The internet is abuzz about that Brad Paisley, LL Cool J song. You know the one. No? Well, trust me: it’s a mess. And I’m not linking to it, nor am I embedding it, but you can go look it up, if you want to. I had actually been trying to invoke the Sweet Brown Rule on it, and was doing well until a friend emailed a few of us about it, and another friend responded, and then I had thoughts, and…ugh. Here we are.
So, someone replied that the lyrics didn’t seem so bad, and that Paisley had “tried.” I think that’s what I really felt the need to reply to, because I think she’s right. I don’t know that I’d say that the lyrics aren’t that bad, but they could certainly be way worse, from a racial standpoint (I think they’re pretty terrible, from a lyrical standpoint). And I think Paisley is trying — I think he is probably sincere in saying (via his Twitter) that he hopes the album this song is on “raises questions,answers [sic].” He may even be sincere about wanting to start conversations about race and other important issues (as mentioned in interviews and, again, on Twitter). The thing is, I just don’t think that “Accidental Racist” is a very good attempt.
Listen: I’m not saying that Paisley (or his lyrical counterpart) *is* racist, but I am saying that that thing he wore (so, that thing he did) is. Now, I’ll admit that I have a pretty strong allergic reaction to that flag, but that’s because it’s got a lot of really heavy, really racist baggage. Allergic reaction notwithstanding, I’m perfectly willing to believe that not everyone who flies (or wears) it *intends* to be racist, especially given how good a job its proponents have done of deflecting attention from that racist baggage, and controlling the cultural dialogue around it. But is “I don’t mean to be racist, so let’s just move on and let bygones be bygones” really a compelling line of thought? It’s not, for me. At best, I think it’s mistaken and severely misguided — the fact that you didn’t intend an action to be racist doesn’t actually mean that it wasn’t, so why should I just be ok with it? At worst, rather than being an honest mistake, it’s willfully obtuse, and in a way that is, more often than not, intended to deflect criticism of behavior you already know is unacceptable. Sometimes, it’s just intended to avoid asking one’s self uncomfortable or challenging questions, but if you’re fighting the questions that hard, I suspect it’s because you already know that the answers will not reflect well on you, or on something you value.