it can have.
In an attempt to make country music seem more socially progressive, Paisley effectively did the opposite. In addition, it’s still not entirely clear to me what LL’s intentions were in recording the song. His lyrics ask people to realize that racism persists in the south, and that African-Americans are still dealing with the societal effects of slavery. Paisley’s only response seems to be that while he’s really sorry about the whole slavery thing, he’s not about to give up his favorite tee to help stop perpetuating these effects – that would be asking just a little too much, LL.
Not to make a far-fetched, potentially inappropriate comparison, but it’s not often that you see Germans sporting a swastika T-shirt under the pretense of “German pride.” I’m all for freedom of expression, but I can think of at least 10,000 other ways for southerners to show that they’re proud of their roots without looking like – how do I put this gently? – an ignorant hick.
If I’m not mistaken, the point of the song is to ask African-Americans to please be respectful of whites’ decision to showcase the flag of an army that was defending institution of slavery less than 200 years ago. So, call me a Yankee, but I think it’s time for Paisley and anyone else still displaying the flag to put it to rest.