Brad Paisley, Your Song is Racist. There’s Nothing Accidental About That.

Power

Privilege

Identity

These things carry HUGE sway in the function and structure of our society. Yes, I realize that was painfully obvious, but I HAD to note this in preface to my response to the Brad Paisley song entitled, “Accidental Racist” featuring LL Cool J. I don’t know where to start with my reaction to this. Because of the way our society is structured, though there MIGHT have been some ‘good intent’ to the theme of the song, it comes off as grossly ignorant, undeservedly unapologetic, and VERY Racist. Here are the lyrics by songwriters James Todd Smith, Brad Paisley, and Lee Thomas Miller:

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.”

(Lyrics provided by lyricsmode.com)

Image

(Pictured Left to Right: LL Cool J & Brad Paisley)

As I was listening to this song while reading the lyrics, all I could think was, “Is this real?” I thought it HAD to be satire, no one could really go for this. What I think was going on as far as the motivation behind this was that some people thought that they’d be pioneers and face the issue of Racism and oppression in a unique way that they thought would get people to ‘move on’ from the disconnected past, and embrace ‘proud rebel sons’ red flag and all. After all, it wasn’t ‘them’ who physically fought for slavery, segregation, and the systematic silencing of Blacks, right? WRONG. JUST WRONG.

1. Think about the social/political positioning of Paisley. He’s JUST a White (straight/rich/country music star) Man IN THE SOUTH. Yeah, that only means among the MOST privileged and powerful people in (southern) society with the most influence. Him singing about the issues of Racism (specifically the south’s history of it) in the disconnected and ignorant way that he is, is dangerous at best.

2. The lyrics of this song in reference to the south’s Racism is arrogantly erroneous. It is attempting to create this huge gap between Southern Bigotry of the past and this notion of  contemporary southern racial++ equality, acceptance, and love. As a resident of a southern state, last time I checked, we are still perpetuating white supremacist hegemony. Yup, we are still silencing and explicitly discriminating against people of color, LGBTQ, and non-religious people.

3. The Confederate Flag has TOO MUCH negative historical weight to defend it, even if you aren’t doing so for those negative reasons. Singing a ballad to Black folks about how we can’t go back and change history is never going to change our minds about the rebel flag.

4. Going back in history and ‘re-writing’ things is not the point.

5. Walking on eggshells? Who? White (straight/rich) men? I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen that here, EVER.

6. LL, it’s something like a phenomenon to read your lyrics in this song. How did you not feel ridiculous in the elementary way you were pointing out very OBVIOUS stereotypes and racial tensions, and what did you really think you were helping? I can’t imagine how this music video would look. Thoughts of Paisley in a white do-rag and baggy pants with LL in a black cowboy hat & rebel flag t-shirt enter my mind. Somehow the music video conveniently disappeared from the web, or at least I can’t find it.

7. Even given a safe place to explain the motive of this controversial song, there was only professed ignorance on Paisley’s end, and claiming that LL is now one of his most best friends in the world. Okay, great. But What in the WORLD was that song REALLY about?

I think an important thing to note are the identity politics going on here. Who is getting the visibility and power to make these claims about Southern Racial history (powerful White Males) & who is it silencing (the already disenfranchised minority)? In our society, the identity of hetero White middle class is considered the norm and/or the rule, where all other identities are pathologized because they aren’t. So, things are situated in a very racist, classist, and generally ignorant way; hence this song. I believe in an attempt to escape this ‘White (southern) Man’s Burden’ style song, Paisley added LL to the mix (who he claims is now one of the best friends in the world to him). It read to me as, “Look, I have a Black friend, I think you all know him. See? that makes what I’m saying LEGIT.” But in reality, it just is continuing to re-center hetero-whiteness and perpetuate the White Supremacist hegemony that this country was founded on. Pointing to obvious stereotypes and racial tensions did nothing in my opinion but reify them. What does that do to young people who are forming their identities? How does this not encourage a disavowal of the Racist south (which is problematic)? What does that do to people who identify as Black? A Person of color (who does not necessarily identify as Black)? How about identifying as Black or of color in the south? The south isn’t the only region in the U.S. that is racist, though I am focusing on it because of the lyrics of the song I am responding to. Paisley, It might not have been your generation who ‘started it’, but it is most certainly YOU who are continuing the cycle.

-D

P.S.- Interested in identity politics? Check out this awesome reader I am engaged with currently. I think it helps provide a foundation to the discourses of Race, Sexuality, Class, etc., in our society. Happy Reading!

Advertisements

About thepsych1

I am a natural progression. As I learn and grow, so does this blog as a reflection of myself. Poetry Art Videos Critique Let's collaborate. Bring your friends.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Brad Paisley, Your Song is Racist. There’s Nothing Accidental About That.

  1. Alcoff is dope. Your blog is dope. Solidarity.

  2. Alcoff is dope. Your blog is on point. You rock.

  3. Emily says:

    Thank you so much for this post. So much of what you said rang true to what I heard when I listened to the song yesterday.

    Your point #3 was what jumped out at me immediately. The fact that Paisley KNOWS what the rebel flag means in the context of racism, slavery, etc. and yet puts in on anyway makes that action absolutely and UNaccidentally racist. Also, his feeble defense of that action, basically “no, I just meant I like this band, not that I like slavery, lol” is infuriating. The confederate flag is 100% offensive, always. I feel like, If you’re proud to be from the South but you’re NOT proud of its historical actions toward non-whites, great. But get a new symbol.

    And #5. Yeah. I don’t even know where to start on that. Walking on eggshells because god forbid someone see you as a racist when ALL you’re doing is sporting a racist symbol on a t-shirt that you voluntarily chose to wear? SO SAD FOR YOU.

