In my early teens the show “The Dukes of Hazzard” was a national smash hit on CBS. I’ll admit my primary attraction to the show was watching Daisy Duke — played by the lovely Catherine Bach — parade around in her “Daisy dukes.” (Yes, kids, that’s where really short cutoff jeans got their name!)
But I also got a kick out of the show’s non-human character — The General Lee. This 1969 Dodge Charger was painted like a Confederate battle flag, or rebel flag as it is colloquially known, and was the fastest, coolest car in Hazzard County. Bo and Luke Duke jumped General Lee over ditches, fences and even through a barn, not to mention routinely used it to outrun the county’s goofball sheriff and deputy.
Though I recognized the show was a ridiculous glorification of what some Hollywood writer probably thought Southern life was like, the thought that The General Lee’s paint job was racist or offensive never dawned on me. It was just a rebel flag, right?
Fast forward 40 years and I’d imagine “The Dukes of Hazzard” is either permanently off the air or headed that way faster than Bo and Luke could leave Rosco P. Coltrane and Enos behind in a cloud of dust. The rebel flag that seemed like a cutesy nod to Southern life in the early ’80s would be just plain offensive to many, if not most, viewers now, for many reasons, not least of which would be The General Lee’s paint job.
Can you imagine trying to pitch such an idea in a Hollywood studio these days? “So, anyway, the car will be named The General Lee and painted like a Confederate flag and … Why is everyone staring at me?”
The rebel flag just isn’t cool anymore. And really, it wasn’t ever cool to a lot of people, and was offensive and frightening to others. But now when we see one, it sends a message that isn’t well received by most. It’s seen as racist, supportive of slavery and a bright red indicator of redneckdom to the vast majority of Americans.
It shouldn’t be hard for others to understand why Black people react so negatively to a flag that was routinely used by the KKK. Even if I, as a White dude, see one plastered on his truck or one hanging out in front of a house, my first thought is that someone has taken the time to let the world know he or she is a redneck and racist. It’s not a welcoming sight.
Yes, I know someone reading this will take great offense to that description and write to tell me how the flag is history not hate, blah, blah, blah. But I’m just so tired of this sad, lost battle over the battle flag. If you’re a history buff and love the flag, I’m sorry to tell you it was appropriated by racists long ago, and they’ve ruined it for you. If you’re a redneck or racist who loves the flag … maybe it’s time to just go pin yours to your basement wall where the rest of us don’t have to deal with its negative impact.
Over the past few days the flag has once again become a topic of conversation and ridicule that, as always, lands squarely upon our little slice of heaven. First, the NCAA announced it wouldn’t hold any championships in Mississippi if the Magnolia State doesn’t change its flag, which has the rebel flag fully displayed in the upper right-hand corner, or canton as it’s known. I’m not sure how much sway that threat will have with Mississippi’s leaders, since the NCAA hasn’t made a habit of hosting championships there. Still, the point was made.
That was followed up by a display of rebel flag-waving around and above Talladega International Speedway this past weekend following NASCAR’s decision not to allow rebel flags at their events any longer. It couldn’t get much more embarrassing for the state than some idiot flying a giant flag over the raceway trailing the message “Defund NASCAR.”
While some like to argue “history, not hate” when it comes to the flag, hate never seems to be far away when one is waving. All of this then mushroomed when NASCAR announced someone had left a noose in driver Bubba Wallace’s garage area. Wallace, the sport’s lone Black star, was ostensibly the target of a hate crime and the FBI was swiftly called in. Fortunately, it turned out the “noose” was a garage door pull cord and had been that way for months. Now Wallace is being pilloried mercilessly on social media for this false alarm when he wasn’t even the one who noticed it or brought it up.
I would argue all of this heightened “awareness” and fear is a result of rebel flags being sold, waved and flown around the raceway.
As someone who grew up in Mississippi and still has family there, the fact the state is still clinging to the most overtly Confederate of all the state flags is not only disgraceful, it’s just bad business. Why would any state want to alienate large portions of not only its own population, but that of the entire country, with its flag? Maybe there are some beaver haters who won’t go to Oregon because of its flag, but that can’t really put much of a dent in the economy. Including the rebel flag as part of the state flag has to be off-putting to not only people but businesses.
Pull up a photo of all the state flags together and tell me Mississippi’s isn’t jarring. Why not a big magnolia, or a slot machine spitting out tokens? Mississippi should be aiming to compete with South Carolina for the coolest state flag, not holding pole position for the most racist.
The issue probably got a little more real for some Mississippians this week when Mississippi State’s star running back Kylin Hill said he’s done playing in the state without a flag change.
We’re in a time when there’s tremendous debate about statues and other historic objects coming down from public venues. And I can agree some of it is going too far. But the Confederate battle flag lost its own battle a long time ago. I’d be surprised if 90 percent of the people who still think it’s OK to wave the flag at a NASCAR event or who would keep it as part of Mississippi’s flag would be willing to hang one outside their own home or slap one on the back of their pickup.
While I’m not for outlawing flags or other offensive symbols, it would be nice if people just realized whatever joy they get from waving a rebel flag comes at the expense of others who are hurt by it, and this could simply stop being an embarrassing issue for our part of the country. Everyone knows what it means and what it’s about. I’m sure even Bo and Luke Duke wouldn’t drive a car painted like that these days.
It’s time to leave that racist rag in the dust.
Editor’s note: This column was modified from the print version to reflect revelations regarding allegations a noose was placed in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage area. It was not determined until after print deadline that the “noose” had been in the area for months and could not have been put there as a message to Wallace.
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