Last month, the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks released an anthem for our troubled times.
by Eric Peterson
To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, I always wanted to live through interesting times. And I should have been more specific.
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 is not what anyone expected it would be, or hoped for. The big news is, of course, the novel coronavirus, the worst pandemic of our lifetimes, that has asked us to make substantial lifestyle changes to keep us safe and prevent our friends and neighbors from death and disease.
On top of that, we’re experiencing a reckoning around racial justice that is not new, but feels different in this particular moment. The ugliness of our nation’s history is being laid bare, and the structural and systemic nature of racism is finally being recognized by all of our citizens, not just the ones who have been oppressed by it for generations. True justice may be a long way off, but police officers and citizens who used to get away with murder are being charged with crimes.
And some of the changes are more cosmetic. Confederate statues are coming down, Mississsippi has removed the Confederate battle flag from its state flag. Oh, and the Dixie Chicks changed their name.
On Thursday, June 25, they released a new song (“March March”) under their new banner: The Chicks. The name change sparked some questions from longtime fans. Is the word “Dixie” really racist? Well, yes. While most white people think that “Dixie” is just a quaint nickname for the American South, the word has a different connotation for Black people. “Dixie” was coined to specifically denote the Confederate states who declared war on the US government to preserve the institution of slavery — and so whenever someone casually referred to the South as “Dixie,” it immediately recalled the racial animus that fueled the Civil War. But “The Chicks” sounds kind of dumb, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. But had the band changed the name completely, it might have been seen as a casual rebranding. In this moment, it’s important for us to hear “The Chicks” and notice the word that’s missing. Isn’t “The Chicks” kind of sexist, when you think about it? You have a point — but again, the current moment needed to be met.
And meet the moment they did. “March March” is an anthem for 2020. (If you haven’t heard it, go to YouTube as soon as you finish this and give it a listen.) A recent headline at LGBTQ Nation declared it “the protest song of the summer.” Many of my Black friends took some umbrage at this moniker, but without comparing it to what other musicians are creating these days, let’s just say: it’s a jam. The lyrics are defiant, the mood is triumphant, the powerful video demands several viewings just to soak it all in, and after a few listens, you can sing it back to yourself (and if you’re like me, that will continue for several days).
In a recent conversation with friends about the song, the lyric that prompted the most back-and-forth was “Hey hey, I’m an army of one.” Some of my friends didn’t feel as though it was a fair representation of the protests that are currently sweeping the world, which seem to be characterized by a great collective swelling of outrage, impossible to ignore — because of the urgency of the message, but also the size of the crowds.
In our dialogue, I pointed out that The Chicks are probably speaking to their fans, who are primarily white and liberal-leaning. Here’s something I’ve learned about liberal, well-meaning white people: by and large, white Americans typically want to fix the problems they see. Which is great on the surface, but it also means that we have a tendency give up the fight when a solution seems impossible. And in this song, The Chicks are answering that particular question: “But what can I do?” And the answer is: You can speak up. You can paint a sign and carry it to City Hall. You can challenge your racist uncle the next time he spouts his nonsense. You can do these small things, and it does make a difference.
And most importantly, you can vote this November. Yes, it will take more than an “army of one” to make the kind of changes we wish to see in the world, but unless we can inspire enough rugged American individualists to put a mask on, stand in line for hours if necessary, and cast a single ballot, alone — each of us, an army of one. Better yet, register to vote by mail today and exercise your civic duty safely.