Freakin' "Accidental Racist," Y'all

Accidentally Racist HandshakeIn case you spent yesterday outdoors and missed it, Brad Paisley released his eyebrow-raising new collaboration with rapper LL Cool J, “Accidental Racist,” and the Internet’s eyebrows shot up into outer space.

Summarizing this song and all it entails feels, frankly, beyond me. It has to be experienced firsthand. Listen to it

if you can find a clip that hasn’t been taken down, or download it on iTunes. But here are the lyrics:

To the man who 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 is somehow like the elephant
In the corner of the South
And I just walked him right into the room

Just a proud rebel son
With an old can of worms
Looking like I’ve got a lot to learn
But from my point of view

I’m just a white man
Coming to you from the Southland
Trying 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 rewrite history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still picking up the pieces
Walking over eggshells
Fighting over yesterday
And caught between Southern pride
And Southern blame

They called it Reconstruction
Fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We’re still sifting through the rubble
After 150 years
I’ll try to put myself in your shoes
And that’s a good place to begin
It ain’t like I can walk a mile
In someone else’s skin

‘Cause I’m just a white man
Living in the Southland
Just like you, I’m more than what you see
I’m proud of where I’m from
And not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can rewrite history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
And we’re still paying for the mistakes
Than a bunch of folks made
Long before we came
Caught somewhere between Southern pride
And Southern blame

[LL Cool J]
Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you’re living 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 newfangled Django dogging invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good
I guess we’re both guilty of judging 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)
Coming to you from the Southland
(I won’t judge your red flag)
Trying to understand what it’s like not to be
I’m proud of where I’m from
(If you forget my gold chains)
But not everything we’ve done
(I’ll forget the iron chains)
It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history
(Can’t rewrite 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 thinking 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)

Oof.

So, where to even begin reacting? The reading assignments have already piled up. There’s the Tennessean article by the reliably moderate, incisive Peter Cooper. There’s the quippy Twitter snark, dutifully logged at the snark-centric Witstream. There are no shortage of fiery deconstructions at sites like Jezebel. And because this is the Internet age, there’s already quite a bit of word from Paisley himself.

Of course, to longtime surveyors of country music, it may come as no surprise that Brad Paisley has released an objectionable song. Writers and readers at Country Universe, at least, have often found Paisley’s work to land with some accidental clunk, whether the subject is a woman he loves (who’s most charming when she’s screwing things up!), the music genre he records in (which could totally beat up your genre!), a societal trend he finds interesting (total losers impersonating successful guys like Brad Paisley on MySpace!), or even his entire gender (the acceptable members of which would never do something feminine like highlight their hair or, say, maintain a perfectly shaped goatee and flawless skin at all times and wear cute little modern-cowboy ensembles that hug all the right places). So really, perhaps “Accidental Racist” is just the next logical item in Paisley’s trunk o’ clunk – another sign that he just doesn’t quite see beyond his inherent privilege as a successful, talented, conventionally handsome, heterosexual, Christian, Southern white male.

But it’s also hard to throw the guy completely under the bus. He’s demonstrated that he’s at least more thematically ambitious than many of his country contemporaries, and I don’t think anyone would question his or LL’s good intent here. If nothing else, this incredibly clumsy, awkward track may inspire some productive discourse in communities that are, frankly, still hurting for it. The comparison of judging Confederate flags to judging do-rags may hurt your brain on every level, but hey, maybe we’ll wind up with fewer songs where baggy pants are used as shorthand for a life of crime?

What say you? Is there anything good to be gained from “Accidental Racist”? Is it not as bad as all that, or every bit as bad? Will LL Cool J host next year’s ACMs, or will he simply get two full performance slots? (And given that we’re wading in sensitive territory here, please do keep your remarks civil and in line with our Comment Policy.)

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69 Comments

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69 Responses to Freakin' "Accidental Racist," Y'all

  1. It’s funny; this song reminds me of a Jeep that was in front of me in traffic just last week. It was solid blue with oversized tires. Dangling from the hitch was the obligatory replica scrotum – also in blue, but not the actual blue of the Jeep itself. There was an Air Force logo on the spare tire cover, but a National Guard license plate. I’m not knocking the Guard, but it seemed to be an instance of someone trying to “round up” his service.

    Anyway, across the rear window were the following stickers:

    Indiana University
    Chicago Cubs
    National Rifle Association (x2 for emphasis)

    At the top, in large camouflage letters, spelled in lowercase as one word was the phrase, “believeiwill”. And under that, in the center of the rear window, la piece de resistance:

    The Confederate flag with the following caption:

    “IF YOUR OFFENDED BY THIS YOU NEED A HISTORY LESSON!”

    Because there’s nothing better than ignorance than misspelled ignorance.

    I bring this up because my first thought wasn’t how I would react to the song myself (I’ll roll my eyes and add it to the list of reasons I bailed on Paisley years ago), but because I thought of that Jeep.

    That guy is going to hear “Accidental Racist” and either interpret it as validation for his obviously dubious social views or he may even be angry at it not for being banal, reductive and tasteless…but for offering an olive branch at all.

  2. It’s moments like these that make me miss Paisley’s albums like Part II. I don’t hate all of his cliche-laden tracks, because the songs he recorded on American Saturday Night got it right for the most part. But you’re right to point out “Celebrity” and “Online,” because they showed that the arrow doesn’t always land on the side of good taste. There’s a reason that “Camouflage” became his first single to not go Top 10 since 2000…it was dumb and not all that relatable.

    The worse part about “Accidental” is that it misses the point, and Travis hits it on the head with his fellow commuter’s bumper sticker about history. We’ve become so polarized in this nation that even if a minority of people holds a belief dear, they can make so much noise about it that it seems like a lot more people hold that belief. The desire of some Southerners to hold onto the legacy that at its heart was for a large part about keeping people in slavery (and yes I know there were other reasons) is off-putting to the ancestors of said slaves and those who don’t ever want us to go back to that type of nation.

    Truthfully, I’m glad for the effort. Unfortunately, the imagery seems to be acting as gasoline instead of water, but I have no doubt much of the Country community will rally around Paisley for the bad press he’s getting. For me, I’ll like the occasional song (he’s still one of the best balladeers in Country when he connects with a song), but I haven’t clicked with a whole Paisley album since Time Well Wasted.

  3. @John – Funnily enough, Time Well Wasted was the last Brad Paisley album I really enjoyed, too. He peaked with that one for me, artistically. His humor has become more antagonistic since that album, to the point that instead of coming off as a potential pal he now feels like the guy in school I hoped would just leave me alone.

    (Reading Chely Wright’s account of how persistent he was with her when they dated and how homophobic he was didn’t endear him to me any further.)

    Still, though I’ve only read the lyrics and haven’t heard “Accidental Racist” it’s difficult for me to imagine it making me cringe any more than Josh Turner’s “White Noise” from his Your Man album. The chorus:

    Talkin’ ’bout white noise
    Comin’ from the white boys
    I can’t keep my cowboy boots
    From stompin’

    To that white noise
    Comin’ from the white boys
    Take me where
    Those honky’s are tonkin’

    Seriously, I hadn’t heard anyone use the term “honky” to describe an actual person since The Jeffersons. Anticipating Brad Paisley and LL Cool J calling out the song for “accidental” racism, there’s even the following verse:

    Tractor pulls and rodeos
    County fairs and bluegrass shows
    It ain’t a thing ’bout black and white
    It’s Johnny Cash and Charley Pride

    Because, you know, what’s better than shameless name-checking than shameless tokenism name-checking? *ugh*

  4. IgnatiusNo Gravatar

    I was skeptical at first. But after a careful listen, I think this song gets a lot right. It’s tasteful, even thoughtful. It looks at a tough issue from both sides, and I think anyone who claims the song reductively justifies the south is missing the point completely.

    In my experience, most people who wear southern flags are showing pride in the place they are from, not pride in what the south did 150 years ago. I think this song is causing a stir because it dares to suggest it may be possible to wear a confederate flag without being a racist hick.

