Monday, April 15, 2013

Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley (feat LL Cool J) - Part 2: The Hope

Now let’s talk about what everyone is focusing on: the lyrics.

I don’t think a kid who buys a Lynard Skynrd t-shirt at Target has any idea about the cultural baggage that is attached with the Confederate flag on that shirt. I also don’t think most kids when they where baggy pants have any idea what message that sends people. It’s not just kids, most adults have issues understanding the messages they are putting across.

Should we know better? Yes, but do we? Not always.

Brad offended a guy with his t-shirt when he went to Starbucks. It wasn’t his intention. But he realizes that maybe there’s something wrong and instead of blowing off this “can of worms” he takes it as a opportunity to have a conversation.

The chorus is all about understanding and accepting who you are which is the first step in having any kind of meaningful dialogue about race. He is Caucasian, and he’s from the south. He has no personal responsibility for slavery, Jim Crow laws and the sins of people who came before him. This line of thinking sometimes leads to people not taking responsibility for the past but Paisley does, acknowledging that they are still “picking up the pieces” and that he is torn between “southern pride and southern blame.”

Atticus Finch had it right. You have a walk a mile in another person’s shoes but you can’t in practice. I will never know what it’s like to walk down the street as a woman and I will never know what it’s like for my son to be mixed-race. We can try but we’ll never know and Brad points this out in the second verse.

LL’s angle is different. He brings up some stereotypes and how he thinks that we shouldn’t judge too quickly because of the clothing someone's wears. Like the point Brad makes in the chorus, he says that he wasn’t there during Sherman's march but that he also takes responsibility for the pre-judgment that he makes.

Then LL says that he wants to buy him a beer to have a chat to clear the air. Some people have criticized this line for trivializing racial issues with such a simplistic solution. LL isn’t saying that all issues can be solved this way but some can. And reaching with a gesture of good will to someone who is projecting things that you are uncomfortable with like the confederate flag is an enormous and powerful way to make progress.

At the end Brad and LL throw lines back and forth at each other. They aren’t trying to equate chains of slavery with gold chain necklaces or do-rags with the confederate flag. They are explaining their perspective. Some of this isn’t pretty and some of it is a little unsettling but that’s okay. “RIP Robert E. Lee, but I gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me. . . ” can be interpreted as a loaded or simply an acknowledgement of differences which must be acknoledged in order for a dialogue to be meaningful.

What’s concerning is that these two artists Brad Paisley and LL Cool J did something that was brave and important and instead of being praised they got heat.

My son is coming into this world in about a month. He’s coming into a society where we aren’t comfortable talking about racial issues and we don’t feel able to address the tensions within ourselves. Brad and LL bucked the trend through trying to make a world where we can move forward without forgetting the past.  Through acknowledging the tensions and the the misunderstandings we can find common ground to reach a higher level of shared humanity.

Even though this song may be mediocre, the spirit of what Brad Paisley and LL Cool J expressed in "Accidental Racist," gives me hope for my son, myself and all of us.

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