Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My reaction to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's song Accidental Racist.

So this song is being talked about a lot on different shows I watch and different blogs I read. I haven't read the blog posts, because I didn't want my own opinions to be influenced by what other people were saying. But from what I've heard on my shows, the song is not getting a very positive response. How about you all just listen to it, and then we can go from there. [Edited to add: it looks like the song keeps getting taken off of youtube. Which doesn't make any sense because if we're supposed to listen for ourselves to make up our minds, we need to be able to hear the song, amirite? Anyhow, if you want to read the lyrics, you can click here.]

Ok, it's not the best song I've ever heard. But let's start with the good stuff. [Pro tip: whenever you're giving constructive criticism, always start with the stuff the person has done right.]

--This song is an example of what I was talking about in my last post, about how white people need more truth and black people need more reconciliation. LL definitely goes for the reconciliation (R.I.P. Robert E. Lee) and Brad does acknowledge that the South has a troubled history (not as much as I would like, but we'll get to that in the next section.)

--Both guys make good points that they are guilty of judging people based on how they look. This is something that people of all races are guilty of, and the world would be a better place if everyone made a conscious effort to do it less.

--I appreciate Brad saying that he wears the confederate flag, but does not intend for it to be racist. I still don't fully understand this, but maybe I understand it a little better after listening to this song. Apparently he and LL are actually friends, and if you asked me before if someone who wore a confederate flag would have a black friend, I would have said No.

--I think they both deserve some credit for even putting the song out. Race is a topic that seems to be spoken about in bursts by the larger society (examples: here, here and here.) There is usually a big brouhaha, a lot of criticism, and then the incident in question just fades away. Brad Paisley felt the issue was important and so he decided to make a song about it. This is not something that many white artists do. Can you name another song put out by a well-known white artist that has to do with racism? Let's say in the last five years or so.

Okay, let's move on to the opportunities for improvement [Pro tip#2: call stuff that isn't that great Opportunities for Improvement]

--I heard Brad say in an interview something like, "Our country is still in its adolescence when it comes to dealing with issues of race." So, it would make sense then that a song written about it would be something of an oversimplification of the issues.

Yes, race issues are about slavery, but they're not completely about slavery. It's also about all the other things that are related to slavery that have happened since then. It's about the fact that there was an opportunity immediately after the war to rectify the situation, and it wasn't taken--by the same men that Brad seems to be celebrating when he wears the Confederate flag on his chest.

--The chorus talks about being caught between Southern pride and Southern blame.

While I was making our oatmeal this morning I thought, Why doesn't he say Southern shame instead of Southern blame? It would still rhyme.

And then I thought, Can you be ashamed of something that you didn't actually do? Then I realized if you can be proud of something you didn't do, then it would follow that you could also be ashamed of things you didn't do.

I understand that the blame comes in because he is talking about the black/white dynamic, and he's saying that black people blame white people for things that white people had no control over.

But I think the reason that I would have liked him to use the word shame is because I think on some level, I just need to know that he really understands the enormity of the situation.

If you're going to be proud of the good things about the South, then you need to be ashamed and embarrassed about the bad things about the South. Because if you just try to gloss over the bad things, it makes me think that you don't really think they were that bad. And if you don't think the things from the past were that bad, you're definitely not going to think that things now are bad, because things now are better than they were then.

Like he says, It ain't like you and me can rewrite history and then later, we're still payin' for the mistakes that a bunch of folks made long before we came. Both of these are true sentences. But the first line, he's talking to me as a black person, like we have to work together to move forward. I get it, I'm down.

But then when he talks about the bunch of folks line it's like, No Brad, it wasn't a bunch of folks, it was a bunch of white folks. Why can't you just say that?

A bunch of white folks did some stuff to a bunch of black folks and now a hundred plus years later, white folks as a whole are in a much better position than black folks, even though it's not legal to do that bad stuff anymore. What's up with that?

I don't think I've said this before here, but I think a parallel can be made between how white people in the United States feel about slavery and about how non-Jewish Germans feel about the Holocaust. Of course they are not completely the same, because the Holocaust was more recent, and people were being killed, not enslaved.

But I would imagine it's similar because you have these ancestors, that you want to honor and look up to. But at the same time you have to reconcile that they did some really f-d up things (or just stood by while f-d up things happened.) Why did they do that? Were they just going with the flow? Were they evil? Were they preoccupied with stuff in their own lives? Did they just not think critically about all the things that they had been taught about why it was okay to treat their fellow human beings in such an inhumane way?

I'm just speculating here. Because I haven't lived a long time with this label of oppressor, I don't really know what it's like. But I do know that when/if you apologize for something, you can't at the same time minimize what you're apologizing for.