    “I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover, not the book.” We are all guilty of this, regardless of race or background. We are the most diverse country in the world because we value diversity and celebrate individual freedom. As far as I can tell, that’s all this song is trying to do.

    Brad Paisley may be a lot of things, but tasteless and racist he is not.

  5. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    I’m dumbfounded, really. At one time, I thought Paisley was our best advocate for pushing the genre forward, philosophically and musically, but his efforts are getting clumsier and clumsier. I’ve never felt the bully vibe from him like others do, but then again, I tend to treat all of his songs as if they’re in jest (I still think there’s some underlying parody in “Southern Comfort Zone”).

    I will say that this song reminds me of my fascination with the first season of the “Real World” that MTV re-aired a few weekends ago. I couldn’t peel myself away from it, mostly because of the depth of the “racism” vs. “prejudice” story line. This song at least hits on both sides of that issue; I just wish it did so more carefully.

  6. DevinNo Gravatar

    I agree with Ignatius. I think Brad gets a bad rap for just trying to be a little too funny with his songwriting, and I think his songs are often very well intentioned. I think this song was sincere and well meaning, and certainly not tasteless or racist. He may have missed the mark for some people, but I think this is one of the instances where you really have to consider ‘it’s the thought that counts’.

    The whole confederate flag debate will never really be settled, and feelings are going to get hurt on both sides. I grew up in fairly rural parts of Alabama and Georgia. I’ve seen the confederate flag everywhere, including on my state flag for a good part of my life. It has no negative connotations or ulterior meanings to me. It’s just a symbol of where I’m from. I’m not here to declare it good or bad. It just is. And if you didn’t grow up in a place like that, if most of your impressions of the south have been dictated by the media or a history book, I understand why it would be difficult for you to understand or accept that.

    The only cringe-worthy part of the song for me is the LL Cool J verse. If anything in the song is racist, it’s that. If you want to generalize black culture, there are many, many more effective ways to do so other than saggy pants, gold chains, and do-rags.

    All in all, I think his heart was in the right place, but maybe it’s just not a song that needed to be made. It’s probably not the right medium for this particular message. I hope that it doesn’t discourage Brad from continuing to write and perform thought provoking songs though. Because while he’s released some duds lately and not recaptured what made his earlier music special, he at least takes some risks, uses some creativity, and does something unique. And more than anything, that’s what country music needs right now, even if it occasionally misses the mark.

  7. AndrewNo Gravatar

    Honestly, I was a little surprised at how much backlash it’s received. The song strikes me as a bit heavy handed, but otherwise pretty harmless. It’s also clear to me that a lot of the people who have been so critical are largely unfamiliar with Brad’s other work. I think those of us who have followed Brad’s career know that he has good intentions when he does a song like this (see also: Welcome To The Future), even if it doesn’t come out as well as he’d like.

    More than anything, I’m just glad Brad is taking risks again. They may end up being clunkers sometimes but at least it’s more interesting than the middle of the road songs he did on his last album.

  8. Sam G.No Gravatar

    If you end the story in this song by still trying to justify the wearing of a rebel flag, then you’ve missed the point. That’s really where Paisley goes wrong here. There’s no attempt to see the view of the Starbucks guy who was offended. It’s more about trying to explain why the white guy isn’t racist without offering to put on a different shirt.

    There’s too much hatred and negativity associated with that flag to try and reclaim it as a symbol of generic Southern pride. The Bottle Rockets’ “Wave That Flag” and Sara Lee Guthrie/Johnny Irion’s “Gervais” do a better job on the topic.

    On the bright side, at least Paisley has figured out that if you’re going to have country-rap, you should at least get an actual rapper involved. LL Cool J does about a million times better than Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean or Luke Bryan have done in their careers.

  9. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    I think the song is deplorable and the equating of the Confederate battle flag with a do-rag reprehensible, as both are symbols loaded with racism against blacks in the first place.

    I could really care less about your southern pride. It’s not a neutral symbol. There are an awful lot of black southerners. The categories aren’t mutually exclusive, though the implication that the Confederate BATTLE flag could accurately reflect all of the south is remarkably offensive.

    Seriously. It’s a disgusting piece of work, and about as deep and serious an attempt to truly discuss race as warring bumper stickers.

    What an embarrassment.

  10. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    Really enjoying these thoughtful responses, guys.

    “There’s no attempt to see the view of the Starbucks guy who was offended. It’s more about trying to explain why the white guy isn’t racist without offering to put on a different shirt.”

    Yeah, I think this is the biggest flub of the song (after, perhaps, it being OK’d to exist at all). If your intent in sporting a rebel flag is innocuous, great; but it’s not just about your intent, is it? Symbols carry meanings to the world, and this particular symbol is strongly, widely associated with something ugly. Hearing the voice of the Starbucks barista (ugh – more on that in a sec) in this moment might’ve brought some of the balance Paisley probably intended; instead, we get LL’s flat-out bizarre verse, and call the thing a day.

    …And seriously, why a Starbucks barista? I get that Paisley likes to trade in quotidian details, but that one is too cutesy by half, and it uncomfortably puts the black guy in this scenario in a much “lower status” position (since we’re given no reason to believe the narrator isn’t Brad Paisley, superstar, or some fictionalized version of him). And we know it’s not what happened in real life, since Paisley says the song was inspired by an incident on Twitter. So he crafted that setup. Maybe that feels like nitpicking; it just doesn’t seem like the right starting ground for what’s pitched as a dialogue between equals.

    A lot of the tweets and whatnot have been mean-spirited pot shots from comedians just trying to shoot one off, but I keep thinking back to this one from Rob Delaney:

    “Obviously ‘Accidental Racist’ is HOT garbage but it actually is a good teaching tool for kids about bone-deep, systemic racism.”

  11. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    ^That’s the song’s only merit, really. But my fear is that, as someone mentioned above, it’ll be taken at (its terrible) face value.

  12. DevinNo Gravatar

    I should really know better than to start this conversation, but it just always irks me.

    I could really care less about your southern pride. It’s not a neutral symbol. There are an awful lot of black southerners. The categories aren’t mutually exclusive, though the implication that the Confederate BATTLE flag could accurately reflect all of the south is remarkably offensive.

    Why don’t people find the Stars and Bars offensive? If we’re going off historical meanings, shouldn’t the flag that first represented the Confederate States of America be tainted most with the disgust and shame of slavery? The CSA was a nation founded on the idea of protecting an economy and a way of life that happened to involve slavery. Where’s the vitriol? The Georgia state flag replaced the Confederate Battle Flag with the Stars and Bars because of racial backlash. But in reality they took something that represented war and pride and replaced it with something that more directly represents oppression and slavery.

    People need to STOP using this flag as a scapegoat for racism and an endorsement of slavery. Be honest with yourselves. If the KKK and other fringe, extremist groups had never used this flag to represent themselves, you would not have any of these feelings of hatred or disgust. People have let these groups from the last half-century rewrite and distort the meaning of something from 150 years ago.

    Again, I’m not here to declare good or bad. I’m not endorsing it’s use or condemning it to be thrown out completely. But it is a symbol of southern heritage. For worse or for better. It’s just as wrong, in my opinion, to hate upon an entire region, an entire group of people, and an entire history because they choose to keep a personal symbol that has a distorted meaning in your eyes.

  13. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar

    If you’re incapable of expressing your southern pride in a way that doesn’t use a racially divisive symbol, then you are consciously making that choice and should not be surprised by the backlash. You’re knowingly choosing to represent yourself in that way, despite knowing how African-Americans especially feel about that symbol.

  14. I agree that it’s good for him to be thinking about this, but it’s irresponsible and ignorant of him to be so sloppy, simplistic and even unclear about how he feels about it. I think before putting a song about race that “ask questions” out to the masses, he should’ve figured out deeper thoughts about the conclusions than he has.

