Do-Rags and Red Flags

Lincoln with American and Confederate flags

Accidental racist much?

Country musician Brad Paisley and rap star LL Cool J collaborated on a country/rap mashup about race and stereotypes. Paisley begins the beguine by explaining to a hypothetical Starbucks barista that the rebel flag on his t-shirt simply means he’s a Lynard Skynard fan. Later in the song he passes the baton to Cool J, who valiantly tries to paint the disgusting practice of sagging in a sympathetic light.

When two heavyweight musicians try to encapsulate the problem of racism in a 6-minute country song, things are bound to go awry. Popdust writer Nate Jones brilliantly unpacks the real issues with the song’s clever but vacuous lyrics. That the song fails to take into account the scope of present-day problems, I find incredible.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Paisley highlights a lyric in the song:

‘We’re still picking up the pieces, walking on eggshells, fighting over yesterday,’ and the other is, ‘Paying for the mistakes that a lot of folks made long before we came.’

He goes on to say:

“I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you?”

Let’s see… expecting art to lead the way in solving generations of race problems is offensive. The best art provokes. It challenges our perceptions and disputes our adopted realities. But above all, art is honest. Art’s honesty and raw emotion trounce the casual excuse of we can’t rewrite history. History has already been rewritten. That’s the problem. Now, it needs to be retold, not necessarily  through art, but with the honesty of an artist.

Accidental Racist is simply another rehashing of “we need to have a serious discussion about race”. The truth is we do talk about race, just not to people of other races. I’m sure Paisley and Cool J both have a lot to contribute to that discussion, but with its refusal to acknowledge the greater symbolism of rebel flags and sagging pants outside the rebel and hoodrat communities, this song only hints at what that conversation might include.

Part defense, part New York swagger, the song leaves us with the obvious conclusion that we should not judge a book by its cover. But without context developed through real dialog, all we have is the cover, interpreted through the unblinking lens of history.

The song’s video seems to have disappeared. Hear it for now at this website.