Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Accidental Racist (Or: How to make a bad situation worse.)

Brad Paisley is a talented, successful country singer. He's also the source of the hashtag that's been blowing up Twitter in the last day or so: #AccidentalRacist. It's a song that was released yesterday, featuring guest rapper LL Cool J (otherwise known as the guy that bicep-curled every lady on the View).


What has people talking is the confusing nature of the song. At its heart, the song is obviously a working out of Paisley's assumed confrontation with a Starbuck's barista who apparently didn't like the singer's Confederate Flag t-shirt. Paisley says that he didn't mean anything by the shirt except that he is a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. The country crooner goes on to lament about how he'll never understand what it's like to be a black person, because it's impossible to truly walk a mile in another man's shoes. He finds it sad that we can't rewrite history, that we must walk on eggshells when it comes to racial issues, and that he can't have 'southern pride' without assuming the southern blame for slavery.

And then LL Cool J is there. And there's a strange, rapped diatribe about how black people get mistreated for the way they look, too, and how it's not ok for him to assume that Paisley's confederate flag wearing, cowboy hat donning, southern pride having persona is racist...or something. It's a bit muddled as to why LL is there...other than the classic "I  have black friends who will sing on this record with me, so I'm obviously not a racist" thing.

There's a lot to unpack in a song like this. Let's Riot, shall we?
  • The Confederate Flag Defense Brigade: I grew up in the south, and there's this thing where people still want to wave, wear, barbecue next to, sing about, sit on, and otherwise worship the confederate flag. Worship is a strong word. Revere? Idolize? Paisley is right in that it has become not just a symbol of southern pride, but of a kind of pride that is simultaneously saying 'Fuck You' to everything that is perceived as the North, as modern, as progressive, as liberal, as an 'other'. Unfortunately, while a flag is just a piece of cloth, it has become a symbol that is hard to ignore. It's a symbol of an awful time in our nation's history, a symbol that even the alluded to Lynyrd Skynyrd has distanced themselves from because of its assimilation into white power groups such as the KKK. It is used as a symbol by literally hundreds of hate groups in the United States - here's a convenient listing of said groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I don't care what kind of fan you are of what band or how prideful you are of your hometown, which is in West Virginia for Mr. Paisley (contrary to what some article's authors would state, incorrectly, as being in Illinois), you know by now - hey, it's 2013 - what a derisive and divisive symbol that flag is...ya don't wear it unless you're making a statement. 
  • Confusion for Two: The song's message seems to be muddled. Is this an apology? A defense of Paisley's shirt? A lamentation of the current state of racial affairs? A poor man's Nelly/Tim McGraw duet? The folks that have commented on the song thus far seem to be equally confused. The lyrics, without any pretty melody set to them, are confusing. Paisley has somehow found a fence with about 7 different sides and is trying to ride all of them. He's defending the confederate flag while advocating progress. He wants to relate to black people but seems to lament that he has to walk on eggshells for fear of offending a racial minority. Both he and his guest black guy rapper hammer the point repeatedly that they were neither slave owner nor slave, that this isn't the late 1800s anymore and nobody that is alive today was part of that mess. So...can't we all just get along and stop talking about slavery please?
  • The Cory Rule: Cory from New World Witchery has a lovely rule set: Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me right now? If you answer no at any given time, then don't say that thing. I think Paisley could have used a thorough lesson in this rule. Did this need to be a song? Did this need to be a song by him? Did it need to be a song by him now? This is by no means the first or the fiftieth song about race relations in America. But, it's not a very good one. Other, much better songs exist. Want to decry racism? Billie Holliday's Strange Fruit does it better than Paisley ever could. Every genre from contemporary Christian (dcTalk's Colored People), to the legendary Bob Marley (Redemption Song), to freaking Disney (Colors of the Wind) has its songs about race. The problem with this one, at least to my mind, is that its message is all over the place, the song itself is subpar, and it's such a mess that one wonders if it ever really needed to be made at all...
Or if it was made to ease a guilty conscience...

All in all, I'm left confused by Accidental Racist. It's not going to go alongside Bob Dylan or Billie Holliday or Michael Jackson or any of the much better written songs in this category. But, it's definitely going to make a splash. I'm not quite sure, yet, if that's a good thing. 

Here's the song in it's entirety. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

3 comments:

  1. "what a derisive and divisive symbol that flag is...ya don't wear it unless you're making a statement"

    Agree. Whether you feel that symbol means anything other than "I like Skynyrd" or not is your opinion as a person, but I think you'd have to truly live under a rock to not be aware that it means more sinister things to many people.

    I think this is the main thing with country music - the clueless factor I call it. Clueless that the flag is not just a flag or about a rock band, clueless that we all don't go to church on Sundays, clueless that we all don't believe ourselves to be one nation "under the same god" as another current country tune quips...

    They need to get outta the holler more maybe.





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  2. It seems the video was so controversial that it's no longer available on You Tube since you posted it.

    I was born in the South, I moved back to the South after living in the North for 40 years. Unfortunately, it's been my experience (particularly with the North Carolina legislature as of late)that the Civil War is not only alive and well it is still being fought in many subversive ways. Evidently the surrender at Appomattox was just for show.

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  3. I think its a ploy to sell records. I don't think one really cares about the topic. I found both set of lyrics to be offensive.

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