    The whole song is troubling, but the part that really made me cringe is excusing the red flag with a do-rag and iron chains with gold chains. Like other’s here, I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Brad is an intentionally mean-spirited person, but I do think that his thoughts don’t run as deep as he’d like to think they do. Heck, mine don’t either, but I’d never attempt something like this, because I know my limitations.

  15. bulbulNo Gravatar

    I’m reminded here of a Robin Williams routine:
    “They say ‘the Confederate Flag is a symbol of states’ rights’. Yeah. And swastika is a Tibetan good-luck charm.”
    The simple fact is that the Confederate Flag is an official symbol of a group of people who took up arms against the United States and killed Americans by the thousands. CSA, al-Qaida, Third Reich – all enemies of the United States.

    It’s just as wrong … to hate upon … an entire group of people, and an entire history because they choose to keep a personal symbol that has a distorted meaning in your eyes.
    1. There is no distortion here: forget about racially divisive – the Confederate Flag is first and foremost a symbol of an enemy of the United States.
    2. It’s not about hate, it’s about various types of accuracy. Pointing out that there is a lot of racism (including institutional one) in the South is not hate, it’s just accurate. Pointing out that a Southerner whining about Reconstruction is laughable because in a few years, everything was back to the way it had always been, that’s just accurate.

  16. I can understand that not everyone agrees that the rebel flag “should” be viewed as racist, but to me, it is what it is. In our society, that flag is strongly associated with racism, which means that even if the wearer of the T-shirt doesn’t think the flag is offensive, other individuals are not necessarily going to feel the same, so if one chooses to display that symbol on one’s clothing, vehicle, etc., one must understand that people are going to react accordingly.

  17. Jonny AndersonNo Gravatar

    Dan Milliken, I too picked up on the Starbucks relationship and the hierarchy it (albeit very implicitly) implies. Why not a work colleague? A family member? A friend? If I were writing a song about accidental racism, I would intentionally omit any relationships of power or social hierarchies, because as you said, it doesn’t exactly imply a conversation between equals. I appreciate that Paisley was just trying to set up an everyday situation, but why not choose a less hierarchied everyday situation?

    I also have issues with the song more broadly, insofar as it provides a somewhat false dichotomy. It paints a ‘Black/Urban/Northern’ perspective vs. a ‘White/Rural/Southern’ perspective, when the issue at hand is quite obviously much more complicated. I appreciate that he paints it as ‘just a conversation between two individuals’, but when those two individuals in question create characters in the song that visible reinforce stereotypes about what it means to be black or white, then is it not ever so slightly counter-intuitive? I’m not entirely sure what I’m saying here, but I think it is that perhaps a ‘conversation between two individuals’ isn’t the most effective way to tackle such a delicate and nuanced subject.

    Finally, I had a chuckle when I found out that Brad Paisley is from a town so far in north in West Virginia that it is almost in Ohio, which doesn’t strike me as very southern, but admittedly that is wholly irrelevant.

  18. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I think that this is much ado about nothing – maybe even less than noting.

    Those who would rather be politically correct than be correct will take umbrage at it, the rest will view it for what it really is – a stab at tackling a difficult subject that doesn’t quite work

    That’s all folks

  19. I will add that I don’t think Paisley is a racist. I really don’t. I do think he’s clueless though.

  20. DevinNo Gravatar

    If you’re incapable of expressing your southern pride in a way that doesn’t use a racially divisive symbol, then you are consciously making that choice and should not be surprised by the backlash. You’re knowingly choosing to represent yourself in that way, despite knowing how African-Americans especially feel about that symbol.

    Not surprised by backlash. Nor do I think it’s any sort of end all be all declaration of Southern pride. Nor do I even personally display it (though I have a Georgia state flag before it was changed that I continue to keep in my room). My point is and always has been that there is nothing inherently racist about that flag itself, other than the fact that it is from the South. By that logic, there are thousands of other things that are also racist, because they’re from the South. I understand fully that it’s been used by groups who happen to have a very negative, racist message, but I disagree with giving that meaning any sort of power by constantly acknowledging it. I know I’m not going to change anyone’s mind, or get the whole country in on a confederate flag rebranding project. But everyone would be a little better off if they just softened their stance on the flag, acknowledged the context, and realized there are perfectly harmless, legitimate, non-racist reasons someone might be interested in displaying it.

    The simple fact is that the Confederate Flag is an official symbol of a group of people who took up arms against the United States and killed Americans by the thousands. CSA, al-Qaida, Third Reich – all enemies of the United States.

    That’s so ignorant to say. The Civil War was not a good against evil scenario. Confederate soldiers did not kill their brothers and countrymen in the name of attacking America and glorifying slavery. They fought to protect their land and their way of life. They were not evil. And don’t pretend like the Union was fighting on the side of humanity and freedom. If you don’t think there was just as much racism above the Mason Dixon line as there was below it, you’re seriously fooling yourself. It was a sad and regrettable time in American history. But to lump the CSA in with Al-Qaeda and Hitler’s Third Reich? Holy crap, you have got to be kidding me.

    2. It’s not about hate, it’s about various types of accuracy. Pointing out that there is a lot of racism (including institutional one) in the South is not hate, it’s just accurate. Pointing out that a Southerner whining about Reconstruction is laughable because in a few years, everything was back to the way it had always been, that’s just accurate.

    Why does everyone act like slavery only exists in the south east corner of the United States? A LOT of racism in the South? It’s not the 60’s anymore. Anecdotally, I’ve heard there is just as much, if not more racism in other parts of the country. I’m so sick of this stereotype.

    Look, I don’t know where all of you are from, or what life experiences you’ve had, etc. I just know that I’ve seen that flag all over the place my entire life. Your attitude and perspective on it is going to be shaped by your environment and your perspective. If you lived during or nearer the civil rights movement, or didn’t spend the majority of your life in the rural south, your view of the flag is going to be different than mine. And that’s okay. But treating it wish such hate and disdain and misrepresenting a group of people as intentional (or accidental) racists doesn’t sit well with me.

  21. I agree with everything Kevin and Ben wrote here. Everything. And Leann, I agree that Paisley’s not as funny or as clever as he thinks he is.

    As a native of the south, I am also quite embarrassed by this song.

    There is something about this song that does not sit well with me. It has been my experience that people who drape themselves in the Confederate flag are usually not the most open-minded, racially inclusive people. The fallacy here is the idea that someone waves their flag and then lives the rest of their lives with tolerance and without bigotry. Unfortunately, that’s not been the case with any people I know who wave that flag. They are usually racist and full of prejudice. People who try to live their lives without prejudice usually are not interested in having anything to do with that flag for obvious reasons.

    This plays into something that I’ve been thinking about after watching the ACM awards the other night. I was already thinking about political the mainstream country music world is. There is a conservative undercurrent running through mainstream country music. Even when it’s not political, it is. Even if that was true in the past, at least it was also matched by real country music. That awards show was not connected by any musical genre. It was linked by suburban, conservative undertones that make the world of country music seem out of touch with the times.

    I think this song is about justifying a symbol that is equated with bigotry.

  22. KarlyNo Gravatar

    Interesting discussion here.

    I’ve only listened to the song once, and maybe I’m making the issue too simplistic, but I just took it as a song that tried to send a message that doesn’t quite work.

    As as a society, I think we have become afraid to say what we’re truly thinking for fear of backlash. The message I got from “Accidental Racist” is that we’re quick to judge someone and to say that they’re racist, homophobic, etc. because of one thing they might say, do, or wear. But we DON’T know the intentions of anybody by judging them and making an inference because of the potential message they’re sending.

    I’ve never been a Paisley fan, but I’ll echo Andrew’s sentiments that I would rather listen to him take a risk and it fall flat than have to listen to a rehash of most of his recent material.

  23. GloriaNo Gravatar

    Well, Brad had to get attention some way. Because everything he has done with his music lately is going down hill. I just wouldn’t have picked this route to get the attention. Never been a big fan of Brad’s anyway. His music for me has been up and down.

