Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Southern Heritage and Accidental Racist

If you haven't heard about it, Accidental Racist is a song put out by LL Cool J and Brad Paisley. I haven't listened to the song because I despise country music and rap isn't really my thing. But I've read some of the lyrics and it's about as dumb as the title would suggest. Yeah, their hearts seem to be in the right place. But jeez are they ignorant of history. And being ignorant isn't really an excuse when you take on a subject like racism, nor does it make anything an accident.

Apparently, in explaining himself, Paisley invoked the whole souther heritage excuse as a reason for liking the rebel flag and whatever other stuff he talks about in the song. Lawyers, Guns, and Money has a post up pointing out how you can celebrate southern heritage without doing things Paisley does, like wearing a rebel flag:

Paisley wants to know how he can express his Southern Pride. Here are some ways. He could hold a huge party on Martin Luther King’s birthday, to celebrate a Southerner’s contribution to the world of democracy. He could rock a T-shirt emblazoned with Faulkner’s Light In August, and celebrate the South’s immense contribution to American literature. He could preach about the contributions of unknown Southern soldiers like Andrew Jackson Smith. He could tell the world about the original Cassius Clay. He could insist that Tennessee raise a statue to Ida B. Wells.

Scott Lemieux points out that those things aren't really what people mean when they say they want to celebrate southern heritage. A local story here in Memphis shows how bullshit the southern heritage thing is. Nathan Bedford Forrest (a Confederate general and member of the KKK) is buried in one of our parks, the name of said park bearing his name. Memphis being a majority black city along with a significant number of white people who aren’t racists, the city council decided they wanted to change the name of the park to commemorate someone or something that represents the city’s heritage without invoking as much racism (I would say any racism but I’m not that confident in the city council).

But the Republicans in the state legislature (who have a supermajority and control the governor’s seat) decided that this wasn’t a local matter (Yeah, I was shocked, SHOCKED, that they didn’t concede to local control despite “believing in federalism”) and are trying to pass a law basically saying we can’t change the name of the park. They tried to couch it in terms that didn’t explicitly direct it at Memphis and the NBF park. But it’s obvious that they only really care about a certain type of souther heritage.

The talk about heritage kind of reminds me of the line from Pulp Fiction by Marcellus Wallace, “Pride only hurts.” I have a similar attitude towards heritage and nostalgia. They can be good in small doses, especially nostalgia. But heritage seems like a waste considering none of us had any control over where or when we grew up. If I was given a choice I likely wouldn’t have chosen to be born in Memphis or many other places in the south. It’s not that I don’t like Memphis or TN or the south in general. There are good things about each. But they likely wouldn’t be at the top of my birth list. Also, how about a little less looking back at the good ole times (times that weren’t really all that good except for rich white men, which not coincidentally are usually the ones who want to celebrate racist southern heritage) and focus more on improving things now and for the future. Let’s do shit that’s actually worth being nostalgic about.

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