I consider where I live, college-town, Missouri, to be the pseudo-south.
I wrote the opening line of this post then realized I really do NOT know enough about Missouri’s slave and civil war history. So I stopped writing and got down to reading. I decided to actually read more than just other people’s opinion about the song “Accidental Racist” (a newly released collaboration of LL Cool J and Brad Paisley – lyrics available here). I decided to read history. Now, I am not going to claim it was in-depth research – it was Wikipedia. But I am going to claim that I now know more than I did a few minutes ago.
I went and examined a little bit of history to see if it could shed some light on my current day perception of race relations in Missouri.
And, it did.
And for that I am grateful to Mr. Paisley and Mr. Cool J.
I am a white mother of a black son who thinks about race all fricken’ day long. But I have never taken even 10 minutes to read the racial history of the state I am raising my trans-racial family in (hangs head in embarrassment).
I read modern-day writings on race. I read modern-day rants on race. And I feel all over the place.
I feel lucky we live in a community where we see other trans-racial families every day.
I feel grateful my son will go to an elementary school that has a significant African-american population and is also considered a great place for education.
I feel dumb-struck when I am jogging and see that one of my neighbors has a rebel flag hung in his garage.
I feel fightened when it is 5 am and my family stops at the single gas station open for miles only to find ourselves parked next to a pick-up truck that’s roof liner has been replaced with a rebel flag.
I feel angry when I notice a tattoo of the rebel flag peaking out of the extended arm hole on a young man’s t-shirt at the gym. (I also feel grateful that tattoos hurt – I hope that one hurt a lot.)
The rebel flag, yeah, that is something that provokes strong feelings in me. And it is the jump off point for “Accidental Racist”.
I always believed I knew what the rebel flag stood for, and it does not jibe with Brad Paisley’s claim of southern pride. I guess that is okay. Maybe the meaning of a symbol is actually subjective enough to be considered an opinion not a fact. To some degree I think that is what Paisley and Cool J are proclaiming in their song. And, everybody is entitled to an opinion. But opinions are best when backed by education and experience. (To read a variety of educated opinions about the song, go here.)
I am sure everybody who has heard the song has an opinion – most not as educated as they think. I am sure there are even more people like me. People who haven’t actually even heard the song (country/rap cross-over duet – I think I’ll pass) but who researched the lyrics and then formed opinions. Maybe they even read an opinion piece about the song – probably written by somebody who looks like them – or is in the same place on the political spectrum as them. My hope is that each of those people, (those with deep interest in race relations – and those who normally never think twice about it) - will spend a some time educating – or re-educating – themselves in an effort to back their opinion.
Maybe we will all learn a little something. Even if all the things we learn are random and not directly related to each other, even if we never come to a consensus, we will have advanced our understanding of race in this country, as individuals and as a whole.
Maybe that wasn’t Brad and LL’s plan. But maybe it was.