  24. MattyNo Gravatar

    I think this passage sums up my feelings about this song almost flawlessly. If you’re honestly more concerned about the positive implications that this song may produce, you might wanna take a gander at this before you go trivializing the social implications this song is producing/addressing:

    “The entire premise of the song, right from its very title, is garbage. There is no such thing as “accidental” racism. On an individual level, a White person may unintentionally say or do something racist, because they are cloaked in the ignorance of unexamined privilege. But that doesn’t make it accidental. That is the result of an entire culture carefully built around structural racism that privileges Whiteness and viciously defends White people’s ability to coast through life never having to become familiar with any perspectives or lived experiences but their own. That is no g*****n accident.
    It is also the result of individual White people choosing to lazily bask in the luxury of their racial privilege, despite the fact there are all kinds of opportunities to question the white supremacist narratives with which we are all socialized. The luxury to know those narratives are bulls*** is not one that it shared by people of color, and it is a choice to start the lifelong journey toward understanding (and not trading on) one’s White privilege, or to sit in the comfortable easy chair of unexamined privilege. That, too, is no g*****n accident. It is a choice.

    It isn’t a f***ing accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn’t a f***ing accident for a White man to say he’s “got a lot to learn BUT.” It isn’t a f***ing accident for a White man to whine about “walkin’ on eggshells” and “fightin’ over yesterday,” as if racism is a thing of the past and not something active and present in the here and now. It isn’t a f***ing accident for a White man to say “we’re still paying for mistakes / that a bunch of folks made long before we came,” as if White Southerners’ lingering discomfort with slave history is the same f***ing thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians’ to this very day. It isn’t a f***ing accident to compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag or saggy drawers. All of this is thoughtfully conceived and deliberate bullshit.

    Marginalized people don’t owe privileged people non-judgment and tolerance and indulgence of their gross redefinition of symbols of oppression in exchange for basic decency. The inherent power imbalance between privilege and marginalization makes the entire idea of an “equal exchange” of good will reprehensibly absurd.

    If White people want Black people to trust us, then we should make ourselves f***ing trustworthy. That means releasing our stranglehold on a lot of symbols and images and words and practices with racist origins, even if we like them a lot—boo f***ing hoo!—instead of trying to argue selective context. Especially when there are always plenty of White folks who still value the embedded racism in those things. Brad Paisley, you are literally expecting Black people to be able to read White people’s minds and magically discern whether this one White guy is wearing a Confederate flag just because he has Southern Pride, ahem, or because he hates the f*** outta Black people.

    That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.”
    — Melissa McEwan, “Whoooooooooops I’m A Racist!”, Shakesville 4/9/13 (via racialicious)

  25. KeithNo Gravatar

    I think the song was a well-intentioned, albeit poorly-executed, attempt to start dialogue. And judging by the comments I’ve read here and elsewhere, Brad and LL Cool J have done that.

    But musically? I think it’s a dud. I’ve never really been a fan of mixing hip hop and country, because the sounds simply do not mesh. I also agree that the lyrics could have used some more thought. I think that the comments that were made about the Starbucks situation’s awkward hierarchy and the improper separation of America into White Rural Southerners and Black Urban Northerners were especially insightful.

    For what it’s worth, I’ll also offer my take on the issues presented in the song and discussed here. I’m a white student who was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Even as a Northerner, I see my fair share of rebel flags, although I’m sure not quite as many as are seen in the South. Perhaps because I personally know so many people who display the rebel flag, I don’t think of it as racist. I don’t even think of it as a symbol of Southern pride. In my experience, the people who display the rebel flag intend it to be a celebration of rural culture, and they are completely ignorant of the racist overtones it conveys to onlookers. I don’t personally display the rebel flag, but I can understand how some that do never intend for it to be interpreted as racist.

    Ben and Kevin, you have both mentioned that those that wear/display the rebel flag should expect to be judged by it and expect backlash. While this may be true, could the same not be said for those that wear do-rags and sagging pants? Granted, do-rags and sagging pants are not considered racially offensive symbols, but they still give a negative impression to onlookers. Knowing this, shouldn’t those who still choose to dress this way expect to be judged by it? I think this keys into exactly the message the song is trying to convey. It would be a much better world if people would stop judging others for superficial reasons and start talking to one another.

  26. Craig R.No Gravatar

    As a black man I was raised to see that flag as a symbol of bigotry. As a country music fan I have seen that flag used in many different ways that have no connection- on some levels -to race. I understand Devin’s point of view. The flag has many meanings-depending on its user. Like a gun, the shooter decides where the bullets are intended to go.

    As for the song I do like the music-not the lyrics- but the music itself. At least it sounds country to some extent. The lyrics are shallow, egotistical, and lame. Just using a rapper tells me how Brad sees black people. As if the only way I would listen to his song as a black person was if he added some rap to it. His good intention is skin deep.

    He gets a B for effort. But I doubt if he really knows any person of color in any real way. If he did this “conversation” he writes would sound far more different.

  27. BrianNo Gravatar

    When you look at someone wearing an article of clothing adorned with the Confederate flag you are assigning a meaning to them if you instantly think you can deduce what is in their heart. It is entirely possible that the person is not a racist in any way but was rather trying to show some support for something that they felt was more innocuous. That may be naive for someone to think that way but the truth is me assuming what they are is no different than a white person instantly assuming any person of a different color is a bad person.

    We operate in life by codes- some of which are built over time and some of which are built through our own prejudices. I get what Paisley is trying to say in the song. The main character was wearing a shirt for his favorite band and he didn’t think about the implications that it carried outside of that until he was in a situation where he was forced to.

    Look it is easy to say X or Y about the song or racism but it is a much more complicated topic than that and it needs to be discussed in a mature manner rather than just automatically assuming your conclusion is right.

    I can applaud Paisley for trying to create a discourse about the topic through the song even while I think the lyrics are a little clunky. I almost would’ve preferred the song had it not been a duet and been a man wondering about the implications of what just happened as he drove around in his car after the stop at Starbucks. The way the song is written it naturally equates things which aren’t necessarily equatable. That is the biggest problem of the song.

    I do believe though that this song, much like the one prior, is Paisley deconstructing country music and what it is now. He took all the list songs to task in his last one and now he is criticizing people whose opinions are still based on things that happened years ago. He raises the discourse in country music and even a song that so many want to rebel against- is drawing a ton of discussion over the Internet.

  28. For the record, I do not believe this is a single. “Beat this Summer” is his current single.

  29. The “Don’t judge me because I’m showing off the Confederate flag” defense is completely disingenuous. The swastika was around for quite some time before the Nazis adopted it. In some cultures, it even represented peace. But good luck finding someone today who would wear a swastika in public and try to insist they didn’t mean it in the “negative” light.

    Besides that, there’s the fact that the Confederate flag has no positive symbolic meaning. The Confederacy was formed by slave owners who couldn’t stand the thought of living in an America where they couldn’t have slaves. Period. That flag did not exist prior to the Civil War. It has no other connotation. Anyone who has tried to “re-brand” it as some kind of symbol of Southern pride has been naive at best and likelier than that, just flat-out dishonest.

  30. BrianNo Gravatar

    “The “Don’t judge me because I’m showing off the Confederate flag” defense is completely disingenuous.”

    So you can judge a person’s character and heart by the shirt they were? Interesting. I would like to subscribe to your theories.

    Also- throughout the end of WW2 the flag was used in many battles by US Soldiers and its use was not frowned upon by generals until the end of WW2.

    I understand the history of the flag as do many people. The point of the song is not necessarily about the flag itself. It is a jumping off point to what Paisley is trying to say which is simply, “Does one action, even if it is completely innocuous, signify someone’s true feelings or intentions?” He has said himself the song came about from him taking a picture of himself wearing an Alabama T-shit that had the Confederate Flag and someone labeled him a racist right away.

    Is that really all it takes to make someone a racist?

