For an alternative to Jason Aldean’s veiled racism in his new song, “Try That in a Small Town,” I suggest Home Free’s “So Long, Dixie.”
Two Different Southern Attitudes
As a country boy from the rural American South, I’m all about heritage. I grew up with the Southern values common to the region–church every Sunday, cornbread and biscuits, shooting guns, and saying, “Ma’am” and “Sir.” I’m proud of that heritage, and I smile when I notice that some of my kids have Southern accents thicker than my own. It’s a good heritage to pass on—but what kind of legacy do we want to leave? In this article, I’ll discuss two different Southern attitudes. One is evidenced by Jason Aldean’s recent song, “Try That in a Small Town.” Home Free demonstrates the other in their song, “So Long, Dixie.”
Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town”
Jason Aldean is catching a lot of flak from the left wing because of his newest song—and rightly so. In an informative article from the Washington Post, Herb Scribner discusses the outrage at the country artist’s newest song. “Try That in a Small Town.” It isn’t just the lyrics that are problematic (and they are). The music video adds more fuel to the fire of racism that plagues the rural South. Aldean’s video depicts scenes of violence with bank robberies and Molotov cocktails, mixing them with footage from Black Lives Matter protests. He juxtaposes these with people stomping on the flag and burning it.
By combining these images, he conflates civil rights advocates and protestors with un-American troublemakers. He then contrasts such criminality with images of a wholesome (all-white) rural America, marked by guns and farms and good people helping those with disabilities. And he projects the image of flames upon a Maury Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, a place historically known for lynchings. Altogether, this combination makes for an implausibly deniable song about taking matters into your own hands and using violence to protect what you value.
Aldean’s False Equivalency
Aldean’s song begins by confusing “regular” violence like assault, armed robbery, and carjacking with protest-related violence spitting in the face of police and burning the American flag. While I would never, ever, advocate spitting on a police officer (which can carry felony assault charges) it’s important to understand the context of BLM protests. The demonstrators in Aldean’s footage acted out of their frustration with police brutality, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. At the time, Floyd’s murder was only the most recent example of over-policing and murder carried out by our boys in blue. Many peaceful BLM protests only turned violent when aggressive police set on protestors. It’s a false equivalency to compare carjackings with protests—even ones that involve flag burning and spitting. It’s clear that, in Aldean’s mind, protesting police brutality is equivalent to robbing a liquor store and jacking someone’s car.
Aldean’s Incendiary Lyrics
Here’s how Aldean’s song recommends handling such behavior in a small town:
Got a gun that my granddad gave me
They say one day they’re gonna round up
Well, that shit might fly in the city, good luck
Try that in a small town
See how far ya make it down the road
Around here, we take care of our own
You cross that line, it won’t take long
For you to find out, I recommend you don’t
Try that in a small town
Full of good ol’ boys, raised up right
If you’re looking for a fight
Try that in a small town
Aldean’s incendiary lyrics more than hint at a violent solution, perpetrated by armed civilians. Sure, he never says, “Take your gun and make like the Wild West,” but it’s between the lines. Again, by performing on a site known for the murder of African Americans, and by draping a giant American flag on that building, he’s baptizing racism and advocating violence against anyone who disagrees.
Home Free’s “So Long, Dixie”
By contrast, Home Free’s song carries an entirely different message. “So Long Dixie” recognizes that some parts of the Southern culture are worth celebrating. However, the band says we must leave behind that racist and defiant aspect of the culture known as Dixie. Here’s the way they convey both love of the culture and disdain for certain parts of Southern tradition:
I’m heading off alone but you should know
I’m leaving you behind but you’re with me where I go
You’ve been good to me, and far as I can see
I never would have got here on my own
You taught me how to work and how to play
You taught me how to cuss and how to pray
You showed me wrong from right, when to stand and fight
And when it’s time to walk away
So Long Dixie, it’s time to let you go
It’s awful hard to do with roots this strong
You’re just on the wrong end of a one way road
I know you’ll always echo in my song
I’ve loved you in my way
That’s why it hurts to say, so long
I sure as hell ain’t saying I’m ashamed
I’m proud of where I was born and how I was raised
You can’t erase the past, but it ain’t meant to last
And it’s time we start to learn from our mistakes
When to Walk Away
Unlike Aldean who believes in rural Southern culture that needs to be defended with a gun, Home Free says you must know when it’s time to walk away. Perhaps that’s what those who lynched Henry Choate at the courthouse in Aldean’s video should have learned. The truth is there are times when your world changes, and you need to accept that change and quit defending your Lost Cause narrative. Instead of taking matters into your own hands, learning peace is best.
Evoking the Civil War
Home Free’s use of the word “Dixie” evokes images of the American Civil War. So does their reference to the South being “on the wrong end of a one-way road.” While certain aspects of Southern heritage are worth celebrating, we must repent of other parts. Slavery, racism, and injustice are some of those things. Repenting literally means walking away from what you were doing and doing something better. Home Free’s song is a call for Southern repentance. It’s not about moving away from the South—it’s about leaving Dixie behind.
Aldean’s image of the Tennessee courthouse reminded me of the 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists turned violent in defense of a statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee. It makes me wonder, what if they had learned to walk away? Maybe they should have simply said, “So long, Dixie. I’ve got to let you go.” What if they’d learned that “You can’t erase the past, but it ain’t meant to last / And it’s time we start to learn from our mistakes?” Perhaps we could learn that we don’t need violence to defend a way of life that’s gone with the wind.
Try That in a Small Town
To conclude, here are a few things I suggest people try in Southern small towns: Try learning from the mistakes of the racist past, and not making it a racist present. Try understanding that when people act up, it’s out of pain and fear—and try understanding that you just might be the cause of it. Try not to flaunt toxic masculinity with your dependence on guns and threats. Try reaching out to your neighbor instead of fighting him. Try walking away from conflict rather than exacerbating it. Try that in a small town—and see what happens.