You won’t find many folk more Southern than I am. I was raised in North Carolina by people who were raised in South Georgia. I say “ y’all” when two or more are gathered; “all y’all” when “y’all” just doesn’t seem to be enough. I like hot grits and sweet iced tea. I love the smell of honeysuckle and the sight of white fields of cotton ready for harvest. I greet every person I see; say yes ma’am and no ma’am, yes sir and no sir; and call people I hardly know “honey.” But unlike Brad Paisley, I won’t be displaying the Confederate flag on my clothing or otherwise. Ever.
Accidental Racist, a 2013 duet performed by Brad Paisley, a Caucasian country singer and LL Cool J, an African American rapper, makes some great points. The lyrics encourage all of us to get to know individuals instead of judging entire races. Mistakes have been made in this country and the song admits to some of those made between African American and Caucasian citizens. Plus the very fact that these two artists came together on this project, promotes cooperation. All that’s good. Really good.
But then, there’s this.
Paisley sings about the Confederate flag and the misunderstandings and unfair judgments that surround it. He says essentially, “Look, it’s just a symbol of the South. I’m proud to be Southern, I like Southern things (some of which are adorned with the Confederate flag). So don’t call me a racist just because I’m sporting this Southern symbol on my clothing or accessories.”
LL Cool J commiserates with Paisley by saying, “Yeah sure, I can look past the flag if you won’t judge my head gear. Deal?”
NO! No Deal!
There is no such thing as “just” a symbol. According to webster.com, a symbol is “something that stands for or suggests something else . . . especially: a visible sign of something invisible.” A visible sign of something invisible? Hmmm. So what is invisible in the symbol of the Confederate flag? Well let’s see. Let me think. Oh yeah. HUMAN BONDAGE! And don’t give me that brouhaha, “The Confederacy was formed so Southerners could hold on to their agrarian way of life.” That’s just another way of saying, “The South seceded so they could hold on to their slaves.” Really. The whole agrarian lifestyle of the South was built on the broken backs of humans who were considered property.
But let’s acknowledge that the Confederacy wasn’t all bad. Here’s something. Did you know African American Soldiers in the CSA (Confederate States of America) were paid the same as white soldiers? Not so in the Union, where African American soldiers earned roughly half what white guys were paid. And I’m sure during those four years (that’s how long the CSA lasted by the way: roughly 48 months) the South enjoyed an increased sense of community built around a common goal to defeat a common enemy. That’s good.
But get this: there were good things that happened during the Third Reich as well. Unemployment was low. The economy was strong. An entire race was annihilated, but that was only part of the history of the Third Reich. So why don’t we see German trinkets emblazoned with the Nazi flag? Because that symbol has become synonymous with the Holocaust, that’s why. It’s offensive: because it’s not just a symbol. It’s a visible reminder of something invisible. It matters.
So if Brad Paisley is really “proud of where [he’s] from but not everything we’ve done” he should wear the NC flag and adorn himself with pictures of the palmetto tree. Heck, he could drape himself with kudzu. But don’t promote the Confederate flag. It represents a travesty that makes proud Southerners ashamed.