  31. Yeah, when you choose to adorn yourself with as symbol, you accept the connotations with that symbol. Either you’re racist, or you’re celebrating an act of treason against these United States. Or both.

    You can tell yourself that flag is benign all you want, but it wasn’t, isn’t and never will be.

  32. TreyNo Gravatar

    The song is just a stupid album track. This whole uproar has brought more attention to it than it deserved, and as a result more trouble than it ought to have. Is there any benefit in griping over this song? If you dislike it, just skip over it when it plays. All this self righteousness is exhausting.

  33. The song is just a stupid album track. This whole uproar has brought more attention to it than it deserved, and as a result more trouble than it ought to have. Is there any benefit in griping over this song? If you dislike it, just skip over it when it plays. All this self righteousness is exhausting.

    It’s part of my value system to speak out and confront things I disagree with, and this whole discussion falls squarely in that field. As for whether it’s an exercise in futility, I defer to the lyrics from an artist who still entertains me:

    “But it’s not the world that I am changing
    What I do is so
    This world will know
    That it will not change me”

    I believe there’s meaning in that, hokey as that may sound.

  34. Travis, I agree with everything you have written about this topic.

    I am just so super irked by this song. I know that this is not a political blog. But this is a political song, and I am just so annoyed by the audacity of Paisley, that I have to post something else.

    I am not a Paisley fan. I have always thought there was star wattage missing from his personae. He’s being eclipsed by Shelton and Bryan star-image wise, and by Dierks and Church as an artist. And the last thing he needs is this.

    I don’t buy the “this is just a song” attitude. This is a song that is making a political statement. It’s a song that defends the Confederate flag, and Paisley is taking a political stand with it.

    Paisley does not have the poetic chops to pull something this political off.

    I think this is going to be damaging for him. I wonder if Hank Williams, Jr. or other such people will come out in support of him. That’s the last thing Paisley needs now. I don’t think he’s on that side of the country political coin. But I wonder if anyone will say a word.

    He made a terrible misstep by getting deep into political waters by tackling an issue that I don’t think he fully understands. Being friends with LL Cool J and other black celebrities does not make you understand the black experience.

    And LL Cool J. I mean, come on. What a farce. This thing is playing out like a South Park episode. LL Cool J should be really ashamed of this.

    I read a comment or post on one of the other blogs that sums this up. The person pointed out that this song is about white people remembering their history and connection to a symbol while asking black people to forget theirs.

  35. BrianNo Gravatar

    The attitude of “You are a racist the minute you do something regardless of your intentions” is why this discussion never advances into an actual dialogue. It is just people assigning people a value based on their own individual moral codes.

    It’s sad that in 2013 people don’t want to try to hash out the ramifications of this kind of topic and instead fall back on the ideas of shame and guilt.

    If that is what we do though- if you are white and ever locked your doors driving through a city you are a racist. If you’ve ever laughed at a Chris Rock joke with the n word you are a racist. Where does it stop?

  36. You want to defend embracing the Confederate flag, with its specific purpose, history and connotation and then cry foul that no one is listening to the nuanced thoughtfulness behind your choice? Go right ahead. The proverbial floor is all yours. Dazzle us with what we’re shamefully ignoring.

    This isn’t about something as arbitrary as “individual moral codes”. That flag has a specific meaning recognizable to everyone. How you feel about that meaning may vary, but what it symbolizes is an objective fact.

    My reactions haven’t been driven by “white guilt” – which itself is a politically correct term for calling anyone who is white who calls out racism a “race traitor”.

    You’re right about one thing, though – in 2013, we should be having a very different level of discussion about these things.

  37. BrianNo Gravatar

    Travis- You skipped over a part of my previous post. The confederate flag at one point was used as a rallying point in battle during WW1 and WW2. Then it was removed from combat and the military asked that it stop being displayed. So our ancestors were trying to change the meaning of it and then decided against it.

    My larger point is this- someone wearing a Confederate flag is not automatically a racist. Misguided, naive, and probably ill-informed- sure, but I don’t pretend to know what goes on inside someone’s head and heart. The flag is what it is but the codes I am talking about are people like you immediately labeling someone without discussing with them why they would think to wear a shirt like that. Hey if you know what someone thinks by looking at them more power to you. But I believe it is just you projecting onto them what you want to.

  38. Brian, I wasn’t aware of the WWII history, but in reading about it, there was a mix of naivete toward the flag and Confederate pride that in a few instances put that flag ahead of the US flag. The flag had to be removed once word got out back home that it was being carried and in a few cases presented in lieu of the US flag.

    I appreciate the points you are trying to make, but at the end of the day it still doesn’t change the meaning of that symbol to a good portion of the nation. If you showed up at a wedding for a friend and was informed that something you were wearing was banned by their religion, you wouldn’t leave that item on and say “it’s not offensive to my people,” would you?

  39. RichardNo Gravatar

    I think many of you are reading way too much into this song. What he is saying is that people believe things about someone based on certain racial stereotypes and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. He used typical examples of how each race negatively portrays the other based on superficial reasons. The black guy assumed the white guy was a racist because the t-shirt he wore had a rebel flag on it. He explained that he wore the t-shirt because he was a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and not because of the rebel flag. The white guy assumed the black guy was a thug because of the way he addressed. The black guy explained that the way he is dressed has nothing to do with his character as a man. He used these examples because they are the common stereotypes. He wasn’t making contrasts or trying to raise the white guy above the black guy. He was just using the common view of society. The main point is that people shouldn’t judge others on the past or by stereotypes. We should sit down, have a beer and converse before we dare judge the character of another. I don’t even think he was trying to justify the wearing of the confederate flag. He used that imagery because that is probably the biggest trigger for blacks to accuse whites of racism.

  40. I’m sure there are plenty of rednecks in today’s military who would fly the rebel flag in Afghanistan if they were permitted to do it. What the hell difference does that make? It’s still part of the re-branding attempt whether flown in World War I or worn on a Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt.

    Oddly enough, the important point here is one that I believe Paisley was trying to make with this song, and that’s that thoughtlessness about racially charged symbolism is just as offensive as when it’s done with intent. Thoughtlessness itself is a level of racism, in which one is oblivious and/or indifferent to the effect one has on others. It’s a small world with a lot of people. It’s high time to come out of those bubbles and start considering other people. I know, it’s terribly inconvenient and oppressive liberal nonsense gone awry and all that, but there it is.

    Also, back to the song itself, I got to wondering while running errands this morning: At just what Starbucks does LL Cool J work as a barista where he can wear a do rag, gold chains and sagging pants, anyway?

  41. Pingback: HOF Inductees Announced; Buzz Around "Accidental Racist" Continues; Punch Brothers Documentarian Launches Kickstarter Campaign - Engine 145

  42. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I hear ya, “Why are we reacting so much to this song?” contingent. My hope is that the thing will eventually blow over as a botched attempt, and that Paisley will be a little wiser for it in the future. In the meantime, though, it’s clearly struck a few different nerves, whether they happen to be your nerves or not. No sense in ignoring that.

    My basic stance can be summed up by this snippet someone e-mailed me:

    “Paisley needs to know that, if you come from the same group that has historically or presently benefited from a position of social privilege, you don’t get to decide if and when a symbol of that privilege is offensive to someone who has been disenfranchised by it. You just *don’t*.”

    Again, I think a lot of this song’s failure just comes down to awful execution. I actually think it could be fair game to have a song where a white guy touches on the cultural reasons he’s wearing a rebel flag (though I would ultimately disagree with all of them), since as we’ve seen, that’s not an uncommon American experience. But if the song is trying to present itself as “balanced,” like this one is, the black respondent should get to address the same loaded point, and should be staged on equal ground. Because then we’d get to hear, “No, that’s not ok to me. I’m at my job; I don’t want have to decide whether you’re a threat to my well-being or just a Skynyrd fan. I shouldn’t have to.”

