I was surprised to learn — though maybe I shouldn’t have been — that if you do a Google search of the term “Southern Pride,”, literally 99 out of every 100 image results contains the Confederate Flag.
That is a goddamn shame, because — believe it or not — there are a fair number of Southerners who are proud of where they come from (and no region is more prideful than the South), and not every Southerner is a racist.
I never thought much about the Confederate flag growing up in the South. Like the American flag, it’s everywhere — waving in people’s yards and in car dealership lots, on bumper stickers, mud flaps, belt buckles, T-shirts, bandanas, and most commonly, in the window in the back of a pick up truck along with a gun rack — and I didn’t associate it as much with “racists” as I did with “good ole boys,” many of whom were racist, and some of whom were just proud of where they came from and probably didn’t think through the racist implications behind that flag.
For many of us, the Confederate flag was just something Bo and Luke Duke had on the top of their car, and that’s the extent that we thought about it at the time. It was those that wore T-Shirts or had bumper stickers that read, “The South Will Rise Again” that pissed us off, because the implication was that those racists jackasses wanted a rematch, that they wanted to reinstitute slavery, and they couldn’t accept that 150 years ago, the “good guys” won, and we weren’t the “good guys.” Nobody wants to be thought of as the bad guys.
It took leaving the South and some distance for me to really appreciate how messed up a symbol the Confederate flag is. They don’t teach you in grade school that the Confederate flag is a symbol of our racist past — it’s an inference you have to make for yourself and you have to do it against the idea that it also represents the so-called glorious past they also teach us about. To us, that Confederate seal was a symbol of our Southern heritage, and I think that we just chose to ignore that the “heritage” we were so proud of was tied so inextricably to slavery and Jim Crowe and the KKK and oppression.
At this point, that association is undeniable to anyone with half a brain cell, and you cannot in good faith break the symbolic link between the Confederate flag and slavery. It is a symbol of racism, and there is no wiggle room in that regard. You can’t dismiss it simply as a symbol of our “cultural heritage” when our “cultural heritage” is one of oppression and enslavement. You can’t argue “heritage not hate” when that heritage is one of hate. It sucks to be the bad guys, but we shouldn’t feel pride in our cultural heritage; we should feel shame in it, and we shouldn’t be trying to preserve it for future generations in the form of a racist flag.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great things about the South that we can’t be proud of. I talk a lot of shit about where I’m from, but I still have a lot of romantic affection for it. I will frequently fall into a nostalgic mood where I will find myself listening to country songs about Southern life for hours at a time. Brad Paisley, Buddy Jewell, Zac Brown, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and Darius Rucker (HOOTIE) sing about driving trucks, going to church, drinking sweet tea, eating fried chicken, burnt dinners, drinking cold beers and loving their baby daughters and grieving about their mommas dying of cancer. Those songs kill me, and I get this pang, this longing to go back to the homeland where so many people were kind, ate well, parked for free, thanked the good Lord, and called everybody sir or ma’am. As Kenny Chesney sings, “That’s the Good Stuff.”
And it is the good stuff, and as much as I love living in New England now, there’s a lifestyle that is both hardworking and relaxed in the South you can’t find anywhere else. I miss it. There are no unannounced drop-ins in New England, there’s not a decent fried chicken place for 1500 miles, and the waitresses don’t call me “sugar” or “honey” or “sweetheart.”
There are things about the South that I love and that I am proud of, and that other Southerners who aren’t racist dipshits are also proud of.
But that’s the question: How do you express that Southern pride without displaying ignorance and racism and hate? How can we separate ourselves from the past and still cling to our proud traditions? Is there a new symbol that we can adopt or other ways that might allow us to boast about the “good stuff” and denounce the bad?
I don’t know. Maybe. I mean, there are ways. I wear a baseball cap nearly every day, because — as Brad Paisley sings in “Southern Comfort Zone,” and Darius Rucker in “Southern State of Mind” — we Southerners love our “ballcaps, blue jeans and boots.” My cap almost always has a Razorback symbol or a Texas Longhorns logo on it, because when people ask me if I’m from the South, I’m proud to admit it. I survived it, y’all, and I wear that as a badge of honor.
I was brainstorming this idea with friends last night at a bar (because in North, we go to bars, whereas in the South, we drink on our goddamn porches that we PAID for by tilling the land). One friend suggested a flag with all the Southern states color coded in rainbow (ha!) and another friend suggested it should involve shrimp and grits (a nice idea, save for the fact that grits are disgusting, and shrimp in most parts of the South comes exclusively from Red Lobster).
Personally, I liked the idea of wearing the number 42, not only because it’s the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but because it’s also Jackie Robinson’s number, and he was a Southerner, and he broke the professional baseball color barrier. My wife thought it was a terrible idea because he played for Brooklyn, and the very people he fought against were racist Southerners. My thought was, “Exactly! How bad ass is that? Here’s a Southerner we can be proud of in the future for standing up against the sins of our past. Thats’ precisely the kind of symbol we should be embracing. “
There’s also the SEC, which encompasses most of us, and we are as proud of our college football teams as we our of a homeland. On the other hand, the SEC teams all hate each other when we’re playing against one another, but when we’re playing anyone outside of the South, we always root SEC. That is a fairly decent metaphor for the South, too: We may shit on each other, but when it comes to outside forces, we stick together. We are unified.
It’s time, though, that we come together and unify against the Confederate flag and that we stop using our “cultural heritage” as an excuse to cling to racist iconography. It’s time — way past time — to let that go, and start incorporating the good traditions and customs of both black and white people into a new cultural heritage that we can all be proud of. We should be able to express our Southern pride without wincing.