So, um, rapper LL Cool J and country singer Brad Paisley have released a song together called “Accidental Racist.” The song is about how conflicting racial and stereotypical signifiers can cause Black and White people to fear each other when neither party is really interested in causing racial conflict. The song is definitely filled with good intentions and reveals a kind of racialized thinking that most people would not be willing to discuss. It certainly is about promoting harmony and passing less judgment based on how people dress and look. That’s great. The problem with the song is that it believes racism and stereotyping happens without any historical context and blames past generations for racial unrest. Here are some of the lyrics:
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
While it’s true that it was not you or I that started slavery, segregation or Jim Crowe, it is still our responsibility to understand it and remember that it happened because it affects us today. How can LL Cool J rap the lines, “You forget my gold chains / I’ll forget the iron chains.” I’m not just going to forget about slavery because a White person was nice to me, I’m not going to personally hold it against them or antagonize them either but can we be a little more sensitive to the plight of our ancestors? Another issue is championing the Confederate Flag. The Confederate Flag has nothing to do with Southern pride. The South has a different flag that represents the South. The Confederate Flag was the symbol of those who fought in favor of slavery furthermore celebrating the Confederate Flag as an emblem of the South makes it appear as though there aren’t any Southern African Americans. Arguably, because of these racial tensions it has always been Southern Blacks who suffer the most so using the perspective of a Black New Yorker is pretty unfitting for the intention of the song.
While I am sure it sucks that when someone is from the South we subconsciously assume them to be racist, conservative or less intelligent it is not really comparable to the severe economic and social marginalization of any person of color. Now, we can’t really expect a song to tackle a tragic history that requires hundreds of books and years of discussion to fully understand.
Brad Paisley told Entertainment Weekly of the song, “It’s not a stunt. It was really obvious to me that we still have issues as a nation with [race]. … And I think the younger generations are really kind of looking for ways out of this.” He’s right and though the song is weird and probably sounds terrible to anyone who is not into country music, I can appreciate an attempt at honesty and bridge building.
Brad Paisley featuring LL Cool J – “Accidental Racist”
Nelly featuring Tim McGraw – “Over and Over Again”
B.o.B. featuring Taylor Swift – “Both Of Us”
Willie Nelson featuring Snoop Dogg – “Superman”
Jason Aldean featuring Ludacris – “Dirt Road Anthem”
Rihanna and Jennifer Nettles – “California King Bed”