Friday, April 12, 2013

"Accidental Racist" Song a Failure to Communicate

 photo rebel-flag.jpg

Racism has been on my mind. Last year, we had some really powerful movies deal with it really well. We had Django [Unchained] and Lincoln, and the media deals with it all the time, and I thought maybe it would be an interesting conversation between country music and rap music to deal with this subject between two individuals in a loving and understanding way.
~ Country Singer Brad Paisley on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno

The song wasn’t perfect. You can’t fit 300 or 400 years of history into a three or four minute song.
Ultimately, I can’t defend the song, but I can clarify my intentions. I in no way would ever compare the history of the Confederate flag with a do-rag. However, when you think about a kid like Trayvon Martin and you think about some of the things that happen in society based on clothing, when you put it in this proper context, it makes sense.
~ LL Cool J to Jay Leno

"Accidental Racist" Lyrics Via The Wrap


To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south
And I just walked him right in the room
Just a proud rebel son with an 'ol can of worms
Lookin' like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view

I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland
Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be
I'm proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done
And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation
We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We're still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years
I try to put myself in your shoes and that's a good place to begin
But it ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin

'Cause I'm a white man livin' in the southland
Just like you I'm more than what you see
I'm proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done
And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation
And we're still paying for the mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Cool J:

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold but I'm still misunderstood
I wasn't there when Sherman's March turned the south into firewood
I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could
Feel like a new fangled Django, dodgin' invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I'm thinkin' it's not all good
I guess we're both guilty of judgin' the cover not the book
I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here

Paisley and Cool J (Cool J in parentheses):

I'm just a white man
(If you don't judge my do-rag)
Comin' to you from the southland
(I won't judge your red flag)
Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be
I'm proud of where I'm from
(If you don't judge my gold chains)
But not everything we've done
(I'll forget the iron chains)
It ain't like you and me can re-write history
(Can't re-write history baby)

Oh, Dixieland
(The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin')
I hope you understand what this is all about
(Quite frankly I'm a black Yankee but I've been thinkin' about this lately)
I'm a son of the new south
(The past is the past, you feel me)
And I just want to make things right
(Let bygones be bygones)
Where all that's left is southern pride
(RIP Robert E. Lee but I've gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean)
It's real, it's real
It's truth


The "Accidental Racist" we can work on. It's the "Intentional Racist" we need to eradicate.
~ Raptor2U on Huff Post

Those lyrics are impossible. I cannot believe this song actually exists!
Who the heck thought it was a good idea. . .complaining about how hard racism is. . .for white men? Ooof. I'm incredibly disappointed that LL Cool J chose to participate.
~ Horrible Pourable on Huff Post

They both get to wear the "I'm with stupid" t-shirt.
~ WinkandaNod on Huff Post

I think the purpose of this song is to get people talking. We don't talk to each other because of too much history and uncomfortable situations. We also don't want to listen...I appreciate Brad and LL for at least trying.
~ KimPeach on Huff Post

The performers call for racism to magically heal itself through major chords and willpower. It’s The Secret by way of Tinkerbell.
Paisley doesn’t want to talk to the coffeeshop guy about racism any more than LL wants to talk to white folks about mandatory minimums or systemic disparities in educational outcomes. They each want to know that ‘We’re cool, right bro?’ without actually engaging the ugly substance and legacy of American history. “Accidental Racist” deserves every ounce of clowning it gets...
~ Alan Pyke on Think Progress

Brad Paisley: “We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday”
Nothing says “walkin’ on eggshells” quite like entering a Starbucks with a giant symbol of the institutionalized enslavement of human beings emblazoned on your chest. I wonder what he’d wear if he wasn’t so concerned with politeness!
~ Funny or Die, "The 11 Worst Lines from Accidental Racist"

As Dolly Parton once said (well, I heard her say it at a concert) "What do you get when you mix country and rap? CRAP!"
~ Simone F. on Think Progress

The members of Lynyrd Skynyrd were not racist. However, It was disappointing to learn that they decided to keep the confederate flag after their fans threw a fit.
~ Stacie B. on Think Progress

