Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Brad Paisley's "Accidental Racist" raises question: Is it possible for racism to be an accident?

It was one of those oh heck moments that transformed my life.  Simply put, you can’t make assumptions based on the appearance of things.

I was standing outside the bank waiting for the person in front of me to finish at the ATM.  A pickup truck pulls up.  It was the type that gets my blood churning.  There was a confederate flag license plate in the front and a gun rack behind the driver. A couple shot guns were hanging to seal the deal.

“Hillbilly Cracker!”

I shamefully whimpered as the driver pulled up wearing a cowboy hat and the rest of the Southern trash get-up I’d grown to loathe.  Then it hit me in the face.  My darn assumptions did exactly what Doris Kenney, that’s my mama, taught me they would.  Yes, they made an ass out of me.

The driver pulls up with the window rolled down.  The music was blasting like one of the black dudes driving in the hood.  I expected to hear some of that Hillbilly music followed by a spit of tobacco and the yelp of Hee Haw. In my mind, that’s what Hillbillies do.


He was listening to the artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg (He’s Snoop Lion now). The song, Jen and Juice. 

He bopped his head like he knew what he was doing.  The image set me back.  I had to laugh. Both at me and at a dude caught in the middle of conflicting cultures.  Then he took it to another level.

He jumps out of the truck, nods his head in my direction and greets me.

“What’s up brother?”

Okay, I wasn’t ready.  I stood in my puddle of indifference and took my whipping from the Big Lady. Oh, for those who don’t know me, I refer to God as a woman instead of the traditional patriarchal language that leaves people thinking God has a penis.  What’s the lesson for me? I stood in a place thinking I was open and affirming of all God’s children, yet was walking in heaps of hypocrisy.

My hatred for Confederate flags and Country Music was so deep that I placed anyone in love with both in the big box with “racist” on the side.

That’s why I’m digging Brad Paisley’s new song. Accidental Racist, featuring LL Cool J, is getting lots of attention for doing what no one has had the guts to do – state the obvious.  There’s so much drama connected with being Southern that those with good ole boy roots find it virtually impossible to pay homage to their past while not being handed a T-shirt with “Racist” on the front.  The only way to rid oneself of being called a bigot is to throw all that Southern pride in the trash.

As a black man who has endured some of that hillbilly racism, I can honestly say that most of the time, well almost most of the time, there is a correlation between the hanging of the Confederate flag and an ideology that would like to see America go back to the days before the Civil War.  For further proof, see Hank Williams, Jr. signing If the South Had Won. 

The question Paisley raises is a good one.  Is it really possible for a person to grow up not knowing that hanging a Confederate flag anywhere – on a pole, on your chest, on a license plate or at the old State Capitol – is enough to get black folks enraged?  Who in their right mind wouldn’t know that?  It’s easy to conclude that it’s not an accident.  Folks like that don’t care enough to decide not to offend.  I consider that a form of racism.  You know, the stuff people do because they can, no matter who is hurt by those actions.  I call that the first step to blatant bigotry.  It’s not grown up yet, but it’s headed in that direction.

I felt that way when Soul Brother Hillbilly drove up in that pickup truck.  It was a Sesame Street moment.  One of these things doesn’t belong with the others.  It was even worse than that.  None of it made any sense.

Conclusion? Assuming will make an ass out of you and me.
Accidental Racist Lyrics

Brad Paisley, Featuring LL Cool J

 To the man who 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 is somehow 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 old can of worms

 Looking like I’ve got a lot to learn

 But from my point of view


I’m just a white man

 Coming to you from the Southland

 Trying 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 to rewrite history

 Our generation didn’t start this nation

 We’re still picking up the pieces

 Walking over eggshells

 Fighting over yesterday

 And caught between southern pride

 And southern blame


They called it Reconstruction

 Fixed the buildings, dried some tears

 We’re still sifting’ through the rubble

 After 150 years

 I’ll try to put myself in your shoes

 And that’s a good place to begin

 It ain’t like I can walk a mile

 In someone else’s skin


‘Cause I’m just a white man

 Living in the Southland

 Just like you, I’m more than what you see

 I’m proud of where I’m from

 And not everything we’ve done

 And it ain’t like you and me to rewrite history

 Our generation didn’t start this nation

 And we’re still paying for the mistakes

 Than a bunch of folks made

 Long before we came

 Caught somewhere between southern pride

 And southern blame


[LL Cool J]

 Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood

 What the world is really like when you’re living 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 dogging invisible white hoods

 So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good

 I guess we’re both guilty of judging 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)

 Coming to you from the southland

 (I won’t judge your red flag)

 Trying to understand what it’s like not to be

 I’m proud of where I’m from

 (If you forget my gold chains)

 But not everything we’ve done

 (I’ll forget the iron chains)

 It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history

 (Can’t rewrite history, baby)

 Oh, Dixieland

 (The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixing’)

 I hope you understand what this is all about

 (Quite frankly, I’m a black Yankee, but I’ve been thinking 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

1 comment:

  1. Since my company relocated me from RTP to Texas and I have had similiar experiences. Everywhere I go, I run into Cowboy boots and big trucks. My preconceptions about those people has greatly affected my integration into my new life here. I find myself less social than I was in Durham. Am I a bigot? I think not. However, my cultural upbringing has affected my ability to fully engage in my new surroundings. The theme of this song does open my eyes to my own bias towards other people.

    On the bigger point, I do think it is possible to be accidental racist. Not litereally, but in terms of perception. In this society where we like to define everything in terms of "black and white" it's easy to give the impression of being a "ist;" racist, sexist, etc. The definition is subject to individual interpretation. For example, younger people see issues regarding race much differently than our and older generations. We need to stop assuming that if you are pro-somthing that means you are anti-something else. Which is not necessarily the case.