Monday, October 16, 2017

Musical Monday - Southern Accents by Tom Petty

Tom Petty was a Southerner. Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Petty's life was steeped in Southern tradition and a love for where he came from. In this video, he is singing in his hometown and you can see just how much this song, sung in that place, meant to him. I defy anyone to challenge Petty's bona fides as a proud Southerner.

But Petty was not going to put up with any of the "heritage not hate" bullshit about the various Confederate flags that people associate with the South. He knew what they really represented, and knew that it wasn't "Southern pride", but rather Southern racism. And he wanted nothing to do with it.

Petty didn't always think that way. Like many people who grew up surrounded by symbols, he never really thought about what they truly meant. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Petty said:
The Confederate flag was the wallpaper of the South when I was a kid growing up in Gainesville, Florida. I always knew it had to do with the Civil War, but the South had adopted it as its logo. I was pretty ignorant of what it actually meant. It was on a flagpole in front of the courthouse and I often saw it in Western movies. I just honestly didn't give it much thought, though I should have.
The element that sticks out here is the unthinking nature of his acceptance of the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee (which is what most people think of when they hear the words "Confederate flag") as a symbol of Southernism. He even used it in his tour in support of his album Southern Accents, putting it on stage when he performed the song Rebels, a decision he came to regret later. When Petty thought about the flag, and what it really meant, he stopped using it, asked his fans to stop bringing it or wearing Confederate-themed clothing to his concerts, and had it removed from subsequent releases of his albums. That doesn't mean he stopped being proud to be from the South, he just stopped using a racist symbol to represent that pride. He said as much in the interview:
That Southern pride gets transferred from generation to generation. I'm sure that a lot of people that applaud it don't mean it in a racial way. But again, I have to give them, as I do myself, a "stupid" mark. If you think a bit longer, there's bad connotations to this. They might have it at the football game or whatever, but they also have it at Klan rallies. If that's part of it in any way, it doesn't belong, in any way, representing the United States of America.
Petty criticizes himself here - he just didn't think about the meaning behind the flag when he used it, and he offers others a way out of their devotion to a racist symbol. If you are Southern, you can still love where you are from even if you shed the symbols of the Civil War. From the interview with Rolling Stone:
Again, people just need to think about how it looks to a black person. It's just awful. It's like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn't be on flagpoles.
Petty understood that no matter how pervasive the symbol was, and no matter what he associated it with, the reality was that it was, and is, a symbol of racist oppression and violence. Here's the thing: If someone as proud of being Southern as Petty could get it; if someone who loved his home as much as Petty did could get it, then no one else has any excuse.

Previous Musical Monday: Learning to Fly by Tom Petty
Subsequent Musical Monday: The Defenders Opening Theme

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