Whatever the reason, the song itself is a lyrical disgrace filled with awkward non-apologies and faux-pensiveness over the history of racism in the south.
~ Bobby Finger on Hairpin

My only objection to the song, and to the surrounding controversy, is that Brad Paisley says he is merely giving a the "Southern white man's point of view."
Mr. Paisley is from West Virginia, and as someone who was born and raised in Georgia, I resent that he considers himself Southern.
~ Class of '98, Atlanta on New York Times

To claim, as Paisley does, that wearing a confederate flag is actually about being a Lynard Skynyrd fan so we should ignore the dominant meaning, is silly. You can’t wear a swastika and say, “Oh don’t be upset–I’m thinking of the way the Chinese used it before it was appropriated by the Nazis.” That’s not how symbols work.
. . . I wonder if LL was drugged when he wrote and recorded the lyrics, “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chain.” How could he have not recognized that as a possibly career-ending moment that would offend almost all of his fans to the core? He follows with other references to amnesia about a multi-century atrocity that still has a deep impact on America. Let bygones be bygones?
. . . I hope to never hear this horrible song again.
~ Touré on Time Magazine

But does this character exist? When people wear the Confederate flag, are they really surprised or concerned with who might be affected?
"They want to be able to carry the wounds of the Civil War but not the baggage," is how a source in the Nashville music industry described it to me. "They want to hold on to the trappings of the Confederacy but not be held responsible for everything they symbolize. And they're tired of having people make them feel bad for it I don't know if they are so much concerned about racism as they are about being seen as racist."
The lifelong Southerners I spoke to about this said that anyone wearing the flag as an adult in 2013 is fully aware of how it's viewed by others and has made the decision that they're okay with that.
~ Summer Anne Burton on BuzzFeed

The Confederate flag is a banner of hate, plain and simple. People need to do their research before they go around waving it around. And this is coming from a southern white male that was born and raised in Alabama.
~ Judd H. on BuzzFeed

I'm really upset with LL Cool J in this situation. Doesn't he realize what that flag represented to our ancestors? Pure hate. People in the south can be proud and display where they came from without this flag. This song is a cop out.
~ JoannaJ2 on BuzzFeed

. . . early in the song Paisley laments being judged for wearing a T-shirt that features a Confederate flag. He says he's not racist, he's just a "proud rebel son" and Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.
Here's what Paisley fails to realize - the very thing that is a symbol of pride for him is a symbol of oppression for others. The Confederate flag represents a movement that aimed to keep my ancestors in servitude. If that flag flew over our nation's capital today I wouldn't be allowed to read, let alone express myself in this column.
Do I think Paisley is racist? Not at all. But the symbol on his chest is. So yeah, I'm offended.
LL is just as offensive, reciting rhymes like this:
"If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains," and "If you don't judge my do-rag, I won't judge your red flag."
In a song that hopes to erase stereotypes, LL is essentially glorifying them. Of all the metaphors he could have been used, why did LL go with gold chains and do-rags, the very images blacks have been trying to overcome for decades?
~ Edward Bowser on

David Graham on The Atlantic
But this is exactly how not to write a song about the Confederate flag. To see the right way, you've got to go back 20 years to the Bottle Rockets. They've got as much southern cred as Paisley -- the band is from Festus, Missouri, they're as likely to have steel guitar on their records as he is, and they write songs about trailer parks, $1000 cars, and Loretta Lynn. In other words, this isn't like Ontario-born Neil Young blasting backward racists in "Southern Man" (though he was right, too, no matter how it infuriated Lynyrd Skynyrd) -- it's a critique from within. Here's how songwriter Brian Henneman handled it in 1993:

Here's the first verse:
Look, here comes another one, 4-wheel drive
Look there in the window, man, sakes alive!
That good ol' boy's waving the stars and bars.
It's a red, white, and blue flag, but it ain't ours.
And the chorus:
Wave that flag high, wave it high,
Do you know what it means, do you know why?
Maybe bein' a rebel ain't no big deal
But if somebody owned your ass, how would you feel?

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