your soundtrack. crank it loud for this very long post.
well, well, well. look at this foolishness. turns out, 24 hours before the anniversary of the battle of the appomattox court house, a couple of royal dumbasses decided to show out about race, north/south relations and unbelievably terrible music in the form of “accidental racist.” old white people in the south occasionally refer to the civil war as the lost cause, which is their way of glorifying treason carried out in the name of making sure that the southern 1% could retain the right to outright own black people and back-door own poor white people. today, in 20-goddamned-13, brad paisley and LL cool J decided to write a new chapter in the same old lost cause story, all over paisley’s idiot assertion that flying the confederate battle flag is a perfectly innocent expression of lynyrd skynyrd fandom and not a revisionist insult to black people. and no, LL’s charming tribute to robert e. lee is not sufficient “i have a black friend” cover for what those two morons did. if “cover” was even a thing that existed.
and that’s the big freaking joke about what these idiots did. there’s a lot to unpack about being southern. and being “southern,” for that matter. there’s a difference. what paisley did is reference being “southern.” to assume that the confederate battle flag is a southern heritage symbol requires ignorance of what the confederate battle flag was, and continues to be, used to represent: the supremacy of white people, and wealthy white people at that. that’s what the battle flag stood for at the time, and that’s what it stands for now. you can’t “reclaim” it, any more than you can “reclaim” the swastika’s ancient life as a religious symbol from the fact that it was the branding statement for the summary execution of ten million-plus non-aryans during world war II. it’s gone, it’s over, and it’s never coming back. likewise, the confederate battle flag was the banner under which confederate generals orchestrated their campaign of treason motivated by their elite’s desire to own human beings, and it was the banner under which the hateful hordes of white americans perpetrated property seizures, denial of civil rights, beatings, rapes, false imprisonment, terror campaigns and murders against black americans. and it’s gone, it’s over, and it’s never coming back. all the “but i just like lynyrd skynyrd!” in the world doesn’t change that.
when challenged, many people who cite the flag as “heritage” talk about their families, and how the confederate construct is just a remembrance of how southerners value family history. so let’s talk about my family, which is as southern as it can be, as an example of that. the man’s mother’s family goes deep into north alabama’s history. his great-great-grandfather is buried in the confederate soldiers’ cemetery in warrior, alabama. my family, as is the case for many families that go back in america that far, had people on both sides of the civil war. my grandmother loves to tout our confederate roots, as if the distant cousins who were conscripted into the confederate army were noble defenders of our genteel way of life. snort. we were broke-ass farming people. but another branch of our family fought for the union. they did so with not a small amount of distinction, as it happens.
my daddy had two grandfathers, both of whom i knew. one of them, my grandmother’s father, is one of daddy’s heroes. pop was a warm, generous man who died when i was a very young girl. but i remember how amazing he was. daddy tells great stories of my pop and how progressive he was. pop voted democratic not because of reconstruction, but because he believed in the new deal. pop tried repeatedly to integrate his workforce in south georgia in the 1950s and 1960s. the stories daddy tells about being part of those work crews in summer, about how the black men were treated and how pop tried so hard to stop the insanity. he didn’t get far, but he tried. and in the 1950s in south georgia, that makes you a radical. daddy’s other grandfather lived a lot longer. he was a hard, angry, and VERY conservative man. he was also an inveterate racist. my aunt told me a story about being a little girl in granddaddy’s car the first time he was pulled over by a black georgia state trooper. from my aunt’s retelling, the trooper endured an unbelievable tirade of racial invective as he quietly, professionally wrote my great-grandfather a speeding ticket. hell of a lot more grace than i would’ve shown, to be sure. granddaddy favored the n-word. he favored it a lot. he said it constantly. and if he knew it bothered you, or if you were an eight-year-old me and told him it bothered you, he’d call you an n-word-lover and say it more. he was also a total bastard who was hateful as hell to everyone except my youngest (at the time) cousin; she was a toddler and didn’t understand the hateful things he said, so she’d be loving and sweet to him.
my daddy was born in jacksonville, florida. he spent his young childhood there and in a town called albany, georgia. after seventh grade, he and his siblings moved to pinellas county, florida. when you ask daddy where he grew up, he gives pinellas county as the answer. my mother was born in atlanta and spent her early years in greer, south carolina before she moved to the same county in the late 1950s. my parents met in their adolescence in an integrated high school, one that appointed an interracial couple to be “mr. and miss largo high school” in 1970. they grew up hippies, liberals, and loud defenders of civil rights, even as my grandmother ran for school board – twice, unsuccessfully – as a staunch segregationist heavily involved in the local chapter of parents against forced busing. and yes, my grandmother is the daughter of my pop, my progressive great-grandfather. she’ll lie to you and say he was a republican; he was not. but she was, and she stood for some pretty heinous things. in fact, this article i found while googling the organization, which is a letter to the editor from a local newspaper where my family lived circa 1972, is a pretty horrifying description of exactly what she was doing.
