Much of the friction around the song comes from people who don’t understand this history, Weisbard said in an interview: “We’re as segregated culturally as we often are socially.”
Many people are proud of being from the “heartland,” New York City or other American places, Weisbard said. But “the South has been branded a problem for the country as a whole at least since the Civil War.”
“In every generation, there’s a new way in which white Southerners have marginalized themselves,” he said, “and the rest of America has to think about what that means.”
Paisley gave America something to think about with the chorus of the song: “I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the Southland / Tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be / I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done / And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history.”
At the end of the chorus he sings, “Caught between Southern pride and Southern blame.”
That’s a gray area for Chris Newman, 25, a white West Virginia University graduate student who grew up in Lexington, Ky. He says Southern pride often is “flirting a fine line between being offensive and supporting historical heritage.”
Hospitality, driving your truck through the mud, floating down a river or drinking bourbon in Kentucky are great ways to embrace Southern culture, he says. “But I don’t run around wearing Confederate T-shirts. I have Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirts, but they don’t have stars and bars on them.”
That’s a deliberate choice: “If I respect somebody, I’m going to make sure I don’t offend them,” Newman said.
Newman doesn’t believe “accidental racism” exists. But Luke Laird, a Nashville songwriter who has penned many chart-topping hits, has “absolutely” seen it while growing up in a small, mostly white town in western Pennsylvania.