Accidental Racist, Accidental Stupidity

STORY BY Grace Jung

Published: April 15, 2013

The Rolling Stones called it “questionable.”

They were being kind.

Brad Paisley’s new single, Accidental Racist, has generated a multitude of reactions over the past few weeks for its controversial lyrics and has garnered national media attention. LL Cool J, the featured artist, contributed equally controversial rap lyrics to the song. Together, Paisley and LL Cool J have taken to talk shows and Twitter to defend their latest duet. Paisley told Entertainment Weekly, “I think that (the song) comes from an honest place in both cases, and that’s why it’s on there and why I’m so proud of it.”

That quote singlehandedly defines Paisley’s ignorance of his socioeconomic privilege as a white, rich musician. By admitting that the song comes from an honest place, Paisley has informed the entire world that he understands neither our shameful history nor the current state of our country. The nature of the song implies that the history of the white man’s inhumane practices of slavery should be left behind, if not forgotten, because it does not define the current generation of Southern white males and their relationship with the Black American community in this supposed post-racial society. If you don’t believe me, here’s the direct lyric:

“Our generation didn’t start this nation

And we’re still paying for their mistakes

That a bunch of folks made long before we came.”

He means to isolate himself from the past, because in his mind, what has happened in the past is no longer a problem. In his mind, Black Americans no longer face oppression or discrimination, and that to be confronted for wearing a shirt with the Confederate flag is just “fightin’ over yesterday” and “it ain’t like you and me can re-write history.” First, we need to get something out of the way: there’s literally no excuse for wearing the shirt that started this entire controversy of a song in the first place. If you’re a Skynyrd fan, you wear a Skynyrd fan t-shirt. You can’t just dismiss a symbol that represented a time where slavery was legal and expect people to understand that you were wearing it as a music fan. That’s insensitivity to oppression culture and a severe inability to once again understand his privilege in society as a rich, white male.

With that being said, the fact that he is trying to isolate the problems of the past from the problems of the present (or lack thereof, according to Paisley) is incredibly insulting. The song silences the 46.9% of reported victims in 2011 involved in incidents motivated by a racial bias, 70% of whom were Black Americans, and ignoring the fact that 59% of the known offenders were white. In his privileged mind, the fact that of the millions of Americans currently living in poverty, 71.5% are children from minority households while 12.5% are from white, non-Hispanic households is not a problem of race and ethnicity. His insensitivity to oppression culture is especially evident in the fact that he is somehow turning his white privilege to white struggle. Another direct quote from the song: “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.”

There are so many things wrong with this, including Paisley’s inability to understand the “bizarre life” of another human being, just because he has a different skin color. But let’s give Paisley a pass on this one, because it leads right up to the next point: if you don’t understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of an oppressed culture, don’t try to dictate whether or not that culture still exists. Better yet, no one wants you to. No one cares about your opinion on inequality while you still hold that socioeconomic privilege as a rich, white male. No one cares especially when you think you’re being extraordinary and revolutionary by trying to “start a dialogue” about racism. 

Sorry Paisley, you’re about several civil rights movements behind.

(Writer’s note: I would have talked about LL Cool J’s part in the song as well, but his rap career in general offends me because he’s one of the worst rappers of all time, and it wasn’t worth the effort.)

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