    Instead, what we get is a rich white guy explaining why he’s wearing a symbol of oppression, simply “hoping” the working-class black guy in the story will divine the rich white guy’s good intent, and then a completely different black guy (whatever character LL is playing, unless we’re supposed to assume LL Cool J is the Starbucks barista – in which case, LOL) jumping in and rapping, mostly inanely, about a completely different kind of prejudice. Nothing about the experiences they’re explaining, or even their basic setup in the song, is equal. This song was founded on the idea that the “prejudice” a modern white guy experiences from associating with an oppressive symbol is somehow comparable to the prejudice a modern black guy experiences from an entire society still stacked, often, against his favor. And it’s simply not.

  43. IgnatiusNo Gravatar

    Here’s what I think the core question of this discussion is. Is assuming you know someone’s thoughts or values based on outward signs judgmental/racist? It’s a trickier question than it seems at first, because sometimes outward appearances are very indicative of a person’s values. For example,when you see someone wearing a yankees cap, you might assume (usually correctly) that they like new york and hate the red sox. But there’s no way to know for sure unless you get to know them.

    Obviously the confederate flag has way more serious connotations than a baseball cap, but it’s the same principle at work. I have friends who are fiercely proud of their southern heritage and maintain that the southern states were just defending their homes from northern aggression. They were confederate flags proudly, but would be their first to tell you how evil slavery is. I may disagree with them when it comes to the reasons for the civil war, but I sure don’t think they are racists!

    I confess that when I see a black dude with saggy pants, chains, and a do-rag, my first reaction is that he’s probably “up to no good”. I have to consciously fight those reactions, because I know I can’t judge him based on how he looks. I’m not going to tell him he’s being insensitive because i’m offended, and I’m not going to tell my proud southern friends they’re insensitive, because frankly, they’re some of the sweetest, most caring people I know. I’m not saying a do-rag=a confederate flag, I’m just saying that someone who wears either is likely to be judged based on appearances.

    At the risk of sounding insensitive, I think ALL of us, on both sides, need to just get over it. We all play by the same rules. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, whether the cover is a yankees cap, saggy pants and chains, or a confederate flag.

  44. Richard, this goes back to his epic fail as a songwriter with this. It does not work.

    I am sure that Paisley was trying to be clever and smart and definitely wanted us to see this song as an important statement. Just because he’s being called out for it, doesn’t mean that we should then say it’s not a big deal or that it’s being overanalyzed. It’s a meant-to-be-a-big-deal song. I doubt that he put this on his album thinking, “oh, it’s just another song, doesn’t mean much, it’s not important or significant.”

    He made many missteps as writer on this. First, he chose the wrong images. And if you are going to choose such imagery, you had better be a super gifted songwriter to pull it off. As I said in my last post, he doesn’t have the poetic chops for this. Most people don’t. What he was attempting is not easy. In other words, if Paisley was trying to bring people together and to not offend, he’s failed miserably. Perhaps he had good intentions, but still it’s a failure of a song because it doesn’t do the things that Paisley’s defenders say that he was attempting to do. In the end, he did not succeed in doing what he meant to do with this song.

  45. RichardNo Gravatar

    Martin, You act like it has all kind of witty, clever and symbolic lines. The lyrics aren’t that hard or vague to understand. He was actually pretty straight forward. The people that seem to have a problem with it are the ones that are reading into it and finding whats not written. It seems pretty clear to me that he’s saying let history be the past and move forward. Lets stop judging people by the way they look and dress based on historical prejudices and stereotypes. I don’t see where you need to come away with more than that. If you do then you’re reading into things that aren’t there and you’re the problem, not the song.

  46. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    Because this song was founded on the idea that the “prejudice” a modern white guy experiences from associating with an oppressive symbol is somehow comparable to the prejudice a modern black guy experiences from an entire society still stacked, often, against his favor. And it’s simply not.

    Exactly. It’s a strange and careless playing field that Paisley has created. I don’t think he’s trying to take a political stance, as someone noted above, or defend the Confederate flag. I just think he, with good intentions, sloppily and irresponsibly pulled the trigger on an emotionally charged discussion that is much, much deeper than he initially understood. And that an entire team of people let this through the pipeline without any real scrutiny is quite disappointing.

  47. RichardNo Gravatar

    @Dan

    Why should a black person who was never a slave, never lived during the civil war and never actually experienced those dreadful times take offense to something just because of what it used to represent? What you’re actually doing is saying it’s o.k. for the black person to be racist and to assume the worst of somebody just because their shirt has a rebel flag. What if there was a person out there that was beat up by a gang of blacks wearing the do-rag, droopy pants and gold chains. Is he then justified in assuming all blacks that wear those types of clothes are thugs and threaten his life? Should the blacks then stop wearing those outfits so that people like that aren’t afraid of them? This is exactly the point Paisley is obviously making, that we can’t judge others based on skin, clothing or past mistakes. People can only be judged on their own character as an individual.

  48. Jonny AndersonNo Gravatar

    “The lyrics aren’t that hard or vague to understand. He was actually pretty straight forward. The people that seem to have a problem with it are the ones that are reading into it and finding whats not written. It seems pretty clear to me that he’s saying let history be the past and move forward. Lets stop judging people by the way they look and dress based on historical prejudices and stereotypes. I don’t see where you need to come away with more than that. If you do then you’re reading into things that aren’t there and you’re the problem, not the song.”

    The message is absolutely clear, nobody is doubting that Paisley is trying to portray a message of tolerance and understanding. However, when a song deals with such an important topic, a topic that is so sensitive to imagery, discourse and tone, you need to read into it and you need to search for any implicit messages that may be present in the song.

    For example, whilst I don’t believe for a second that Paisley intentionally created a false dichotomy of “White/Rural/Southern” vs “Black/Urban/Northern”, the fact of the matter is that he did. Whether or not he intended to, he’s written a song that reinforces certain stereotypes about what it means to be black or white in modern America. Equally, whilst I don’t believe that Paisley intended to create an insensitive hierarchy with the Starbucks situation, he did, and this hierarchy gives out an implicit message that reinforces a system of social norms that serve to benefit white Americans.

    It’s not enough to just say that “Paisley didn’t intend for these messages to be present, so why worry about them?”, because the fact of the matter is that they are present, and these messages run completely counter to the intended meaning of the song.

    Fair play to Paisley for trying to tackle a very heavy topic, and I have no doubt that he wrote this song with the best of intentions. Sometimes, however, the best of intentions just aren’t enough.

  49. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    Richard, it is not racist to take offense.

  50. RichardNo Gravatar

    @ Jonny
    Paisley probably did use those intentionally because he was using real world stereotypes to get his point across. The fact is that the white people that are viewed as most racist are rural southerners that proudly wear the rebel flag. So he used that to show that just because one wears a rebel flag doesn’t necessarily mean he is racist. He then used the most stereotypical negative view of blacks by white people and then used that to show why the perception is wrong. To say that he is reinforcing these stereotypes as what it means to be white or black in modern America is exactly the type of idiotic conclusion one can come to when they let their mind wander off. Since it’s clear that his point of the song is to condemn the stereotypical racist views. The Starbucks thing, you have a point, but it’s still reading into something that isn’t there.

  51. I think it’s important to note that a person who harbors a prejudiced attitude toward African Americans judges a person based on not something that they can choose or control, but on who they are. Displaying an offensive symbol, on the other hand, is a choice. Pre-judging someone based on their race, and taking offense at a red flag on someone’s shirt are two very different things. The former is racist; the latter is not.

  52. RichardNo Gravatar

    @ Ben
    In the song, it’s not that the person takes offense to the flag that is the problem but its because he assumes the person is racist just because he wears the flag. The point is that the person is assuming the worst of someone based on a historical stereotype and not on who he actually is. Many people that wear the flag currently probably just like the flag for the way it looks. We are not living in the era when slavery was around or the civil war took place or when these people that take offense to the flag had any kind of adverse experience with it. That makes it kind of an irrational fear or offense to something that you actually had no bad experience from just because of what it’s historical context was.

