Dear Brad (Can I call you “Brad,” Brad?):
You don’t know me, but I know plenty about you. Few of us at John Marshall High School during the early noughties could take a class with Mrs. Brinkman without her gushing about “Brad,” no last name necessary. I know plenty of people who think of you like a Glen Dale version of Elvis in a cowboy hat. Your folksy, po’ Southern boy style is representative of many people from the area, and I won’t pretend differently even though we’re from above the Mason-Dixon line and our state separated from Virginia to remain part of the Union during the Civil War.
But man, you’ve made us all look like idiots with your song “Accidental Racist.”
On the surface of things, I can respect your intentions. You set out to show that your “Southern pride” is not meant to be oppressive to African-Americans, so when you wear the Confederate flag, you are not making a statement about the Civil War. You even have a Yankee rapper on the track to back you up! You hash things out! You can’t be racist because you have at least one token black friend. You can see how this is getting complicated already.
I don’t think that it escaped your attention growing up that our school was extremely white. Being “Southern” and waving that ridiculous flag meant you were anti-establishment and proud of being a redneck, not part of the Navy that briefly used said design for a couple of years during the Civil War. In an insular white community, maybe that makes sense in some distorted fashion. But you draw an international audience now. Maybe you could like “The South” on Facebook or take any other stance besides defending and reclaiming a flag so loaded with negative connotations. That flag doesn’t stand for being a redneck, four-wheeling, hunting, fishing, and having cheap beers with your buddies at the mud bogs. It was used by people engaging in open treason against their country, and the richest were the ones with the most to gain or lose. That “most” includes slaves, people as property. You must realize that symbols hold the meaning ascribed to them by people. For instance, the swastika is a type of cross, but no one would dare defend that as a symbol of peace today. The views on good and evil from the Civil War are not so clear, it would seem, but that flag has a blood-soaked legacy.
But you don’t need a history lesson. Even though you’re a millionaire living the dream, I will pretend that you are defending the “redneck” way of life with pride. You’re “proud of where [you’re] from but not everything we’ve done” (even though West Virginia was in the Union, la la la). The major problem with this song, surprisingly, is when you let LL Cool J enter the discussion. I think everyone can agree that people of all backgrounds can harbor racist tendencies, and we all make unfair shortcuts based on what we see because we can’t be bothered to get to know everyone’s inner secrets. Mr. Cool James defends his right to wear gold chains, saggy pants, and a do-rag without being thought of as a thug, but then he reaches an epiphany that he too is judging you for your white cowboy hat and ridiculous flag t-shirt. “I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book,” he says. This is absurdly stupid.
Chains, low-slung jeans, and do-rags are not symbols. A cowboy hat is not a symbol. If you look at someone in a cowboy hat and think he’s a racist because of that item of clothing, you’re being a lazy asshole. If you look at someone who wears a do-rag and assume he’s a criminal, then yes, you are a goddamn racist. You don’t get to pick and choose which aspects of Southern history you’re representing with the so-called rebel flag because even though the region is rich with so much culture worth celebrating, you aren’t saying you’re proud of Southerners like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. Racism has extended far past the abolition of slavery, and that continued prejudice is hardly just paranoia over white dudes just wanting to watch NASCAR and give ‘er dun. Brad, your lyrics indicate that you’re proud of the region, not its role in the Civil War. Why then must LL Cool J, a “black Yankee” of his own admission, actually say the words “RIP Robert E. Lee”? LL forgives you for wearing your shirt, you never meant any harm, and everyone walks away happy. Who wins here?
Between you and me, Brad, here’s a hint: the problem isn’t a grudge we Yankees hold from the Civil War. I appreciate that you want to open a dialogue and help mend fences, but the problem goes much deeper than you being shocked anyone was offended by your clothing. If you want to distance yourself from racist connotations, I’d be more than happy to buy you a new t-shirt.
Yours in Monarch Pride,
Casey Hicks, salutatorian, Class of ’04
(All opinions are my own, and I have no connection to the school beyond my diploma)
P.S. – The flag you celebrate was banned at John Marshall at one point in time. I’m not sure if the policy still stands, but when singing about where you’re from, that’s a valuable bit of information.
P.P.S. – You should listen to more rap/rock. Even Limp Bizkit could balance singing and rapping better than your tune does, and that’s just sad.