Accidental Racism

Have you heard this yet? One of my colleagues put me on to it. Brad Paisley featuring LL Cool J, “Accidental Racist.”

While there is so much that could be discussed about this, I thought I’d share with you my preliminary thoughts on just one portion of the song–a couple of lines of the chorus:

“I’m proud of where I’m from, but not everything we done.
And it ain’t like me and you can re-write history.

I love the way he’s able to shift the responsibility with shifting deictic markers: he goes from things “we” done, to “me” and “you” being the responsible one’s who need to fix “it.” The “problem” isn’t what we’ve done, referring to his white compatriots, but the fact that you and I (presumably one black person and himself) are not able to “re-write history.”

I know he’s talking about the fact that the past can’t be changed (metaphorically), and that we are living in the world created by the mistakes of those who came before us… but, the real issue isn’t changing the past. Anti-racist work isn’t about arguing that we can or should “change the past,” but that we can change the way that the past is represented. Movies like Birth of a Nation provided pop cultural legitimization for the “Southern Pride” which is intimately bound up with the history of the Klu Klux Klan, and in what the Confederate could have been had the South won the war.

The history books in Georgia, that I learned about the Civil War from, are awful and could and should absolutely be rewritten. To put it plainly, either you or I, could re-write history because history is the discourse that we have to reference the past. Paisley talks about not being proud of “everything we done,” but everything the South did during Reconstruction was designed to keep Black people just where they were at, in poverty, destitute, reliant on white wealth, and unable to make decent livings.

And furthermore, the Confederate flag is not an elephant in the “corner of the South.” We talk about it all the time where I’m from. When you see one, you point it out. And you best pay attention to where their swinging if you’re not white. Their presence, often proudly displayed, in the windows, on bumper stickers, and homes of families all throughout the South does not exist in a vacuum. Those flags have very particular racial history. Black people aren’t “making it up in our heads” or “judging a book by its cover,” when we consider that it may in fact index that we don’t belong, or aren’t wanted. So, while he might have only worn it to signify his “Southern Pride,” that “Southern Pride,” but not in “everything we done” I want to know which things exactly is he referring to that he’s not proud of? Lynch mobs? Slavery? Losing the Civil War? All those things have consequences and Black people are living them. Black people in the South got the really really bad end of the deal, and it is is not situated between “Southern Pride” and “Southern blame,” its situated in their everyday lives. “Southern pride” in what? “Southern blame” of who? The South is not the only place where Black people in this country experience racism. It’s systemic, existing throughout the entire American political, legal, social, and economic systems.

The point here is though he’s “trying,” he’s calling the song “Accidental Racist,” like he (or “our generation”) has no culpability in maintaining the STRUCTURES of racism in the South (or in this country), and that’s not true. If we weren’t helping to maintain it, it would have disappeared, like the bad hair of the 1980s. We let that go… And like too much hairspray helped the bad hair of the ’80s stay up, the Confederate flag and “Southern Pride” help to justify the structures of racism in the South. His lack of taking responsibility, his lack of being able to recognize his WHITE PRIVILEGE is what makes this “attempt” utterly ridiculous.

And lastly, just cause you have one black friend (LL Cool J) does not mean you’re not racist, and based on this song, Paisley should probably attend a few more anti-racism workshops, and LL probably should go with him because these lines he’s throwing out are terrible, and examples of the fact that just because you’re black does not mean you understand the intricacies of racism:

If you don’t judge my do-rag,
I won’t judge your red flag.

I only have one thing to say Uncle L, they are NOT the same thing. I repeat, a Confederate flag and a do-rag are NOT the same thing. And what about this gem,

If you don’t judge my gold chains,
I’ll forgive the iron chains

This is literarlly what Dave Chappelle was talking about in “Reparations Day.” If you give black people gold chains, we’ll forget about 350 years of disenfranchisement…

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