Last week, Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson announced that she would be changing the name of Dixie Brewing Company because the word “dixie” refers to any number of things that harken back to our nation’s racist history.
That is true.
Dixieland refers to the southern states of the US, particularly the states that joined the confederacy during the Civil War
And “Dixie” is also minstrel song written in 1859 by D. D. Emmett that was popular as a confederate war song and was adopted as a marching tune by the confederate states during the Civil War.
One verse goes:
I wish I was in the land of cotton;
Old times there are not forgotten:
Look away! Look away! Look away! Dixie Land.
Oh yeah, then there is “whistlin’ dixie”—a popular slang phrase that refers to speaking lightheartedly about something that is far more serious or, as one urban dictionary definition straightforwardly puts it, “talking complete BS”
Look away, y’all. Gayle Benson is whistlin’ dixie. To be sure, it is a smooth marketing tool. She looks so enlightened. So forward thinking. And any sales she loses from White supremacist, Dixie beer-drinking crowd, she will more than make up for in Black folk buying tickets and Saints gear.
And that is even more disconcerting—that folk (even some of our good friends) are falling at her feet over this announcement. It worries us because there are any number of things that Benson, with her money and influence, could do to show her commitment to equality and an end to systemic, structural racism. Changing the name of Dixie Beer is not the most effective.
For starters, she could do more to support marginalized and disenfranchised communities throughout the region.
She could do more to support Black-owned businesses. We can’t speak for every industry in the city. But we know all too well how the NFL franchise has treated Black-owned media over the decades. No ads—despite the fact that African-American fans are dedicated to the team. The front offices of the Saints and Pelicans barely take our phone calls, while the pages and airwaves of majority-owned media practically burst at the seams with ads from the local NBA and NFL teams.
She could renegotiate the teams’ contracts with the state of Louisiana and save Louisiana’s taxpayers millions of dollars each year that could be redirected to improving healthcare, eradicating poverty, strengthening education or providing job training.
Hell, right now, we would be happy if she would explain why in the world the Saints organization provided support and professional expertise to the embattled New Orleans Archdiocese in a child sex abuse scandal.
What does she do instead? She announces that she will change the name of Dixie Beer. And she hopes that the rest of us will just look away, look away, look away.
Do signs, symbols and names matter? Of course, they do. Should any American city have statues dedicated to confederate soldiers or other symbols of hate in the public landscape? Nope. So before anyone jumps to the conclusion that we are in favor of keeping such symbols, we will clear that up now. We are not. But what we oppose even more strenuously is accepting token gestures while the real issues go unchecked. We fear that by focusing on street names and monuments and Dixie Beer, we are setting the bar too low, while the real problems of racism and inequity that beset our community remain unaddressed.
Can we do both? Can we lend energy, time and resources to eradicating these symbols of racism from our collective landscape while also addressing the structural racism and the inequities it produces? Sure. But that is not the question that needs answering.
The question is will we? Are do we run the risk of getting so hung up on the symbols and signs, clapping and celebrating any time a stone statue falls that we allow the real problems to get laid to side? Do we run the risk of individuals and institutions of power and privilege offering their tokens of change while they conduct business as usual?
What we must understand and never lose sight of is that these gestures and acts—name changes, monument removals and such—are not sweeping, far-reaching changes that attack systemic racism. These gestures, while they give off the false appearance of being grand and forward moving, are the absolute least that can be done. We need to focus on statutes, not statues. We need to focus on eradicating racists and inequitable policies and practices—not names. We are setting the bar too low when we entertain and accept these actions.
In 2017, leaders in the city of New Orleans razed four monuments to White supremacy. The move was lauded. New Orleans became a beacon in the nation. Our then-mayor Mitch Landrieu was catapulted to national fame.
And in 2020, when COVID-19 devastated our state, Black residents in New Orleans and across Louisiana were still disproportionately impacted, accounting for over 60 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state and feeling the brunt of the adverse economic impacts of the pandemic as well—food insecurity, joblessness, housing insecurity and eviction threats. And structural racism is to blame for this in a New Orleans where there was no Robert E. Lee statue, no monument to the Battle at Liberty Place, no Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues. So, forgive us for not be willing to trade one Robert E. Lee statue and a case of Dixie Beer for real change.
The time is out for whistlin’ dixie, y’all.