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Inquiring Minds Want To Know: “Accidental Racist”

When country artist (and Obama supporter) Brad Paisley dropped his controversial new song, “Accidental Racist,” Trop editor-in-chief Tom Dibblee had a great idea: poll my college students for their responses.

I teach composition and literature at a public liberal arts university in Milledgeville, Georgia. The population of Milledgeville is about fifty percent black, but black men make up only 0.98 percent of our undergraduate population. Most of the students come from metro Atlanta. They’re by and large affluent, white, and very sweet, and almost none of them have a Southern accent. This means that with typically only one or two black students in a class of twenty-five, it’s difficult to get an honest and genial discussion of race relations anywhere beyond a few pat bromides.

So last week I sent a mass email to over eighty students, asking if they’d like to anonymously share their thoughts on the song. It drew five replies, which pretty well reflects the typical level of engagement here. Below are the responses in their entirety. Four are from white students; one is from a black student.

Respondent #1: i havent heard it. ill go listen to it

Respondent #2: I didn’t find it offensive. There’s some truth in it. Its not right to hate all southerners because of what past generations have done. Brad paisley admits that the south made mistakes in the song.

Respondent #3: Well, it’s country, so it’s automatically pretty uncreative. Besides that, people should really lighten up because its not that big of a deal. Sure, his song paints a picture of a stereotypical black male in the ghetto with the gold chains, sagging pants, and the do-rag, but the only reason brad paisley is under so much criticism is because he is a southern white male. Black artists, such as Tyler the Creator who is pretty cool, say much worse things about white people. Though, they get away with it because they are black. For example, black people can throw around the word “nigger” like its fucking candy, but the second a white person who hasn’t gotten permission from a black person to say it says it, they are deemed the anti-Christ. I have to give brad credit for being bold though, because i think his heart was in the right place and it was a pretty risky move. But regardless of what the lyrics are, it’s country so it is pure nonsense.

Respondent #4: I think it’s absolutely one of the most willfully ignorant pieces of crap I’ve seen in a good minute. I read that the basically Paisley wrote the song after a black cashier at Starbucks was offended about Paisley’s Confederate Flag T-Shirt. The entire song is basically Paisley working very, VERY hard to deny his privilege as a white man. He doesn’t even say the word ‘slavery’ once in the song.

He mentioned Reconstruction, but he can’t talk about the centuries of erasure, rape, murder, and all around fuckery done to slaves to bring about that 12 years of positivity?

He takes no accountability, and calls on Black people to give White folks a pass so they can fly that stupid flag high and wear it without catching flack, but he takes no accountability for acknowledging the history behind the flag and what it REALLY represents. A flag is supposed to be a symbol of a cause. The cause of the creation of the Confederate Flag is….OPPRESSION AND SLAVERY. IT’s literally the first thing you think of when you see it, it’s what was taught to you in History class, and it’s garners the same reaction from Black people (At least the ones I know) every time they see it : shock, disgust, and anger. I hate seeing that shit on campus, or around in general. But whatever.

I’m disappointed in LL Cool J and his ignorant ass, and I feel that’s all that needs to be said on him. The song might have meant to be a new Civil Rights Anthem, but it’s in the style that’s typical of everything else today: “Let’s just forget the history guys, cause if we just stop talking about it, everything will go away and change, even though we’ve collectively been ‘not talking about it’ for centuries, and we’re still doing the same bullshit we’ve been doing. Please forgive White people, racism doesn’t exist lololol, Black people are stupid and fuck illegal immigrants, God Bless America!” IT ended up just being racist as shit. Brad Paisley basically picked a black rapper to get on the track and Uncle Tom and vouch for his dumbass. If I’m not mistaken (and I’m not), hiding behind your “Black Friend” is racist as shit.

Its the assumption that LL Cool J is pretty much the voice of all Black people and can arbitrarily be picked out of a sea of Black faces Is racist, and that’s what they should be fighting against. LL Cool J is not Tupac holding a microphone. Tupac is not Dr. Dre, or Kendrick Lamar, or Juicy J holding a microphone. White people make a big deal about “generalizations” and “one racist white guy doesn’t speak for all us!!”, but they’ll routinely shuffle around a bunch of Black people and choose one to speak for the whole…because we all obviously have the same opinion. It’s not like we as Black are…people with a sense of individuality, differences amongst each other. It’s not like we have deferring opinions and moral codes.

It’s not like we were born to different parents and different families and were raised and experience life differently. We’re all- according to Brad Paisley (and most white people)- a bunch of shucking and jiving pickaninnies with a microphone. It’s no different than asking the one black kid in class to explain “race” to white kids (this happened in Dr. Whitakers class SEVERAL times last semester. I hated that shit.)

Paisley wants to celebrate Southern Pride? There’s a shit ton of shit (sorry for the redundancy there) he can do. Southern Pride is more than the damn Confederate flag…just like black people are more than gold chains and do rags. He could celebrate Martin Luther King’s Birthday, or write a song about Faulkner and his contributions, as a Southern man, to American Literature as a whole. He could insist that Money, Mississippi write Emmet Till’s Family a long, heartfel apology letter and name a street or a school or some shit after him. He could insist we designate a day in Tennesee to recognize Ida B. Wells.

Maybe instead of bein a stereotypical jack ass hillbilly, he could celebrate some REAL Southern accomplishments.

In conclusion, it’s racist and ignorant as shit, and I hate the song.

Also, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, LL Cool J, and Brad Paisley can all kiss my ass.

Respondent #5: (This song was hard to find in full btw)I really am not bothered by this song or excited by this song. I understand that there is racism in areas but I don’t care about those areas because I refuse to give them my attention. I see myself as passed this racism (along with most of the rest of this country) and that extreme racism is immature. However, it is human nature to slightly judge someone but since we can’t always get to know people, we simply judge them by appearance. Therefore there will always be a small form of racism or predjudice, but extreme racism can be avoided by someones free will. It is sad that humans slightly judge each other but it is reality. This being said, I do hope the extreme racism dissipates soon and just becomes another past embarrassment to look back on and make fun of. To be totally honest about the song I feel that the only thing it could possibly do for racism is spark conversation for those who care enough to ask about it, but nothing more.

As for my own take, the real danger here is the danger found in clichés everywhere: it’s the range of critical thought (minimal) combined with the range of catchiness (maximal). A hooky pop song can’t possibly account for the depth and complexity and self-reflexive hall-of-mirrors chaos that is race relations in America. So the question then becomes about the license this hook gives its listeners: “Caught between Southern pride and Southern blame.” Are these the right words? If not, then what are? And, would they rhyme? Now we’re getting somewhere.

Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.