My friend Justin came through again to crack me up so bad I had to hang on to keep from falling out of the chair and rolling on the floor. This week's race happened Saturday night instead of Sunday afternoon. Justin played in a softball tournament all day and his team won every game. He arrived home at the same time the race started and I arrived a few minutes after. In front of the tv, he told me highlights of the game, like the hardest he ever hit a ball. He said the ball went in a straight line, no more than four feet above the ground all the way to the fence, hitting the ground once. He said he would rather make base hits than home runs. This hit was a home run with two people on base. The pitcher, a huge guy they call Tiny, told Justin later he never saw the ball leave the bat. While his team was at bat, standing about watching the game, an X girlfriend walked by with three black guys playing in the tournament too, one of them her significant other. He asked Justin, they know each other, if the truck was his with the confederate flag on the front bumper. Justin affirmed it was. He told Justin it offends him. My jaw about dropped to the floor. I took it for it an act of foolish effrontery. To say such a thing to Justin in front of a dozen or so rednecks hanging about, especially in this time, was stupid. Justin said, "Fuck you. Pull up your pants. They offend me."
I've already settled the racism issue to satisfaction in myself, and do not take a commercial for television issues to be my role. I practice allowing my friends to be who they are, and receive same in turn. I've known Justin all his life. His riposte came from who he is by way of birth, culture and experience. He's somebody gentle as a toddler until confronted. His confrontational nature springs to the surface quick as a spinning donkey, ready for whatever comes next. The tag on the front of his truck is a quietly confrontational gesture. It says, This is who I am, no apologies, no justifications. He's a Southern white boy and he aint backing down. The flag is his identity. He also knew he had backup if the three confronted him. Whenever somebody gets in Justin's face, I shudder inside for their safety. He's a scrapper and gets a big kick out of fighting, hasn't had a good fight in several years, since he's been married to Crystal. It's not that she's opposed to him fighting, he doesn't have that mind anymore. He's not a trouble maker, he just doesn't back down. When it comes to loyal friends, Justin's loyalty is all the way to the grave. Several years ago, I realized Justin would willingly die defending me. I thought, would I die for Justin? Answer came with hesitation. I got with self and said it's time to take a look at this. I came to, Yes, I would willingly die defending Justin. This understanding in myself changed our friendship to brotherhood. It resonated all the way to the soul.
Rocker Kid Rock made headlines last week for saying, "Kiss my ass," when told he needed to abandon his use of the confederate flag onstage. Every redneck in America rallied to Kid Rock that moment. He may be Skynyrd the next generation by now. Justin respected Kid Rock's gesture so much that his own gesture affirmed himself a loyal Southern boy. He will respect Kid Rock the rest of his life for standing up for the South, the homeland threatened once again. The South is family, extended family and all the way back, heritage, a word now being denied the South by national media. The only heritage the Yankee drama media see in the South is slavery, due entirely to their ignorance of the South. Southern culture is a culture of poverty held down by the Union for a century after the War of Yankee Aggression. Not until the 1960s did the New South start generating an alternative to poverty. The Southern boys were defending homeland, mama, daddy, mamaw, papaw, cousins, aunts, uncles, wives, kids, their dogs, their farms, culture, home, everything they loved, their babies. The South feels threatened again, like in the 1950s and 60s when the media dismissed the South and the Southern way of life with blame and shame.
All the time Justin was growing up, I kept him aware of his Southern mountain heritage as something valuable to be proud of not ashamed of. I've encouraged awareness that hillbilly is a term of praise. Other people don't know what they're talking about when they use it to run people down. I have taught Justin without teaching him to love his heritage as something important in who he is. As I see the identity with the flag, it is so big and so multifaceted, so interwoven complex, an outsider pointing at it with blame over slavery is so superficial as to make every self-respecting Southerner laugh out loud, except it makes them so damn mad they want to fly it from a pole on their front porch, show it to the world. Justin said he wants to get a confederate flag tattoo. And he will. Soon. It is a gesture of defiance that says you will not break my loyalty to my own life. The flag means rebel. It's why motorcycle gangs of the not-too-distant past would wear the flag on their jackets, on their bikes. What the flag means in this context is, I am I, do not fuck with me. It's the Allman Brothers, it's George Thorogood, it's Charlie Daniels, it's Free Bird, it's Southern beach parties, it's identity. Southern rock is knee deep in Delta blues. Another thing the Yankee accusers miss is the people who fly the rebel flag have such a high regard for the American flag they do, have done, and will die for it. They're loyal to Old Glory a million miles beyond loyalty to the rebel flag, the latter a subculture only, and everybody in the South knows it. This present round of rednecks embracing the rebel flag is saying nothing more aggressive than, Leave us alone.
photos by tj worthington