Caught Between Southern Pride & Southern Blame

Brad Paisley & LL Cool J’s new song, Accidental Racist, has hit the media faster than Kim Jung-un’s nuclear threats on South Korea. The official music video was pulled from YouTube earlier this week because of its so-called “controversy.” I first heard the song yesterday whilst listening to talk radio– its lyrics caught my attention. The two spokespeople started talking about Paisley’s intent: to use music to talk about race.

I’m from the north. I was born and raised in Wisconsin. Whenever I see the Confederate flag, I, like the vast majority of northerners I associate with, am extremely offended. I, like many northerners, associate the Confederate flag with racist southerners that just cannot let go of the Civil War. I am turned off by anyone who sports a confederate flag on their car, in their house, on their property. To me, it represents hate; it represents ignorance; it represents everything I am against.

Am I being judgmental towards those who sport the flag? Absolutely.

I have a few friends from the south. The Confederate flag is everywhere in the south. And, the Confederate flag stands for very different things in the south. “It represents heritage, not history,” my friend explained. In the south, the confederate flag represents southern pride; it represents the idea of small government (the states versus the feds). As Brad Paisley quotes in his song, “I’m just a white man coming to you from a south land. […] I’m proud of where I’m from, but not everything we’ve done.” Paisley defends his shirt to the black man behind the Starbucks counter as to why he is wearing the symbol.

I think it was very bold of Brad Paisley to collaborate with LL Cool J to produce a song like this, specifically because he is a well-known, successful, influential country singer (and country music is more often than not associated with the south). **For the record, I love country music! It has got people talking, discussing, and learning. For someone like me who comes from the north, who teaches students of color, and who has always been taught that racism is wrong and that the Confederate Flag = racism, I see absolutely no reason for controversy. Mr. Paisley is exercising his right to free speech—he and LL Cool J are exploring a topic about which most Americans are afraid to discuss: race. Before the video was pulled off of YouTube, I was able to watch a fan-based video. From my point of view, the comments were appalling. The majority of people were calling all of us northerners who are offended by or do not understand the “actual” symbolism of the Confederate flag “ignorant bigots”, and “stupid, inconceivable idiots.”

On my end, I couldn’t help by laugh and call the kettle black. I believe that if you have to explain why the flag (or anything) is not offensive, then there’s a good chance it probably is offensive (ie: the r-word, the n-word, etc.) My question is: How many people of color do you see wearing/sporting the Confederate flag? (I am genuinely curious). This is a prime example of White Privilege.

However, this current culture clash has forced me to think in an even deeper about the differences in cultures and belief systems here in the United States. I often forget how big this country is. I’ve traveled to the other side of the world, lived an entire summer in Japan, but I’ve never seen the beautiful national parks; I’ve never spent a vacation in the south; I’ve never been to the grand canyon. This country is gigantic, and so is this culture. Although our universal loves for football, tailgating, Thanksgiving, and freedom bring us together, each state and regions of the United States carry their own sets of morals, beliefs, and sub-cultures. My last semester before student teaching, my capstone class read an article about the Civil War that was written in the South, for Southerners, from the South’s perspective. Seeing the unintentional cultural biases from both up here in the North and down in the South are absolutely eye-opening.

although I am 100% against the Confederate flag, solely because of what its history stands for, I am open to the idea that it means something so much greater (and less hateful) to a vast number of (mostly white) people who also identify as “American.”

As I continue to travel around the world, I am constantly reminding myself to make time for travel around my own country, and learn the distinct differences among people of different regions, races, genders, and generations. The world is big, yet so small. My country, though very big, is just a small portion of the world- yet it holds the variety of diverse ways of life.

Dismantling the Patriarchy,

Dana

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