  53. Richard, Once again, I am pretty sure that Paisley thought he was creating a very serious song about race relations. I think he thinks it’s a serious song. I think he meant for it be taken seriously. I’m guessing that he thought this was a thought-provoking song.

    I don’t think it’s witty or clever. I think that Paisley thinks it witty and clever. That’s part of the problem. I think it’s a simple, cliched, pedestrian, terrible, mess of a song.

    Also, it’s not up for me to decide what’s racist. I’ll let people of color decide that. I

    I know that many of us have different points of view on this. But I think that most of us can agree that this is fascinating pop cultural mess.

  54. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    That makes it kind of an irrational fear or offense to something that you actually had no bad experience from just because of what it’s historical context was.

    I’m sure someone else can back this up much more intelligently or emotionally than I can, but I think your statement above is a gross, dangerous understatement. We are in no way a society rid of the effects of said historical context.

  55. I can practically hear some white people right now, eyes rolled and huffing “Oh, slavery; get over it already!” It’s a hallmark of conservative thinking to parade “tradition” when convenient but to denounce the last thirty minutes as irrelevant, ancient history if they’re inconvenient now.

    “My Confederate flag symbolizes my love of the South. Yay, tradition!” “What, historical meaning of the flag? Oh, that was so long ago who even cares?”

    As for “projecting” or “reading into things that aren’t there”, I can walk you through any number of Bruce Springsteen songs I’m certain are really about oral sex and maybe you’d be right to call me out on “projecting” there, but I have a hard time understanding how anyone can offer this a reading so willfully superficial that it doesn’t even own up to the most painfully obvious, built-in connotations of the lyrics themselves.

    We’re not extrapolating that “Accidental Racist” is a metaphorical analysis of the writings of Thomas Aquinus. We’re calling it out for presenting a character wearing the stars and bars and then not only having the gall to say “Don’t get your panties in a wad, I just like the South”, he has an African-American man negotiate acceptance with him, trading away the legacy of bondage for being allowed to flash some bling without being judged for it? How does anyone fail to see the problems with this?

  56. bulbulNo Gravatar

    Devin,

    The Civil War was not a good against evil scenario.
    Nobody says it was.

    Confederate soldiers did not kill their brothers and countrymen in the name of attacking America and glorifying slavery.
    Whatever you tell yourself their reason for fighting was, whatever they told themselves it was (states rights, our way of life, freedom), the simple truth is that the soldiers of the Confederacy rose up in arms against the United States and killed her soldiers. I’m sure Third Reich Wehrmacht and SS soldiers, al-Qaida fighters and Taliban fighters all have/had good reason to kill Americans (Reich, Führer, Volk, Allah, Islam), but it doesn’t matter – they still are/were mortal enemies to the United States.

    If you don’t think there was just as much racism above the Mason Dixon line as there was below it, you’re seriously fooling yourself.
    Below Mason-Dixon, black people were slaves. Above Mason-Dixon, black people were free. Yes, totally the same thing.

    But treating it wish such hate and disdain and misrepresenting a group of people as intentional (or accidental) racists doesn’t sit well with me.
    Please don’t get me wrong – I do not consider you a racist unless/until through words or actions you prove me otherwise. But that does not change one simple fact: the Confederate Flag is a symbol of a country that was an enemy of the United States and whose major reason for existing was the preservation of slavery.* As such, it is a despicable symbol on par with the Nazi swastika and no patriotic American would ever deem it worthy of anything but contempt.
    If, as you say, you’ve seen the Confederate Flag all over the place my entire life, well… You do the math.

    *Which is why it’s a racist symbol, and not because it’s from the South.

  57. I’m sure someone else can back this up much more intelligently or emotionally than I can, but I think your statement above is a gross, dangerous understatement. We are in no way a society rid of the effects of said historical context.

    There is a theory that history is “alive” as long as someone is alive who knew someone who was alive at the time that it happened. Alfred Blackburn, the last known surviving slave in North Carolina, died in 1951.

    Even if Blackburn was the absolute last person to remember slavery, that will still be “alive” until the last person who was alive in 1951 dies. Hell, my family still has stories and habits from the Great Depression that have been handed down. We try to strike a balance at mealtime between enjoying a bountiful day and not “overdoing” it and I’m certain it’s because of handed down memories of rationing. We’re mistrustful of investment banking, too, though that one I think we could have come into all on our own. ;)

    It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to guess what’s been handed down in families that endured slavery. Those things are with us today and will be for the foreseeable future. They didn’t expire with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

  58. Richard,
    I think it’s dangerous to discount history as something we shouldn’t try to relate to or should just get over. If we do that, we can easily find ourselves in a cycle of going back to some of those dark places/situations.

  59. bulbulNo Gravatar

    Richard,

    That makes it kind of an irrational fear or offense to something that you actually had no bad experience from just because of what it’s historical context was.
    Assuming your thinking makes sense (which it doesn’t, but more on that later), tell me, what was that historical context and how and when was it removed from the flag?

    Travis,
    There is a theory that history is “alive” as long as someone is alive who knew someone who was alive at the time that it happened.
    And that theory is wrong. History is alive as long as it is remembered and there are myriad ways in which it is remembered, from people and language through that web of things we call culture all the way to stuff like property ownership and settlements. To give you one example: in Europe, the confessional wars of 17th century have been over for more than 300 years now, yet their effect is felt everywhere you go, even in the US. To speak of history as something that is dead is to know nothing of the present.

  60. RichardNo Gravatar

    @ Leann
    A reason racism continues is because we hold to the past and continue to feel slighted by misdeeds done in the past. The only way to get past something is to move on and get over it. Forgiveness is an important aspect of living. Nothing wrong with remembering, especially why soemthing was wrong. When you can’t forgive and forget though, you’re basically allowing the negative feelings to remain. This allows hatred and resentment to thrive.

    @ Martin,
    I don’t think Paisley thinks the song is witty and clever or he was trying to be groundbreaking. I think he just wanted to get the message across that people shouldn’t judge one another by outside appearences. The critics have made the song about more than it really is and have turned it into something bigger than it is.

    We’re not extrapolating that “Accidental Racist” is a metaphorical analysis of the writings of Thomas Aquinus. We’re calling it out for presenting a character wearing the stars and bars and then not only having the gall to say “Don’t get your panties in a wad, I just like the South”, he has an African-American man negotiate acceptance with him, trading away the legacy of bondage for being allowed to flash some bling without being judged for it? How does anyone fail to see the problems with this?

    The problem with what you say here is that it’s not the point of the song nor did you get what the white guy was saying. The white guy said that he didn’t mean anything by wearing the shirt, he liked the band and was proud of where he came from so he wore it. Apparently you missed these lines

    I’ll try to put myself in your shoes
    And that’s a good place to begin
    It ain’t like I can walk a mile
    In someone else’s skin

    where he is contrite in wearing a shirt that offended the black guy.

    The problem is, you people want to find contrast where an artist wasn’t trying to portray contrast. It’s not about who suffers more from racism or who has it worse. It’s just about how people can come to wrong conclusions if they base them on superficial and stereotypical assumptions.

  61. RichardNo Gravatar

    @Bulbul

    The historical context was the civil war and that the South was fighting to keep slavery around. So people see the flag as a symbol of racism and hatred for blacks since it was used by the army that wanted to keep slavery in place. Ultimately, it is just a flag that represented the Confederate Army that doesn’t say anything for itself. Did the confederate army create the flag to represent their hatred for blacks. Did the flag actually represent slavery. No it did not. It just represented the side that was in favor of slavery. My point is that it is understandable for people that fought against that flag or people that actually lived in the homes of those that fought against their freedom under that flag to be resentful of it or have a hatred for it. Since the people that carried it were against them and their freedom. Today, the flag is not worn or flown in support of racism or slavery. It is done so out of southern pride for the southern rural lifestyle that they see as very different than the northern urban lifestyle. Nobody alive today had to live through those years of slavery or had to fight against that army who was against their freedom and carried that flag while doing it. The majority have had no actual bad experiences with people that display the flag. It seems irriational and pointless to take offense to something that has had no effect on your life just because of what people portrayed it to represent over 100 years ago. Especially since the flag wasn’t actually created to represent being against slavery or against black people. It was created to represent the unity of the southern states against the northern states in a war that was not just about slavery. So the flag doesn’t necessarily promote hatred or slavery. It can very easily just be promoting southern unity or pride. If you can’t forgive and forget you’ll just continue to live in anger and resentment and only fuel anger inside ones that never meant anything by it.

