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National Editorial & Columnists

EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE: State's stand on racism gets derailed

Public deserves a better explanation of decision to pull the plug on Confederate Railroad at Illinois State Fair

These days in American public discourse, it can be hard to decide which -ism you should be fighting. Case in point: The Pritzker administration’s decision to cancel an appearance at the Du Quoin State Fair by the Southern rock band Confederate Railroad.

The governor’s office says the Aug. 27 show would “promote symbols of racism” – to wit, the use of the Confederate Civil War flag on the band’s logo, a detail somehow overlooked when the booking was announced last month.

Country music legend Charlie Daniels responded that the cancellation is “giving in to fascism, plain and simple.”

And then there is the matter of social criticism. Many critics of the cancellation wonder why the state is so squeamish about the logo of a country band playing in southern Illinois but has no similar qualms about slating controversial hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg, whose work has been criticized variously as racist, misogynistic and homophobic, to perform in the state capital. The difference, apparently, is embedded in intent.

A spokeswoman explains in a letter posted at the Capitol Fax blog, capitolfax.com: “The Confederate flag symbolizes slavery and the rebellion against the United States, and it is exactly what our state’s greatest son, President Lincoln, was fighting against. This symbol of hate, oppression and bloodshed is categorically different from political satire.”

All true. But would that the entire controversy could be dismissed so easily.

Indeed, the Confederate flag, which some deniers want to describe as a harmless historical emblem representing an independent spirit, was the war banner for a traitorous rebellion fought to try to protect the institution of human bondage. One can only wonder whether the nation of Germany – or any civilized government – would provide resources to performers who proudly brandished a Nazi flag under some pretense that it wasn’t a symbol of hate but a declaration of proud individualism.

Yet, it’s also true that Snoop Dogg’s more than 16 albums, hundreds of songs, numerous videos and countless writings and interviews are riddled with overt references – including one album cover design, changed before the record was released, that showed a tag marked “Trump” hanging from the toe of a corpse – that surely offend the values of the state of Illinois. Does dismissing such references as “satire” make them palatable?

This is not an inconsequential question, and – aside from the issue of how much all this will cost the state – the administration owes a more detailed answer to it. Absent that, we are left to rail at each other across lines of background and geography, sinking ever deeper into divisions that prevent agreement and compromise on more substantive public policies.

There is, of course, a huge distinction between a bloody rebellion and a tasteless piece of art. But it is easily muddled when people are offended by offensive symbols. Fortunately for its part, Confederate Railroad resisted a temptation to wade into cultural division, issuing a restrained statement that encouraged fans to continue to support other acts on the fair bill. But, elsewhere, much of the reaction has been more combative. Support for the band has swelled amid appearances of an elitist double standard, while the serious issues underlying the debate go unacknowledged.

Thus has a legitimate swipe at racism been transformed into a false narrative of “fascism” – all flowing from matters ostensibly defined as simple entertainment. If nothing else, we hope that’s a lesson schedulers keep in mind for future events that will bear the imprint of the state of Illinois.

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