Tom Petty Regrets Using Confederate Flag in the Past: 'Just Think How It Looks to a Black Person'

Tom Petty
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Tom Petty of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performs in support of the band's "Hypnotic Eye" release at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on September 30, 2014 in Morrison, Colorado.

For a brief time in the '80s, Tom Petty used the Confederate flag to market a song called "Rebels" -- and in a new Rolling Stone essay, he explains why that decision was "downright stupid."

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In the essay, Petty said he very quickly regretted the decision to associate with the symbol when he saw fans coming to his shows wearing flag bandanas and other clothing. That night, he gave a speech onstage to shut down his association with the flag immediately.

"I said, 'Look, this was to illustrate a character [in the song "Rebels"]. This is not who we are. Having gone through this, I would prefer it if no one would ever bring a Confederate flag to our shows again because this isn't who we are,'" he wrote. "It got a mixed reaction. There were some boos and some cheers. But honestly, it's a little amazing to me because I never saw one again after that speech in that one town. Fortunately, that went away, but it left me feeling stupid."

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While Petty said he grew up in Gainesville, Florida, where the flag was the "wallpaper of the South," he asks his fellow Southernors to take a step back and ask themselves what that symbol looks like to African-Americans.

"People just need to think about how it looks to a black person," he wrote. "It's just awful. It's like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn't be on flagpoles. Beyond the flag issue, we're living in a time that I never thought we'd see. The way we're losing black men and citizens in general is horrific. What's going on in society is unforgivable. As a country, we should be more concerned with why the police are getting away with targeting black men and killing them for no reason. That's a bigger issue than the flag."

Read Petty's full essay here.