CW: This post discusses the use of a term that many consider to be problematic.
One of the many great gifts of music is that it is a tool through which we can build community. After all, community is an innate human need. Unfortunately, however, in some of our attempts to form community, we forget or blatantly disregard the groups that we may be excluding from our community, and the harm that may be caused by our conscious or unconscious exclusion.
Below is the first verse of a 1915 song1 that clearly aims to build community:
Hello there, stranger! How do you do?
There’s something I’d like to say to you.
Don’t be surprised; you’re recognized!
I’m no detective but I’ve just surmised.
You’re from the place where I long to be.
Your smiling face seems to say to me,
You’re from my own land,
My sunny homeland,
Tell me can it be!
The first verse is innocent enough. I imagine that many would be able to relate to its sentiment. I remember hearing someone’s accent during my first year at St. Olaf and asking them if they, too, were from Memphis. We both lit up with excitement at the realization we could connect over our hometown. In the first line of the chorus, however, which also happens to be the title of the song, lies the song’s problem:
Are you from Dixie?
I said from Dixie?
Where the fields of cotton beckon to me.
I’m glad to see you.
Tell me how be you
And the friends I’m longing to see.
If you’re from Alabama, Tennessee, or Caroline,
Or any state below the Mason-Dixon line,
Then you’re from Dixie.
Hurray for Dixie!
‘Cause I’m from Dixie too!
The term “Dixie” is… complicated. Some believe that the term came from Jeremiah Dixon, after whom the Mason-Dixon line was named. Others believe it came from New Orleans, where some $10 bills were called “dixies”. Others, still, believe it came from a minstrel song that later was known as an unofficial Confederate anthem.2
The origin of the term is not as important as the harmful ways in which it was used. Whether the term originated with its links to the Confederacy or whether those ties developed later, the Confederacy and the term “Dixie” became intertwined. This led to the term being largely used by white people to refer to an image of their idealized, pre-Civil War South, a South in which white people lived on large, rich plantations built off of slave labor, and in which Black people were seen as synonymous with inferiority.
In the second verse of “Are You From Dixie”, this glorification of the Confederate South is more obvious via the positive reference to plantations:
It was a-way back in eighty-nine
I crossed the old Mason-Dixon line.
Gee! But I’ve yearned, longed to return
To all the good old pals I left behind!
My home is way down in Alabam’
On a plantation near Birmingham,
And one thing’s certain,
I’m surely flirtin’
With those southbound trains!
Then the cheery, catchy chorus5 is repeated. While the previously discussed term is still widely used in the South, and is in the names of Memphis fast food chains and famous TikTokers, it is slowly but surely being recognized as a glorification of horrific history and phased out. Dolly Parton removed the term from her Stampede dinner show3. The country music band The Chicks removed the term from their name4. Each attempt at the term’s removal seems to be shrouded in controversy, but my hope for our country is that we can prioritize the inclusion and welcome of all over our nostalgia for a past that wasn’t so nostalgic for everyone.
1 Cobb, George L, and Jack Yellen. Are you from Dixie?. M. Witmark & Sons, New York, 1915. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100005133/.
2 Britannica Academic, s.v. “Dixie,” accessed October 3, 2021, https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Dixie/30701.
3 Garcia, Amanda. “Dixie Stampede Name Change Sparks Reaction From Fans.” WATE 6 On Your Side, WATE 6 On Your Side, 11 Jan. 2018, https://www.wate.com/news/local-news/dixie-stampede-name-change-sparks-reaction-from-fans/.
4 Tsioulcas, Anastasia. “Dixie Chicks Change Band Name to The Chicks.” NPR, NPR, 25 June 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/06/25/883328370/dixie-chicks-change-band-name-to-the-chicks.
5 Cobb, George L, Ernest Errott Thompson, Ernest Errott Thompson, Jack Yellen, and Ernest Errott Thompson. Are you from Dixie?. 1924. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-673527/.