Steve Earle made a powerful statement with “Mississippi, It’s Time,” a raw and real song arguing that the Magnolia State should join Alabama and South Carolina in removing the Confederate flag. Its use of Dixie is masterful, co-opting a song now associated with racism and flipping it for an anti-racism anthem.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., will receive the proceeds from the song’s sales.
But the song has a sour note. The lyrics include this verse:
What the hell, Mississippi,
Mississippi, you’re out of your mind.
God damn, even Alabam’
South Carolina come across that line.
The video, which stretches the lyrics across Mississippi scenes, blanches at using a phrase that most would say breaks the fourth of the 10 Commandments.
The ethical issue under discussion here isn’t taking the Lord’s name in vain, although for many people that’s enough of an issue. (Even the word “hell” at the start of the verse will be enough for some.) Only Utah ranks higher than Mississippi in church attendance, Gallup reported in early 2015.
Instead, the issue is crafting a song that won’t be as effective as it could be because of that line.
It seems logical that lots of churches and civic groups that might want to call attention to the song, as part of a campaign to remove a flag and maybe help raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center.
And many simply probably won’t do it, because someone in the audience will be offended by the casual use of the phrase, which was little more than a convenient way to rhyme with “Alabam.” And most church and civic leaders will figure that song, regardless of its quality and message, simply isn’t worth having to put up with people complaining about that line.
A large number of Mississippi residents want that flag to come down. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Earle said the song “is about giving those Southerners a voice.” But he provided a voice without considering any other values that a Southerner might hold.
Many Mississippi residents lost that voice when trying to balance the competing values of making a statement against racism with being true to their own spiritual beliefs.
Those values shouldn’t compete with one another – but Earle’s tone-deaf lyrics forced the choice. And, as usual, God wins.by