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Kid Rock and the Stars and Bars Controversy: American Dumb Ass?

March 14, 2011
Kid Rock Confederate Flag

What is Kid Rock communicating by using this backdrop?

If you’ve not heard already through Rolling Stone or the Huffington Post, here’s the quick recap: Kid Rock, born Robert James Ritchie, has been picked to receive the Great Expectations Award from the Detroit chapter of the NAACP during their Freedom Fund event this May.

This selection rankles some members of the historic organization–enough so that they’re planning to boycott the 10,000-person fete.

Their anger stems not from auditory atrocities like “Bawitdaba” or his cameo in “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector” or his transformation from derivative strip-club rap metal to derivative strip-club southern rock, although none of these could have helped.

The boycotters protest something both more important and more repugnant: Kid Rock’s use of the Confederate Flag as a backdrop and prop in his live shows.

One member, head of Detroiters for Progress and NAACP member Adolph Mongo, responded the he’s skipping the dinner because Rock’s use of the flag is a “symbol of hatred and bigotry” that comes as a “slap in the face for anyone who fought for civil rights in this country.”

Kid Rock has yet to respond to the controversy surrounding his selection, but previous interviews that cited his use of the flag point to a kind of defensive, dismissive ambivalence that should be alarming:

“Why should someone be able to own any image and say what it is?” he said. “Sure, it’s definitely got some scars, but I’ve never had an issue with it.To me it just represents pride in southern rock’n’roll music, plus it just looks cool.”
–Kid Rock to¬†guardian.co.uk, 2008

This raises some very interesting questions:

  • Does Kid Rock think that he can use this flag/image without it appearing to be an implicit sanctioning of what it represents to so many (i.e., the “hatred and bigotry”)?
  • So, Kid Rock, you’ve “never had issue” with the “scarring” conditions that the flag is associated with? What does that mean?
  • So, if you thought a swastika “looked cool,” would it be acceptable to wear that? Would members of a Jewish organization not have good reason to protest?

Despite Kid Rock’s awkward, incomplete attempts to absolve himself of racist claims in the past and his irresponsible use of inarguably charged imagery, the jury remains out on Bob Ritchie and his chameleonic stage persona.

My personal inclination is to try to give him the benefit of the doubt and think the best of the man, if not his music: that he’s merely been lazy by pandering to what he may not understand to be the most dangerous subset of a music-buying demographic. That he’s not taken the charges seriously enough or thought about what he’s communicating enough to issue more than vague, wishy-washy, insufficient “justifications.”

But he doesn’t deserve praise from anybody for reckless appropriation of hurtful symbols, and I hope the next statement from Kid Rock shows him to be a more thoughtful, considered person, rather than just a marginally talented hack “shrewd” enough to take money from whomever’s offering the most at the fickle pop market, be it that of poor, urban black people or poor, rural white people.

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