Sunday, April 21, 2013

Now that’s a pretty good deal, Paisley...

... LL will forget 250 years of enslavement if you accept his taste in accessories! – Stephen Colbert 
Several days ago, Stephen Colbert offered his own criticisms of the song “Accidental Racist” on his show. He played the song for his audience and offered his own running commentary on several of the lyrics (such as the one above, in response to the ludicrous “If you don’t judge my gold chains/I’ll forget the iron chains”).

I agreed with the majority of his thoughts about the song (particularly the fact that it is, regardless of everything else, completely unpleasant to listen to musically) but I also felt that, despite all of the song’s shortcomings, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J must have had good intentions behind it. So, I did some research and found this quote, which I thought was interesting:

"The song wasn't perfect. You can't fit 300 or 400 years of history in a three or four-minute song. (True.) Ultimately, I can't defend the song but I can clarify my intentions. There's a lyric in the song where I say, 'If you don't judge my du-rag, I won't judge your red flag.' I in no way would ever compare the history of the confederate flag, when you think of the rapes, the tortures, the murders, the lynching, all the things associated with the confederate flag, with a du-rag. (That's probably wise.) However, when you think about a kid like Trayvon Martin and you think about some of the things that happen in society because of clothing, when you put it in it's proper context, it makes sense. I would never, ever, ever, suggest to anyone that we should just forget slavery and act like that didn't happen. (Again, wise.) The intention was to put something out there that causes people to have a conversation." - LL Cool J

I know this doesn't change the fact that Accidental Racist reinforces cultural divisions and racial stereotypes, but I thought it was at least nice to see his thought process behind it, particularly in reference to Trayvon Martin, the African American teenager who was considered suspicious and subsequently shot because of his hooded sweatshirt. Essentially, LL just wanted to convey that we shouldn’t judge people based on their appearance, particularly the color of their skin – which is something I think we can all agree with. Unfortunately, it just appears that the attempt was a sloppy effort.

Unquestionably, LL is right about one thing – for better or worse, the song is causing conversations.


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  2. Regardless of Brad Paisley's and LL Cool J's intentions for this song, I was so disturbed by it. LL's thoughts on the song, while a bit comforting, don't change the fact that this song is offensive and flippant in many ways. I agree with LL's statement that it is not possible to cover 300 to 400 years of history in 3-4 minutes, but I do believe that both men could have worked harder to focus at least a bit on the Civil Rights Movement. The song overlooks so much important history of racism, as well as sexism. There is no mention of women in the song whatsoever, something that bothers me quite a bit. The song presents the same problems with other civil rights narratives: it plays into the idea of the master narrative. The Civil Rights Movement is made to appear as though it was merely a time in history that has been resolved. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and we are still struggling with racism and sexism today. The ideally good intentions of this song are overshadowed by the ignorant lyrics and terrible musical quality.

  3. What I'm still left wondering about is what the song would have been like with different artists. I feel like the choice of LL Cool J is a calculatedly safe one. If Paisley had engaged with a different rapper, particularly a southern rapper or one more openly hostile to the white power structure, I think the song could have been simultaneously more controversial and more powerful. I think as it is it seems too rehearsed and structured, almost trite. If there had been an element of challenge, if it had been an actual conversation, I believe that this could have been done well because I do think the conversation over our heritage of racial injustice needs to be addressed. I just don't think it can be one-sided, and I think just because this song includes two different skin colors doesn't mean it includes two different viewpoints.

  4. I agree with both of the above stated comments. I agree that there need to be more conversations surrounding race and America's history of slavery and white supremacy. While I believe that there should be more focused attention to it, there are many songs that do deal with race and the racist system in which we live so I think LL's comment that they are just trying to "put something out there that causes people to have a conversation" is not a great excuse. There many other ways to (more accurately) express people's feelings towards the system while creating a meaningful cause for conversation.

    I think the only conversations they have generated from the song is how unbelievably uninformed, inaccurate and over-generalizing it is. I really liked someone's comment in class about how this song would have been much more meaningful if it was expressive an individual's personal experience. The fact that is stereotypes all southerners as presumably white red-necks and all black people as thugs in the hood does not create a productive basis for conversation. All this song does is reinforce untrue stereotypes. If they truly wanted this song to be a means for conversation, they should have dug a little deeper to historical contexts and personal experiences.