So, I'm not really willing to say RIP Robert E. Lee just yet. But I am willing to give props to Brad Paisley, and to tell him that I truly believe that his intentions are good. If he is really interested in talking more and thinking more about race, I would invite him to read this post--I think it's an excellent place to start.

So what do you think, readers? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Why black people and white people can't get along.

I've been in a funk since before I wrote my last post. The funk came, then it went away, then it came back, and now it's gone again. I think that is typically how it works (at least with me anyways.) I was trying to think about what was causing it, and as far as blog related reasons, I came up with a couple ideas.

I am bummed because Google is planning to get rid of Google Reader this July. I think that is a way that a lot of my readers use to track this blog, and I know that I use it to follow a ton of other blogs that I read. Also, ever since Facebook changed the way they display posts from pages (in an effort to get page administrators to pay,) the number of people that have liked my facebook page that actually see what I share on Facebook has gone way down.

Am I whining? Probably. But what's that saying? Whining will set you free? Yeah, I think that's it...

So if you're a fan on facebook, know that the more that you comment or like my posts that you do see there, the more likely you are to see other things I post. And if anyone has a good (free) alternative to Google Reader they'd like to tell us about, please leave me a comment. Finally, if you want to sign the petition to try and save Google Reader you can click here.

Ok, onto the race and inequality stuff. I have to say for the record that I do believe that black and white people can get along. Some already do on a small, individual friendships level. But if we're talking on a societal level, I just think that it will take a lot of work. Like, putting a man on the moon amount of work. But I picked that title because I think that it is something that an internet user interested in race might search for, and also because I have a little story from my life that I think will help illustrate why some people might think that we can't.

So, in keeping with the making sure our kid's not a weirdo goal of parenting I wrote about here, my husband and I decided to enroll our son in some toddler music classes. They're once a week and we sing songs, bang on drums, all the usual toddler music class stuff. Sometimes the teacher (I'll call him Dave,) lets the kids strum his guitar.

So our son was strumming Mr. Dave's guitar. I realize now I never made up a name for our son. Let's call him George.

Little George was strumming Mr. Dave's guitar. Oh, I should mention that Mr. Dave is white and all the other kids and parents are white too. But you probably already knew that, right?

So George is strumming the guitar, and Mr. Dave says, "George, you have great rhythm!"

Mr. Dave didn't say that to any of the other kids in the class. But it is certainly possible that in addition to being the cutest and most charming participant in the room, George is the most musically inclined as well.

But one of the first things I thought when I heard Mr. Dave say that was, "Oh, you're just saying that because you think that all black people are great at dancing and music and have great rhythm, don't you--Mr. Dave,?!?!!" ::grumble grumble:: white people.

Ok, I am exaggerating; I didn't think all that. But I did think that I was 99.99% sure that Mr. Dave just said it because it was true, without any racial undertones. And if you asked Mr. Dave, he would most likely say that he was 100% sure that he said it because it was true and without racial undertones.

But the reality is there is the .01% percentage in my mind that there was another reason for saying it. And the other reality is that even if Mr. Dave did think there was a possibility that there was a racial element to the comment, he wouldn't admit it, because that would open him up to being labeled a racist because the limited education that he has received about race as a white person is to say that he never sees or notices race (even though he has functioning cones in his eyes,) and to no matter what--avoid being called a racist at all costs.

And that my friends, is why we have such a hard time getting along. A different black person (or me on a different day in a different mood,) might have interpreted Mr. Dave's comment in a different way. And even if we're not talking about rhythm, we could have been talking about athletic ability or being punctual or being articulate or being aggressive or being loud or being exotic or any number of other things. It's like black people have a completely different frame of reference that they use to filter all the stimuli that they receive from the world. The was that racist? filter.

And, at the same time, there is little to no chance that Mr. Dave would ever admit there was a racial element to his comment, even if he knew there was. Because white people's filter is set up where they can't or don't want to entertain the entire race question. They don't want to examine the messages that they receive from the outside world about race, they don't want to admit the negative beliefs that they hold (for whatever reason,) about black people, and they see all these problems around them that seem to disproportionately affect the black community, but there is a hesitation to have an honest dialogue about what the causes of these problems are. Because when most white people are honest, they get called racist.

It's like we've got these two diametrically opposed ways of looking at the world. And nothing is ever going to change until we can both start to see things a little more from the other filter. It's like I said in one of my earliest posts on this blog: white people need a lot more truth, and black people need a lot more reconciliation.

So that's my story. George has finished watching Sesame Street, so now we've got to go and listen to Pandora while we get ready for the day. You know that I want to hear what you think, so as always--feel free to leave me a comment.