Whooooooooops I'm a Racist!

[Content Note: Racism.]

So, country singer Brad Paisley, who is white, features a song on his new album called Accidental Racist, which features LL Cool J, who is a black rapper (and television star). Paisley says the song was conceived after "It really came to a boil last year with Lincoln and Django" (HA HA WHUT) which made it "really obvious to me that we still have issues as a nation with this." Brad Paisley didn't know there was still so much racism until two white men made movies about it! And by "racism," he means some percentage of Black people having contempt for White people wearing Confederate flags as if it's just a neutral symbol of "Southern pride."

(Dear Brad Paisley: True Fact #1: There are Black Southerners! True Fact #2: Not only Black people are contemptuous of attempts to rip the Confederate flag from its historical context, accompanied by expectations to treat it like a neutral symbol! Love, Liss.)

Paisley further explains:
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? And he kind of replies, and his summation is really that whole let's bygones be bygones and 'If you don't judge my do rag, I won't judge your red flag.' We don't solve anything, but it's two guys that believe in who they are and where they're from very honestly having a conversation and trying to reconcile.
Ha ha that is not what happens in the song! What happens in the song is that a White dude basically whines about being seen as racist for wearing a racist symbol and asks a Black dude to please interpret that symbol within the very specific parameters of what the White dude wants it to mean. And then they make a bargain in which the White dude won't be a racist if the Black dude agrees to the White dude's redefinition of a symbol of his oppression. Neat!

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 goddamn 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 bullshit is not one that is 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 goddamn accident. It is a choice.

Whooooooooops I'm a racist! Fuck you.

And even given that racism can be unintentional (which does not excuse nor mitigate it; that is merely a distinction from intentional racism—the harm is the same either way), that's not even what's being described in the song. What's being described in the song is a White man wearing a t-shirt with a Lynyrd Skynyrd logo, which features the Confederate flag, and expecting Black people to understand it only means what he wants it to mean. That is neither unintentional nor accidental. That is obliging marginalized people to center privileged people's rewriting of a history to salve their own discomfort with that history.

It isn't a fucking accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn't a fucking accident for a White man to say he's "got a lot to learn BUT." It isn't a fucking 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 fucking 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 fucking thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians' to this very day. It isn't a fucking 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 fucking 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 fucking 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 fuck outta Black people.

That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.

The song with lyrics is below the fold.

Brad Paisley's part is sung in a country style and is represented by unitalicized text. LL Cool J's part is rapped and is represented by italicized text.

To the man that 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 somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south
And I just walked him right in the room
Just a proud rebel son with an ol' can of worms
Lookin' like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view

I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland
Tryin' 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 re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation
We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We're still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years
I try to put myself in your shoes and that's a good place to begin
But it ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin

'Cause I'm a white man livin' in the southland
Just like you I'm more than what you see
I'm proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done
And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation
And we're still paying for mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came
And caught somewhere between southern pride and southern blame

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you're livin' 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 new fangled Django, dodgin' invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I'm thinkin' it's not all good
I guess we're both guilty of judgin' 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
Comin' to you from the southland
I won't judge your red flag
Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be

I'm proud of where I'm from
If you don't judge my gold chains
But not everything we've done
I'll forget the iron chains
It ain't like you and me can re-write history
Can't re-write 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 thinkin' 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?
It's real, it's real
It's truth

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