before daddy left albany, dr. king came to town. daddy told me the story of what he remembered of the visit; he was 10 years old when it happened. he was a little kid, playing army with the rebel gray uniform his mama bought for him and generally doing as he was told. when dr. king came to town, he asked his mother, mom, who’s dr. king and why is he here? he told me, i knew something was seriously wrong when my mother could not get a sentence out about what was happening. that’s when i started asking questions, and really disliking the answers i received. my parents broke clean away from the poisonous influences in the bloodline. my mother got clean for gene after bobby kennedy died. my father sent away for mailings from the black panthers and SDS.
i was born to this southern family in princeton, new jersey. as a joke, my birth announcement featured my name – TARA! – overlaid on an outline of the rebel flag. daddy’s reasoning was, see, ’cause you rednecks keep calling her a yankee baby, because she’s born in the north, we’re going to make fun of you to all our northern friends. he included a photo of a tiny, newborn me, lying on the rebel flag my grandmother gave daddy somewhere down the line, throwing a crying fit of epic proportions. my face was red, my fists were balled up, my eyes were squeezed shut and my mouth was wide open in the classic baby-is-angry-as-hell pose. daddy enjoyed the satire: here’s this ridiculous symbol that’s been used to make others feel like property, and that my own family has used to try to instill some misplaced “pride” in a set of ideas that repulses me. here’s what i think of it: it makes my newborn baby girl cry. as it should.
what does all this genealogical rambling say? first: anyone who tells you that the confederate battle flag represents family and heritage is LYING to you. second: even if you trace your roots to the civil war, your “southern-ness” is not conditioned on whatever side your forefathers fought for.
what is being southern, anyway, this thing everyone’s supposed to be able to take pride in? duane allman used to say, i’m southern; ain’t proud of it, ain’t ashamed of it. there are a lot of fabulous features of southern life, at least life on the gulf coast: good food. warm weather. amazing music. a pleasant, laid-back pace to daily life. brilliant literature, humor, and general story-telling prowess. room to move around. the beach. and yes, the southern accent. these are unique features of my upbringing that i love. i have friends who love the iterations of these features found in their homeland. it’s 100% cool to love your upbringing.
but i believe in a mature, clear-eyed love. when you fully love someone – or somewhere – you hold your love accountable. you want the best for the things and people you love. and if you really love the south, whatever that means, you have the sense the good lord gave a grapefruit to understand what that means. i talk a lot about how it pisses me off that this country has decided that racism is a strictly southern problem. i don’t get mad because i think there’s no race problem in the south. oh, lord, do i know full well that the homeland still has a serious problem with race. no, it pisses me off because we will never get to a place where racism is a weird anomaly if we keep pretending that it hasn’t infected the entire body politic of the united states. using alabama and mississippi as a convenient scapegoat is not the answer. so if you really love the south, you do not want to keep hugging racist symbology in a weird attempt to rehabilitate it, as if nice people wearing the confederate battle flag will undo the two-pronged historical malevolence it symbolizes.
brad paisley and LL cool J have unwittingly done us a bit of a favor when it comes to pointing out how naive (at best; stupid at worst) most people are about what racism is, what racial politics were, what racial politics still are, and how people should look at these issues. america has a structural privilege problem that gets worse every day. the structural problems cut across racial, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, and geographical lines. this simpering little “gee whiz, can’t we all just wear rebel flags? I’M not racist, so i don’t mean anything bad!” trope is not helping. there’s a lot of duality in “the southern thing,” as the truckers call it. there’s a lot of good, there’s a lot of bad. i imagine that’s what it’s like in a lot of places. don’t know for sure; i’ve only ever been a southern kid. i take responsibility as an AMERICAN, not as a southern, for the racial problems we have. i was raised not to be racist. i was also raised to understand what happened in the past in AMERICA, not just in alabama.
things are, on balance, much better than they’ve ever been re: race relations. but it ain’t even close to fixed. we still have a lot of work to do. and admitting that white people are still the privileged class in this country doesn’t denigrate “southernness.” and because people are people, perfect racial harmony will never 100% happen. there will always be assholes who hate other people for stupid, arbitrary reasons, such as skin color, nationality, etc. the goal is twofold: a) remove structural inequity as much as possible from the laws, customs, practices, etc. of the entire country; b) reach a place where people are permitted to walk around and not be confronted by imagery that was used to enslave and dehumanize them. like i said earlier today, there’s no “accidental anti-semite” song where some affable aryan dude is all, gee whillikers, all i wanted to do was wear this ancient religious symbol, i didn’t mean to invoke the wholesale slaughter of millions of jewish people. you’re proud of the south? great. start acting like it. shelve the hurtful, hateful symbology and help us make the south – and the whole country – a better place.
we’re known for our warm hospitality as southern folks. shouldn’t we do everything we can to make sure people feel welcomed in our presence? ditch the flag. ditch the whining. be a southern gentleman or a southern lady and create welcome for all. make the southern thing something, on its own, to be proud of.