- Grammy-winning artist Macy Gray called for the American flag to be redesigned for Juneteenth.
- “What if the stars were the colors of ALL of us – your skin tone and mine – like the melanin scale?” she wrote.
- Insider spoke with Macy Gray about what needs to change and what is precious to her in the US.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The day before Juneteenth 2021, Grammy-winning artist Macy Gray penned an op-ed calling for the American flag to be redesigned.
“The Confederate battle flag, which was crafted as a symbol of opposition to the abolition of slavery, is just recently tired. We don’t see it much anymore. However, on the 6th, when the stormers rained on the nation’s most precious hut, waving Old Glory – the memo was received: the American flag is its replacement,” Gray wrote.
The equating of the confederate flag with the American flag by the acclaimed songstress prompted a swift conservative outcry, which Gray felt, to a certain extent, proved her point that the American flag means vastly different things to different groups of people in the US. In the opinion piece, Gray lays out a fresh design, articulated alongside a vision for a more unified America.
Insider spoke with Macy Gray and delved into her hopes for the future of the country, its stars and stripes, and how everyone can be cool with each other.
What was the inspiration for your op-ed, and, if the American flag was redesigned, what you think should follow in policy?
Here’s my issue, is that the present flag, It’s as precious to me as anyone else, but to me it was violated. It was used as a weapon at the insurrection. It’s been posted up to represent division. To me, the messaging is now all messed up. It’s confusing. What it stands for, for me, should be the same thing that it stands for, for you, but now it stands for something different to all kinds of people. That’s why I’m saying we need a new symbol that represents all of us and that we can all count on.
If it’s precious, then the government should protect it. There should be a crime against carrying it to the Capitol to try to kill people. I know that there was an incident where it was burned a few years ago and the Supreme Court called it freedom of speech, but I totally disagree with that. I don’t really think you should be allowed to burn the country’s flag.
The messaging is mixed up to other countries. I think when other countries see that, they’re like, “What is America all about, then? The American flag represents trying to hang the vice president?” I don’t think that our symbol should be confusing or ambiguous, or have four, and five, and six different messages. I think it should have one, and it’s called the United States. We should all understand that together.
What did you think about Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, and should anything follow the day being made a holiday?
I think that’s awesome. Yeah. Even if you don’t care about Juneteenth, you get an extra day off. That’s always … Never complain about holidays. It’s another reason for everybody to celebrate.
It’s nice that they passed that really quickly, but there’s still really serious laws that need to be passed. They’re still talking about the George Floyd Bill. They’re still talking about legalizing marijuana. You know what I mean? To me, those things are just as important. I’m just hoping this country can just get out of this rut of being so obsessed with the wrong things and put us first. We put all these people into office, and then they spend the next two or four years just doing whatever they have to do to make sure they get elected again.
I wanted to ask you about, on the side of the music industry, what’s your assessment of how the music industry is responding to the protest against police brutality and support of having this reckoning on race in the US?
See, I believe that every artist, every entertainer is a civil rights leader, because the simplest and the most successful way of bringing people together is music, or a movie, a football game. You and I don’t have to like each other for whatever reason, but when LeBron plays, we’re both on the same side. We just want to see LeBron play, you know what I mean?
It might not fix racism, obviously, but it helps. Every little thing helps. It matters.
I know that people expect artists to come out and say something and use their platform to change things. But to me, we already do that. It’s not up to us to preach or lecture people. I think if you’re fortunate and you’re blessed with the means to give, and to support, and to help, then that’s definitely your responsibility, but I think artists bring people together without saying a word.
It doesn’t have to be a political record. Me personally, I don’t go to music for my politics. I don’t say, “Gosh, I really want to get political today,” and then I turn on music. I turn on the news, or I turn on a podcast or something like that. I think people go to entertainment for a break from that. I don’t think that every artist should jump up and try to make political records unless they want to, of course.
Can you tell me a little bit about the work that your My Good foundation has been doing over the last few years, and what inspired you to start that and help support the families of victims of police brutality?
Just that I was already reaching out to families, like when we heard about it on the news. Then me and my friends got together, Charyn Harris and Grace Blake, and we decided that we wanted to help as a trio, and so we formed My Good.
We step in in the aftermath. After it’s happened we come in, and we can support. Our main thing is mental health services. All of the families, that’s their main request, is needing someone to talk to because their life completely changes, and just coping with a loss, and then the adjustments. Then the ones who get all the press that, as good as that looks, like, “They got all this press,” and then, “They got all this money from GoFundMe,” but those families hurt just as bad.
That’s where we come in. It’s mainly mental health services because that’s our biggest request. I want to say that we’re not anti-police. Our belief is that it’s not about who did what. Sometimes it is not the police officer’s fault. But regardless, you still have families who have lost, big time. Regardless of what happened, you still have a family who lost a son or daughter. That’s where we come in, to help out as much as we can.
What do you feel like, alongside the project that you mentioned, redesigning the flag, what do you think that the country and the institutions in this country need to do to really hold themselves accountable to Black women and to Black people in the US?
It’s not something that people have to go out and do. It’s just acceptance. It’s just time for everybody just to accept that we’re all here, we’re all in this together, and to get over yourselves. Black women, Black people aren’t a charity. It’s just the exhaustion on both sides, Black people, any minority, I’m sure, is just so tired of it. To be a racist must just be exhausting, because you have hate inside of you, and you spend a lot of your time hating people that you don’t even know. That must be really exhausting.