  62. RichardNo Gravatar

    The song in explanation goes like this. To the black guy. If you see a white guy wearing a shirt with the rebel flag on it, don’t assume he is a racist. It’s possible that he just likes Lynyrd Skynyrd or he is proud of his heritage. It’s possible that he has no intentions of offending and if you’re offended it would be better to converse with the guy to let him understand why your offended. Once he understands why your offended maybe he’ll be sorry that he wore the shirt. Then to the white guy he says. If you see a black guy wearing a do-rag, baggy pants and gold chains don’t assume that he is a thug, converse with him and try to understand why he wears what he wears. Get to know the man before you judge who he is. He used these stereotypical references because they are the most common examples of wrongly pro-filing each other. They aren’t set up as contrast or competition as some of you want to read into the story.

  63. IgnatiusNo Gravatar

    A symbol always has meaning (that’s what makes it a symbol), but it can mean very different things to different people. Some people (usually not southerners) see the confederate flag as a symbol of a past southern culture, one that was steeped in slavery. Others see it as a symbol of the modern southern culture, which is just fine as american regions go (not my cup of tea, but hey, some people don’t like california. I don’t always understand it, but I try). The point of the song is that we all ought to open our minds a little to the other point of view, and try to see symbols the person wearing the symbol sees it.

  64. IgnatiusNo Gravatar

    On a different note, is this the most comments ever on a post here at CU? It’s the most I can ever remember. Clearly the song was successful in one thing: to get people talking about meaningful issues.

  65. ReggieNo Gravatar

    What’s interesting is that the song is no. 10 on the itunes country chart. So what was originally some pretentious album filler has now turned into some serious cash and publicity for Paisley. Nothing sells better than controversy.

  66. BrianNo Gravatar

    Richard and Ignatius: You guys are making great arguments in here but essentially we have boiled down to two sides talking past each other.

    Richard- I don’t disagree with you overall but I do to a point on the end of history thing with race relations. As a teacher I am now starting to get students in class that are from post civil rights movement households. So when we read African American literature- it doesn’t carry the same weight for them. Even in the urban school districts where I teach. To them, it is just a story and not the culmination of 150+ years of a struggle. That however does not mean we should forget what has happened, just that it has a different cultural connotation to this generation.

    Ignatius: I like what you are saying about symbols and it is what I was saying to Travis and he ignored. To the narrator of the song he was wearing a shirt that symbolized a band he liked. He may have been naive to the meaning of the flag or he may not have just connected two and two when he got dressed that morning. The point is- wearing a Confederate flag does not automatically make you a racist. Just like in the real world. Someone wearing that shirt isn’t a racist necessarily. But when others look at that shirt and apply some meaning they think the person is. What the person assigning meaning doesn’t realize is they are applying their own moral code to someone else which is a silly slope to get onto.

    On another note about the song: Paisley wrote his part and LL wrote his. It’s interesting because I think the LL part is where the song falters, not the Paisley part. And the more head scratching lines come from LL’s part. I think some people need to reread the lyrics again and see how Paisley’s character in the story is contrite from the start and is feeling guilty the minute he is seen in the shirt as he delves directly into apologizing mode for something he thinks the other person thinks.

  67. As the lone country fan amongst my friends (both Facebook, and, you know, actual) it’s been interesting to hear their reactions to this. As a country fan myself I’m happy to hear something beyond “This is my tractor, truck, Bible and big-breasted broad, and you’re anti-American if you don’t wanna ride shotgun with me.” But as non-country fans, a lot of them just see this as another mark AGAINST country. I’m usually one to jump right in to political debates (although I do my best to resist them online, especially off of Facebook). So I haven’t read through this ENTIRE thread, but I must say that I don’t think an apology counts as such when it’s qualified with an oxymoronic term like “Accidental Racist.” The reason equating the do-rag with the red flag is wrong is because the red flag factually symbolizes a fight for the retaining of discrimination. Brian, if I may address your latest post, I must say that when one calls out the red flag for being what it is, he’s not “applying his own moral code” and as such, he’s not “sliding down a silly slippery slope” or anything. He’s calling it out for being what it is. That’s just a fact. If you weren’t aware of the significance of a swastika, but one of your favorite bands included it in their logo and you wore their shirt and someone called you out on it, would you say, “Well, YOU think it means pro-nazi, but it actually is just this band’s logo?” It’s both, and since the former clearly outweighs the latter in terms of societal importance I’d say the response isn’t, “Oops, didn’t mean to accidentally be antisemitic, but hey, you’re wearing you’re do-rag, so…?” The response is “Well, I’m not antisemitic, but this shirt clearly promotes antisemitism, so if I don’t want to be seen as such, I won’t wear it.” The biggest fault, really, is the producer (the band) of the logo itself, who made the stupid thing in the first place. The “compromise” in this song, the false equivalencies it appears to be peppered with, are what bother me the most. It’s a cop-out, and it’s disappointing to me, because I believe Paisley to be smarter than that. Just my two-cents.

  68. CountryKnightNo Gravatar

    I was born and raised in central PA and still reside here. That being said and put out of the way, I don’t see how that having a Confederate automatically mean hatred and racism is included.

    Heck, I bet most people (at least above the Mason-Dixon Line and some below it who fly it or bummer sticker it understand the complexity behind it). They just see it as “cool” to rebel against anything. Now I am a hardcore conservative and deeply distrust the government but flying a “rebel” flag isn’t proving anything.

    Also being a huge Civil War buff, the Confederacy was divided into two groups. The planters who ran the government and needed slavery to survive to keep the plantations profitable and the average farmer/citizen who were fighting because they didn’t like Yankees telling them what to do and they couldn’t afford slaves. That is why the articles of succession mention slavery the most. The planters wrote them up. The common soldiers on most sided were the grunts and pawns used by the high-ups.

    And racism existed above the Mason-Dixon Line just as much as down South. Don’t think the North was some bastion of liberty that went along with the South like a girlfriend that goes with a “bad boy” in the hope of someday correcting him. Indiana was one of the biggest areas for the Klan in the 1920’s. The New York City Draft Riots (1863) were directed against blacks. The main reason slavery died out in the North was that the economic fact that slavery wasn’t profitable. Ironically, slavery was nearing death (which is way the delegates to the Constitutional Convention compromised on slavery, they figured slavery on the last knees) they were right until Eli Whitney (A yankee) invented the cotton gin.

    The point is that the seeds of the Civil War were planted from the start. The Confederacy claimed states rights. Which are a fundamental basis for America, during the war the South at times ignored its own philosphy when convinent. Lincoln, (everyone savior) at point thought about shipping African-Americans back to Africa, he also broke the Constitution to keep the country together which in itself is a paradox. Why break the foundation of a country to keep it reunited?

    The Civil War is black and white (no pun intended) It is Confederate gray (and some Union forces wore gray as some Southerners were blue).

    At the end of the day, racism is still used by both sides for their agendas. From ignorant hicks to affirmative action to the Klan and the Black Panthers. Reconstruction didn’t reconstruct anything at worse it divided the nation even more and we are still dealing with the wound today.

    If the Confederate flag is forever tarnished than so should the USA flag. The Stars and Stripes flew over slavery much longer than the Stars and Bars.

    We shouldn’t judges our ancestors too harshly, our descendants will judge us for our mistakes and we certainly like to think we did what (we thought was right).