Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Accidental Racist"

I'll be posting the full lyrics below, and I'm sure everyone has been reading the media buzz and pushback against the song. I am going to try and historically analyze what I believe to be the main problem within the song's racial dialogue (one among many).

So the first time I read through the lyrics, I think I was intending to find something I liked. I like the idea of a famous country artist and a rapper doing a piece on racism today. I think I was hoping for something addressing white privilege or dialogue of more modern situations.

I pulled out one of the lyrics I found powerful -

“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.” (L.L. Cool J)

The idea of racial dialogue about the impact of the Confederate Flag being used for Southern Pride is a positive conversation about racial tensions that remain in existence in the South. However, the problem with the lyrics to the song, and the reason I find them to be antiquated when it comes to racial dialogue is the discussion of the black man’s reaction to the Confederate Flag being confined to a connection to slavery. The song directly references the 150-year anniversary, and I am sure that a song about a man coming into Starbucks with a Confederate Flag shirt was L.L. Cool J and Paisley’s response to that anniversary.

The issue, however, is simplifying the flag as a representation of Southern Pride today and the Confederacy. It ignores the 150 years between today and the Civil War that the flag was used as symbol of white supremacy. The song appears to have good intentions, but it ends up being accidentally racist in return.

I could continue to criticize some further lines, but I believe the biggest limitation of the lyrics is their basis on the master narrative of the times whites ‘mistreated’ or ‘helped’ the blacks (i.e. references to Lincoln, Sherman’s March, Reconstruction, Django (non-historical), Robert E. Lee). These simplify the idea that racial dialogue is only needed as an apologetic for slavery.

“if you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains” 

"Accidental Racist"
(feat. Ll Cool J)

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 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


  1. Great post, Sarah. I also loved the idea when I heard they were collaborating, and as a Brad Paisley fan, I had high hopes for the song. However, this falls oh so short of "clear(ing) the air." I take particular issue with the fact it paints the two men in the most stereotypical way possible- cowboy hat and confederate flag for the white man, saggy jeans and gold chains for the black man. I also agree that this has the master narrative written all over it. Given the two artists' audience, I think much can be done to bridge these issues in their music, but I don't see this breaking down any barriers any time soon. I do look forward to seeing how other members of the music industry react and if they're attempts at conciliation are more or less indundated with stereotypes and the master narrative than this song.

  2. This is just one example of how my critique of the master narrative has changed over the semester. Previously I would have no even cared about the lyrics or the song and just dismissed it. Now, it irritates me at how easily society, even artist, can simply dismiss history and fall so easily into the master narrative trap.

  3. I totally agree with what you are saying Sarah, Courtney, and Meg. Although I do believe that Paisley's intentions were not meant to be racist, it certainly comes close to be very racist and full of stereotypes. One of the biggest problems I have with the song is that Paisley implies that because he wasn't alive during the Civil War, racism is therefore not his problem. However, this is not at all the case. Although no one alive today was present during the Civil War, racism still exists today and we can all be proactive in trying to lessen racism, rather than trying to believe it was a thing of the past.

  4. The problem I have with this song is that it is Paisley’s response to a media cry that he was a racist for wearing a shirt that included a confederate flag. That means that this song is a defensive measure, and makes him seem ignorant of any race issues until he was accused. Southern heritage is his brand, and he is trying to protect through a justification instead of an apology. He does not understand black culture because that is not his target audience and is not profitable. Honestly, I do not really think it is his or LL’s fault but rather a larger issue of music executives trying to control the consumption of listeners.

  5. One of my biggest issues with the song is that it seems to me the entire time LL is apologizing for being black and that his ancestors had to fight for their freedom. Why is that something to be sorry about? Paisley should be the one apologizing, especially if someone found his t-shirt offensive. It seemed so much like LL was willing to go up to Paisley and apologize that he found a symbol of racial hatred and subjection offensive. Paisley spends the entire song acting as the victim of racial discrimination as a white man. I guess I am sorry Paisley, but your lyrics suck and you should apologize for your ignorant treatment of such a serious issue.