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.


  1. I'll also add that to some extent I agree with you that whatever quirks are involved it is good that Paisley did the tune. The only way anyone learns is by screwing up. God knows, I've had some fairly idiotic white person moments in my day. I also think I've learned from them. Brad Paisley without question in my head screwed up royally and publicly. LL, well--I don't know what he was thinking with that horrible line. Anyway, we'll see what's up with Paisley in the aftermath. If he defensively says his critics are wrong, then he was only looking for absolution, which, of course, nobody is actually in a position to give. If he thinks about what people say, he would be very impressive. I don't expect anyone to arrive at any particular conclusion, but I do want them to be willing to learn.

  2. Chunk Hatzumomo3:02 PM

    I like this post and agree with what Bill said.

    First, relating to the previous post about white people relating to black people, this song is a good example. Brad is just saying what is on his white person mind, and it is flawed, but that gets the conversion going.

    Second, I would like to learn more about what the germans did after the holocaust. I am sure it was far from perfect, but perhaps there are some post-war german programs that can be modernized and duplicated to some extent in the US regarding slavery.

    More on Brad. I think it takes a lot of courage, (or stupidity) as a white person, to discuss race as a public figure, in the mainstream media. You are really setting yourself up to be ridiculed by other white people desparate to prove they are not racist. "look, I am not racist because I think Brad Paisly is an idiot for 'such and such' remark". But if more people would do this, there would be much more knowledge among white people about race.

    Also, the video did not work for me. It looks like it has been taken down already.

  3. I love this post because it articulates a lot of my own feelings about this video that I have yet to be able to say myself. I'm still pondering exactly how I feel, but I agree that Brad Paisley's intentions were good, I'm just not so sure I cared for the execution.

  4. I did not feel the lyrics were racist. I don't agree with Paisley that wearing or flying the confederate flag makes any sense at all, since it is bound to give offense.

    As a white born eighty some years after the civil war, I don't feel that I should feel shame or blame. I am responsible for how I treat people, not for how people who died before I was born treated people. I have been poor many times in my life. I'm not a privileged person descended from some sort of rich southern aristocracy.

    There were no winners in the War Between the States. No one was totally right or totally wrong. Many people in the north were very right to take risks and to fight to outlaw slavery. Others in the north were hypocrites because they tried slavery but it didn't work in the less agrarian northern economy.

    The south was absolutely wrong to have slavery. They were absolutely correct, however, that they had a right to secede from the union for any reason. They freely joined, and should have been able to freely unjoin. There were hypocrites in the south who claimed they were supporting the war because of states' rights, when it was really only for slavery.

    As I said, it was a horrible mess with no side all right or all wrong. Good came out of it by eliminating slavery. But reconstruction was an evil in itself, and it took many decades for the south to overcome that. Northern carpetbaggers practically made slaves of southerners, many of whom never had any slaves at any time. Most southerners did not have rich slave owning planters for ancestors. Our ancestors were share croppers and small merchants, both beholden to the southern planters.

  5. Good intentions may not be enough. Execution matters greatly.

    I remain unimpressed by and embarrassed for both Paisley and LL Cool J.