The “Accidental Racist”

Southern country singer Brad Paisley and rapper turned actor LL Cool J recently teamed up to record a song together. In this song the pair decides to tackle the issue of racism in America. In their own misguided way. In the song, curiously entitled "Accidental Racist", Paisley attempts to shed light on what he perceives to be unfair labeling of himself as a racist. He does so by defending his right to wear a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt with the confederate flag on it and suggests that people basically get over the grim history that it has come to be a reminder of. In Paisley's opinion people are still “fightin’ over yesterday … siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years”. While LL joins in and urges people to "Let bygones be bygones".

Ok, so they don’t want to think about it. Most people would probably not like to be reminded of such a dark and degrading period of America’s past, where slavery was norm. Nor would they, one would think, like to live in a society where racism is institutionalized in schools as well as the judicial system.

Brad Paisley, however, seems to feel that he as a white man is the one who deserves sympathy. He’s the one that’s subjected to unfair treatment. He seeks sympathy for being “just a white man comin’ to you from the southland”, “Just a proud rebel son with an ‘ol can of worms”. He can’t help it that the confederate flag, despite efforts to reclaim it, carries a very dark history.

While Paisley tries to reclaim the confederate flag as his own personal symbol of southern pride he subsequently ignores the larger social context. No matter how much he loves that flag, he can’t rid it of its cultural meaning. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd themselves have attempted to distance themselves from it.

The social meaning behind symbols is always understood in a specific context. The confederate flag isn’t simply a piece of cloth, it’s charged with social meaning. It’s part of a larger discourse. To ignore the social meanings behind symbols such as language or fashion etc. is to minimize the impact of the larger context. Everyone’s not interested in problematising  things and that’s fine too. But there’s a difference between being uninterested in politics and refusing to recognize the connection between social structure and cultural activity. What public figures, such as Paisley, do and say resonates in our culture.

Merriam-Webster defines accidental as “happening without intent or through carelessness and often with unfortunate results“. Calling yourself an “Accidental Racist” would then indicate, by definition, that it’s out of your control. It’s not. You have a choice; making a conscious decision to not perpetuate racism or contributing to ignorance. Everyone has a responsibility to fight racism, not make it invisible.

“Accidental Racist”

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

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

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

Advertisements