All I’m saying is, it’s just an outlook on things. I think that our government can play a huge part in that just by simply saying it, and saying it with something like the flag. I don’t have the answer, of course, or else I’d be the emperor of the world. It’s really just a mindset.
Which, just like how music does, I think it will eventually fix itself. I have kids in their twenties, and I know they’re not going to grow up and do this. When they started taking office … Not my kids in particular, but when kids that age start running the country, I just have a feeling that there’s just a lot they’re not going to be interested in, like holding people back because of their color, or gender, or sexual preference. A lot of those old values, things like racism, I think they will eventually just die out with the people holding onto them, who seem to be very stuck in a long time ago.
Thank you. And I wanted to ask you about this transition from January until now with the change in presidential administrations. Do you see or feel any hope about measures of progress on racial justice, and justice in general, in this country, from over these last six months or so?
I don’t know. It’s hard to call it because there’s so much pushback from those same people I was just talking about. And there’s so much focus on stopping people from voting that they’re not handling the things that need to be passed as law. You know what I mean? That’s what I’m saying. They put so much focus on themselves. Why is the burden of voter suppression on us just so they can get into office? That’s so selfish. That is so insulting to all of us. That they’re going to make this huge issue of them getting re-elected again. And it’s not about us. They don’t care whether we have a say or that people can just make it easy for us to go out and vote. They want to make sure they get elected. And it’s only 2021. So just think how it’s going to get in the next couple of years when it gets close.
Like I said, that’s just so exhausting. And so, I don’t know what is going to change that, until all of those people just get out of office. It’s just too much about getting elected in this country. Even the last four years, he spent the whole four years running for office, which is cool. He’s trying to keep his job. But don’t hold everybody else back because of it. Don’t start riots. Don’t pit people against each other. Don’t encourage hate while you do it. You know what I mean?
What does that really thriving, diverse music industry look like to you? And what, if anything, do you feel like has been missing?
I might sound biased, but I think that music is the one thing that, as much as anything, gets away from racial issues now. I mean back then, of course not. Because I just don’t think people care. I don’t think that when you hear a song, your first thought is, what color is that person? If you hear a song, you like the song first. And there are songs that I love and know every word to, and I have never even seen or even bothered to look up the person that sang it. You know what I mean?
And industry-wise, more that I’ve seen the record industry is just really veering towards the youth. They want to hire young people. And they want to sign really young people. I don’t see that racial tug of war going on in the record industry. To me, it’s more about age. As soon as you hit 30, you may as well sign up at the nursing home than the record industry. But race, I just don’t think it matters. Movies, it still matters. Sports. I don’t think it matters. I’m lucky to be in an industry where all they care about is if you have a couple of great songs on you. And they can put them out, and make people happy enough to go buy a record. That’s all. But I could be wrong. But that’s how I see it.
Earlier, you mentioned Colin Kaepernick kneeling, and the movement that he helped to mobilize. Do you feel like he has been blacklisted from being in the NFL because of that stance that he took, kneeling, and then how it was interpreted by a lot of people?
Oh yeah. What they did to him was horrible. He was totally blacklisted. They let him off the team. He was singled out. He wasn’t the only person kneeling. And he definitely wasn’t the only person who felt the way he did about police brutality. And I thought what they did to him was criminal. Right. And I saw them try to make it up to him and offer his job back and donate to social justice and all that. But it was too late. He had lost everything. And I heard there’s some story about he got a ton of money and stuff like that. But we all know that when you love to do something, money takes second. You know what I mean? And he seemed like a really passionate football player. And I’m sure that was really awful to him.
But he made a difference. And he made people think. And after people ignored him and moved on with their lives, it all blew up in our faces. We went through months and months of protest. And people died because no one listened to him. More people were murdered by policemen, unnecessarily, because no one stopped and helped him, and tried to fix it. Which is really sad.
And so, I wanted to ask you about the idea of American patriotism. For you, does re-imagining the flag mean also re-imagining what American patriotism is as well?
I think if you can just embrace how beautiful it is because of what all the different cultures contributed to it, and that it wouldn’t be what it is right now if all of us weren’t here, then you get it, and then I think to me, that’s loving your country. If you fight for your country, obviously, you love your country. Just to call yourself something, just say, “I’m a patriot because blah, blah, blah.” I think you have to really look around and see what your country is about, and if that’s okay with you, and if you can say you love that, then I think you love your country.
And I just wanted to ask you if there’s anything you wanted to add in the spirit of the article that you’ve written?
Just that I adore my country and I really had no issue with the flag before, things that were kind of last year, maybe the year before. And there’s nothing wrong with the design of the previous flag, it’s just that the message that it sends. And my goal is just to bring everybody together. I just like to see in my lifetime, everybody get over it and let’s all be together. What we’ve done as a country with all this discord, you know? Could you guys imagine what we could do if everybody’s cool with each other?
I have to ask, are you working on new music right now? Do you have anything that you’re working on right now?
Yes, I have a song out it’s called… Me and my new band, we’re called Macy Gray and the California Jet Club, we put a song out in April, called “Thinking of You.” Our album’s coming soon. We still have to set a date, it’s a process, but yeah, I’m always doing music. I’m always in the studio, or thinking about it, or whatever. I dream about it, it never leaves me alone.