During a live version of the classic rock song “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant ad libs a line that reinforces the song’s theme.
“There’s good people in Alabama. Let Mr. Young know that, too.” The crowd, as they say, goes wild.
Van Zant wrote the song as a response to a pair of Neil Young songs, “Southern Man” and “Alabama.” Both contained pointed (and in some cases accurate) descriptions of bigotry and backward behavior that for some symbolize the American South.
Van Zant wrote his song as a way to tell the Alabama side of the story. Of course, there are racist people in the south. There’s also, as he put it, good people. To paint every Southerner with too wide a brush, is to subscribe to the same behavior you claim you are against.
That story has been on my mind lately after Indiana’s state Legislature passed a new “religious freedom” law. Despite the fact many states have similar laws, Indiana has become a lightning rod for both sides of the debate.
Advocates say the primary intent is to protect minority religions from undue governmental interference, but admit that it also can be used as a legal shield to allow Christian business owners to choose not to participate in gay marriages (legalized in Indiana as of last year). People against the law say it will almost certainly be used in that way to deny certain people, primarily gays, the basic right of service and services by businesses.
This week, with the eyes of the sports world on Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four, there will be boycotts, protests, vitriol, and bad craziness on both sides of the debate. It promises to be a grand show and will most likely lead to further perceptions of ignorance on both sides. You want bad craziness? Charles Barkley has called for the NCAA to move the Final Four out of Indianapolis. The same Final Four he is being paid big money to promote for CBS and Capital One.
The law, which came about at least partly after pressure from three socially conservative Indiana lobbying organizations, is still being debated within the Legislature, which has four weeks remaining in the session. Eventually, Indiana lawmakers might amend or repeal the law. Maybe not. That’s for the citizens of the state and their lawmakers to decide.
They all got a nice kick in the backside from the Indianapolis Star newspaper, which ran a powerful front page editorial Monday morning.
I’m against the law, primarily because I’m against any law that tightens the bond between government and religion and allows for the use of religion to justify treating people poorly. If we’re honest here, we’d have to admit that over the course of recorded history, humanity doesn’t have a stellar track record where religion and government get too chummy. But that’s just my opinion, not my point.
What I am here to argue, like a modern-day Ronnie Van Zant, is that there are good people in Indiana. I was born, raised, and educated there. My departure in 1982 after college was fueled by a desire to find work and see other places. Much of my family still lives there and I visit once or twice a year. I’m proud to be a Hoosier, despite the fact that, in the last week, that admission could take on a whole new meaning for some people.
Hyperbole, the spreading of false information and ignorance-based hysteria is the primary fuel of the internet these days. So perhaps I shouldn’t be too concerned by the rising tide of online muck. Indiana, in the opinion of many, is populated entirely by backward hillbillies, bigots and homophobes. For the record, there are plenty of all those types in Indiana. Just as there are in the south, the west, the east, the north and Seattle.
It’s one thing to see that on social media. It stings, but it’s easy to dismiss, even though a percentage of people who buy into everything they see on the net, therefore are forming opinions about everyone from Indiana based on this story and the reactionary noise it has generated.
But it was particularly irritating to see the reaction from Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a man I voted for and a man I think is a good leader. His decision to ban all city-funded travel to Indiana not only is a weak case of grandstanding but in a subtle way buys into the very thing he’s trying to fight.
Indiana has passed a law many in Seattle consider discriminatory, so the response from the mayor is to discriminate against the people of Indiana. If a city employee had some business with a person or company in Indiana that he or she knows to be of high character and tolerance, too bad. The employee, not quite by law but by decree, is prohibited from traveling to conduct that business.
That doesn’t sound like the fair, tolerant, inclusive city that elected Murray. A city which, by the way, has one of the highest levels of hate crimes against LBGT people in the country. Idiots are everywhere. To label a group of people that way based on a border on a map is absurd.
It’s worth noting that at the end, Neil Young and Ronnie Van Zant looked past their differences, found their similarities, and became friends. Young admitted that his songs had been “condescending and accusatory” and therefore felt the lyrical criticism he received in “Sweet Home Alabama” was deserved.
Van Zant lived in the South so he knew some of what Young sang about was true. The two became close enough that Young gave his song, “Powderfinger,” to Van Zant and his bandmates to record, an event that never happened due to the 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant and several other band members.
Boycott, amend travel plans, do business with whom you choose. It’s a free country and your decision.
As a Sonics fan I have, on occasion, walked several blocks out of the way to buy coffee without a mermaid logo. I’m familiar with the pointlessness of this “protest,” but it makes me feel better. I do not, however, think that everyone who works at Starbucks was responsible for the departure of the Sonics. I don’t look at all of them as soulless sell-outs.
So do what you will. But please keep in mind that the majority of people in Indiana are of good faith and upbringing. They are kind, hospitable, tolerant people. They are welcoming to visitors. They regularly host major events successfully: The Final Four, the Indianapolis 500, Big 10 football and basketball championships, Circle City Classic football game, Super Bowl, as well as numerous non-sports related conventions.
The majority of people in Indiana are worth being judged as individuals, not as some perceived group.