Jumping into the “Accidental Racist” fray I think the main issue, the issue worth talking about is Brad Paisley’s longing to reconcile his pride in southern culture with its inextricable history of racial exploitation and oppression. This is a worthwhile question of longing that I think the nation needs to address in as he puts it “conversation”. It is not just that I don’t think that our nation hasn’t healed over the impossible grimness of slavery. I don’t think we have actually reconciled with the South. This is shown in the South’s poverty, it does not have a full seat at the table in our coast centric focus and media. Growing up on the coast there is a lot of “othering” the South as in: oh, that happened there. As alluring as it is to paint the civil war as a moment in history entirely centered around the freeing of the slave it is, much to our collective consciousness embarrassment, not. The South has through out the history of the colonies and this country always been looked down upon, dismissed and basterdized. The elitist puritans versus the convicts who settled the south makes for a stark picture of inequality. So we are left with a whole region of our country rich with tradition and expression in art, music, food, and literature addressing the question: how do you express pride in the South which built its vast cultural traditions and expressions in art, music, food and literature on the backs of some of the most inhumane and offensive practices ever to have existed in our country? How do you hold with that paradox? How do you love the beautiful and hate the wicked when at times they are part of the same tree?
I think to some extent the Germans have dealt with this question post World War II. How does a country show national pride when you brought the world to its knees twice in a period of 20+ years and exterminated 6 million people of a single ethnicity and religion not to mention hundreds of thousands of others that did not fit into the nation’s ideal of what man should be? How do you show your face at the table and not simply turn away in regret and remorse? One thing you do of course is change your flag. This is something I think the Germans have done well. The logo of the Third Reich is illegal in Germany.
However, the problem with drawing too close a parallel between Germany and the South is that the Nazis committed their atrocities in a very different way from the way we did in this country and on a different time table. While the confederate flag flew in the South’s opposition to the notion that the federal government could tell them that slaves were in fact people and not property it also flew in opposition to a majority control in general, it flew in opposition to a politic, a way of knowing about the world that was very different from its own. The South has much to be proud of and when I say The South I don’t mean white folks who owned slaves and land, I mean the courage of Rosa Parks and brilliancy of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. I think it was relatively easy for the Germans to dispense with the Nazi flag. Although all powerful the Nazis were relatively short lived and it is not like there was a whole body of literature, music and art that blossomed from the tension and horrors of their control. The South had a much longer (and in this sense more horrific), but less unilaterally horrific history. I don’t mean to deny that slavery was less institutionalized than the death camps in Germany, but rather there were more spaces places in between the violence and the grit and the tension for little weeds of grass to grow and for beauty to grow and I think it is in this beauty of the South that Paisley longs for a symbol to show both his shame and his pride.