Thursday, April 11, 2013

If racism is an accident, what do we do with LL Cool J

What are we going to do with James Todd Smith? Most know him as LL Cool J.  Oh, that means “Ladies Love Cool James”.  Black women are having issues with Cool James right now.  We’ll see what happens when he takes his shirt off.

Cool J, also known as Uncle L, is sitting on the hot seat for his recent collaboration with Brad Paisley.  The song “Accidental Racist” has many asking why the 45 year-old mega-star decided to lend his skills to the song.  

"Music is about ... connecting different people, and building bridges and breaking the rules. If it's not compelling, and it's not complex and it's not interesting, then what are we doing it for? So I think that's the right move,” He said on Good Morning American.

“I needed to do something that was going to be interesting like that, and shake things up, and jump out of the box. I'm really proud of it, and I hope the world hears it and enjoys it."

And shake things up he did.  Paisley and Cool J expected the song to facilitate a deeper conversation involving the state of race relations in America.  The lyrics have us looking back in a way that makes it difficult to look forward.  The bottom line is a tough pill to swallow.  It’s hard as it is to take the medicine, the debate on the song may require a collective chill moment. 

Yes, chill and take the pill.

Why would I say that?  Certainly it’s legitimate to raise questions about a song that seemingly justifies the racist ways of those living in the South. Certainly there is reason to attack Cool J for pulling lyrics from a bag of black stereotypes.  Certainly, yes, over and over again, both of them should be taken to the wood shed and spanked for lacking the sensitivity to see how their raunchy lyrics would stir a huge pot of discontent.

Yes, they deserve a beating.

But, if we pause long enough we will uncover the true culprit behind the hysteria.  It’s not just the lyrics. It’s much deeper than that.  The reaction to “Accidental Racist” reminds us that we’re still not ready to talk about race.  It’s too painful.  It’s too close.  We haven’t healed yet, and any mention of the life and culture that fed the racist ideology of the South will be met with extreme disdain.

Cool J’s point is a good one.  He simply tried to stir things up. He wanted people to talk about a topic that we wish would go away.  Yes, it’s an atrocious past filled with too many memories to count. The song forces us to accept that it’s not going anywhere until we talk about how we feel about that past.

So, I commend Paisley and Ladies Love Cool James for trying.  It wasn’t a perfect attempt, but at least they tried.  Yes, I deplore the lyrics for washing over the continued implications of that racist past. I get it, but sooner or later we have to share our views on how all of this makes us feel.

So, back to the point, what do we do with James Todd Smith?

For those jumping on the wagon to take Cool J’s black card, hesitate before you take it away.  He’s been accused of being a Republican and invalidated for that reason.  For those who aren’t black, being accused of being a Republican is, in many black circles, equivalent to saying all black women are ugly.  That mess will get you thrown under a bus after they take your black credentials.

The point is Cool J isn’t a Republican.  He did support George Pataki’s bid for a third term as Governor of New York in 2002.  He also supported New York State Senator Malcolm Smith, a Democrat, and is a staunch supporter of President Barack Obama.  Cool J claims to be an Independent. That’s a far cry from being a conservative Republican.

Why does it matter? Glad you asked.  It’s important because the ploy, within the black community, is to discredit Cool J as one with a white agenda.  Take away his black card.  Prove that he is a traitor and lacks real sensitivity for those below his pay level.  Do it based on the evidence – the song proves it, and his Republican leanings seal the deal.

It’s all a bogus effort to limit the form of creative expression that seeks to stir things up.  That’s what all artists should seek to do.  All who write, sing, dance, act and perform poetry are given space within a limited window to make a point.  It’s often an incomplete point.  It often requires a second chapter.  Most of the time it needs three of four before the conclusion.

It’s a tough pill folks.  One that most can’t take.  You can’t handle the truth!

The truth is we can’t talk about race.  We talk at one another.  We make assumptions related to intent, while minimizing the power of creativity.  Sometimes art is used to poke fun.  Sometimes to heads way over the top.  Most of the time it ends with a variety of missing pieces.

That’s art folks.  Oh, by the way, each of us can play a part.  I suggest jump in the middle and play.

Attack the art.  When you get done, make your own.

That’s the beauty of discovery.

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