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Accidentally Racist and Intentionally Ignorant

Apr 15 2013
How the controversial Brad Paisley-LL Cool J duet keeps us from seeing the real, systemic problems of race.

Many of us who don't listen to country music hadn't heard of Brad Paisley until last week. Now that he's released a song called "Accidental Racist," even us non-country music fans were intrigued enough to listen to find out what lyrics could possibly follow that title.

No matter how many simplistic examples or comparisons you sing about, I'm not convinced there is any such thing as being accidentally racist. Being accidentally racist is really being intentionally ignorant. More than anything, Paisley's song, featuring legendary rapper LL Cool J, shows a surprising level of ignorance about deep and pertinent issues that perpetuate racism in America.

Paisley's lyrics cheapen the complexity and challenges of living in a nation with deep and abiding racial wounds. Addressing the problem of the racialization of America cannot be belittled to a wealthy, famous white Southern cowboy apologizing to a nameless black coffee shop barista for wearing a T-shirt with an iconic slavery-affirming image on it. Nor is it about swapping beats and raps with a horribly stereotyped image of a black man. The two options of viewing black people in this song are either as a nameless menial-job holding person or a gold-chain wearing, hood-living, pant-sagging rapper saying ridiculous things like "If you don't judge my gold chains / I'll forget the iron chains," and "The past is the past (You feel me) / Let bygones be bygones."

Paisley reflects on being a proud Southern boy caught with "the 'ole can of worms" of America's enduring racial complexities ad injustices. From his perspective, Paisley and the rest of modern America are simply caught in something none of us started. "Our generation didn't start this nation / And we're still paying for mistakes / That a bunch of folks made long before we came." This leaves Paisley (and I assume others like him) unsure of what to do about the existing racial tensions, tightly woven into the fabric of American culture like cotton.

In "Accidental Racist," Paisley meant well, but unfortunately, well-intended actions can still end up causing more harm than good. He reveals his unawareness (or chosen ignorance) of existing circumstances and nuances, putting himself up to derision and ridicule across the Internet, so much that it was removed from YouTube (the label cited copyright reasons). Paisley must now rise to the challenge of listening to, learning from, and apologizing where necessary to those who are not "just a white man."

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