    What I also don’t get is how/why Paisley equates his choice of clothing (offensive rebel flag) with the gold chains, sagging pants, etc. that the black man in the song wears. I’m looking at LL’s lines in particular: “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.” What?? So “if you don’t judge my appearance, which is in NO WAY hurtful toward you personally or your entire racial history, I’ll forget the atrocities your people have historically committed to my people and somehow won’t be offended by a symbol that blatantly calls back to the time when they were ENSLAVED?” How does he think that’s a fair trade?

    Maybe there were good intentions here, but my overall interpretation of the song is that it’s a shallow, unapologetic, very thinly veiled defense of racism. To my ear, it sounds like Paisley’s saying “look, I’m aware of how my clothing (the rebel flag particularly) makes you feel, but I’m not going to change and YOU need to accept the fact that I’m proud of where I’m from, because I’m just a lowly white man.” Disgusting.

    No, we can’t change the past, but as you noted, Des, “it is most certainly [people and actions like this] who are continuing the cycle.” One way Paisley could ACTUALLY help break the cycle, if that’s what he really wanted to do here, would be to stop defending his behavior and instead CHANGE it (i.e. stop wearing a symbol that he KNOWS is offensive, and work toward a way to express his pride that is NOT connected to slavery, continued white privilege, ignorance, etc).

    • thepsych1 says:

      Thank you for that very engaging reply! I was a bit unsure about the level of charity I was giving him as far as his ‘intensions’ so I am VERY happy for your in depth response! It’s so weird how people do things like this and don’t see how blatantly wrong it is! The solutions to shallow issues are simple, especially in this case (his behavior can change/defense of the rebel flag can shift). But the fear is that most people falling into the identity Paisley sings about will never reach that point of action, as they will perpetually be, “caught between southern pride and southern blame.” Power, privilege, and identity. All things that structure the disparate systems of power in our society. That’s why I suggested Alcoff’s reader. It has been amazingly clear and thought provoking regarding identity politics! Thanks Again!

      • Emily says:

        Yeah, I think you were spot on about his intentions, and I definitely agree about the rest (obviously the shallow solution would only be a first step). Can’t wait to check out the Alcoff — thanks for suggesting it!

  4. sadie forsythe says:

    This is a great post (and Emily I loved some of your points too). The whole thing strikes me as particularly sad because, while I honestly do believe good intentions were involved, it shows a decided lack of understanding about identity formation, racial hegemony, and the basic insidious nature of the perpetuation of racism (not to mention political history). You would think that if Paisley was going to put himself out there in this way he would make a point to think a little deeper about the issue.

    Saying ‘I’m not a racist despite choosing to wear racist propaganda on my chest’ is like a Nazi claiming to not be xenophobic while wearing a swastika T-shirt. Symbols hold power because they hold meaning. While given time, meanings can change (the swastika wasn’t always associated with genocide, for example) declaring it so isn’t enough to make it so. It takes a little more than head-in-the-sand assertion to strip the history of enslavement from the image of the Rebel Flag. And if Paisley really wanted to make the point that I think he’s trying to make here his lyrical character would choose not to wear said symbol in an attempt to be the person he is trying to represent himself as (the non-rascist). He would understand the message he IS CONVEYING by wearing his Skynard T-shirt.

    What I see this character saying instead is ‘I only appear racist because YOU choose to see me and this shirt as such.’ That blames the victim and will NEVER end racism (which is, I think, where this song is trying to get to). It is the racist who is required to take the action that changes his own behaviour. It isn’t the discriminated person’s responsibility to simply stop feeling persecuted.

    • thepsych1 says:

      RIGHT!?! Thank you for your comment! LL’s role in this is getting to me more and MORE everyday. “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.” ?! What in THE WORLD kind of comparison is that? LL has come out and said that the song “isn’t perfect,” yet Paisley still stands strong… hmmm, I wonder why? POWER. PRIVILEGE. IDENTITY. Within OUR society, the way things are structured, OF COURSE Paisley would be proud of that arrogant and blissfully ignorant MESS of a song. I mean, it seems like they didn’t even allow anyone to listen to the track before releasing it for public consumption.

      • sadie forsythe says:

        ““If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.” ?! What in THE WORLD kind of comparison is that?”

        It isn’t an equal comparison and I think that gets to the point here. From his comfortable position at the top America’s social pyramid (smack dap in the middle of the crossroad between male privilege and white privilege) Paisley appears to not be able to see that the simple act of making that comparison is an insult to the very people he is trying to connect with.

        I will give him and LL credit for trying though. Race can be a prickly subject to bring up in America and a lot of people avoid it in because they are afraid of accidentally offending someone. Paisley has offended people, but at least he tried. He tried and failed, but he tried.

        …hm, just here at the end of my comment I took note of the name of the song, ‘Accidental Racist.’ Could that actually be acknowledging that the person in the song is in fact a racist, but doesn’t grasp the social implications of his actions?

      • thepsych1 says:

        Yes, if you want to be that charitable. Although, I think we were charitable enough when we conceded to the fact that there might have been some good intention in there somewhere. I think that the title is another example of the victim blaming that has saturated this song. In this case, the victims of racism are ‘accidentally’ labeling people like those Paisley describes (white rebel sons of the south) as racist, when all they are doing are reppin’ their ‘southern rebel heritage.’ If Paisley could see past his blissful ignorance that power & privilege allowed him, then perhaps he could have seen how racist and dangerous this song truly is, and what the lyrics of the song are really perpetuating.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s