I grew up in a different world.
Though I was born in North Carolina, I had no real connection to the South. We were Indiana Hoosiers on temporary assignment.
I was back in Rust Belt Northern Indiana by the time I was four with little more than a soft, lingering accent from my time in the South.
We had no affection for the Confederate cause. My earliest understanding was that the North was the good guys, the South bad.
I learned from an early age that Lincoln was our greatest president and we reinforced that with visits to Abraham Lincoln State Park where we learned about his lifetime in Indiana.
Still, Confederate iconography was strong and I wasn’t taught to reject it.
In fact, some of it was a big part of my childhood, building a deeply-seeded fondness that lingers beyond reason today.
From cartoons to music to the “Dukes of Hazzard,” our culture was inundated with the normalization of the Southern cause.
I’m pretty sure I still know at least the first stanza or two of “(I Wish I Was In) Dixie’s Land.” I’m pretty sure that at some point in my childhood I owned a Civil War hat, known as a kepi. I can’t swear as to which color it was.
I’m ashamed to admit how old I was before I realized that “cotton pickin’” as frequently used by Foghorn Leghorn and Sir Mix-a-Lot was not a phrase I should just be throwing around.
So when Dolly Parton talked of innocent ignorance, I got it.
We were ignorant, sometimes willfully so.
We were privileged to not have to think about things we did not want to think about.
When she partnered to found the Dixie Stampede Dinner Show in Pigeon Forge in the late 80s, I believe she didn’t think it was “that” bad.
The show pitted North against South in a mostly cartoonish manner. The patrons picked sides and rooted for the boys in blue or grey. Some nights the Union won, some nights the Rebs won.
Many people – most of them white people – viewed it as harmless fun. The war was so long ago, after all. It was little more than Medieval Times pitting one group of knights against another.
You could make the argument being an adult woman at the time she should have known better. But Dolly has been genuinely great on issues of diversity and inclusivity so I tend to want to be generous.
In 2018, Dolly announced that the attraction was dropping Dixie from its name and lessening the Civil War-ness of it all.
Some were predictably outraged.
Others were gratified by the gesture.
What’s different about the show since the name changed?
The show is still “filled with friendly North and South competition, thrilling horse riding stunts, spectacular effects (and) phenomenal musical productions.”
It ends with a patriotic, come together theme with riders in gaudy red, white and blue spangly outfits singing about how we are all Americans.
There’s a four-course meal with gluten free and vegetarian options.
You will be subjected to the “comedy” stylings of clown prince Skeeter, who is a bit fourth-bit player from the “Andy Griffith Show” and a bit third-bit character from “Hee Haw.”
Why Dolly decided to change the name
Why is it not called Dixie Stampede anymore? Because Dolly realized changing the name was the right thing to do. Today, it goes by the name of Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
The locals often refer to it as “The Stampede” for short.
You will still find people who were a little too attached to the Dixie name. Some who don’t understand why the name was changed. Some who don’t want to understand.
But for the most part, life and the show, has gone on.
In 2020, Dolly explained the decision and gave one of my favorites quotes of all time.
“There’s such a thing as innocent ignorance, and so many of us are guilty of that,” she said. “When they said ‘Dixie’ was an offensive word, I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to offend anybody. This is a business. We’ll just call it ‘Stampede’.”
“As soon as you realize that [something] is a problem, you should fix it,” she said. “Don’t be a dumbass. That’s where my heart is. I would never dream of hurting anybody on purpose.”
I would wear a “Don’t be a dumbass. Love, Dolly” shirt every day of my life if there was one. I would get buried in it.
Ultimately, our society has spent a lot of energy, a lot of mental bandwidth debating the reverence that the Confederacy has in our lives.
Big minds and passionate debaters have pushed the boundaries of what should or should not be acceptable.
Some people cling to the heritage, the history, the legacy of that Southern iconography. Others use those same ideals as shields for their hatred, their racism. Often it can be impossible to tell one from the other.
Ultimately, maybe we should have just listened to Dolly.
“I would never dream of hurting anybody on purpose.”
That’s a philosophy worthy of following.
That and “don’t be a dumbass.”
For more information on the show or to buy tickets, visit their website.