Funny enough, I was just thinking about "a song that makes me feel guilty" a few days ago, when I noticed that the ice cream trucks in my neighborhood were playing "Camptown Races" and a bunch of other tunes that seemed to be taken from Foghorn Leghorn's Greatest Hits. My selection for today is another one the ice cream trucks were blaring (in their totally creepy, carousel-winding-down, kind of way), and I mentioned to a friend that it made me feel guilty. Or, I should say, it makes me feel guilty now. It didn't when I was younger.
The song I've picked is "Dixie" also unfortunately known as the "Confederate Anthem." For most (white) people of my generation, this song is probably best known as the sound of TV's two lovable outlaws, Bo and Luke Duke, on the run. The Dukes of Hazzard drove a car (called the General Lee) that played the first few notes of "Dixie" when they blew the horn. I doubt I knew, back in my Dukes-fan days, that the lyrics to their horn sound were: I wish I was in the land of cotton. I probably did recognize the flag on the top of the General Lee as the Confederate flag, but I doubt I really knew what it meant. You see, I was in grade-school in the 80's and we didn't get a super-nuanced rendering of the Civil War in history classes, as far as I can remember. I mean, we certainly knew that the South lost and that it may or may not have had something to do with slavery-- and also that slavery was wrong-- but the idea that there might be a substantive connection between General Lee, the Confederate flag, the War of Northern Aggression, the sound of "Dixie" and the racism of people I actually knew quite simply never crossed my mind back then.
When I got older, I learned better, of course. And that's why "Dixie" makes me feel guilty. Here it is:
"Dixie" is a song left over from another embarrassing art form in American history: blackface minstrelsy. The song's original source is contested, but it's be re-written several times (in various gradations of "racist") over the years. Almost all versions of the song present themselves as anthems of Southern Pride, which could be a innocent demonstration of region-specific affection... but only if you don't know anything about the Civil War.