Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Brad Paisley Tries to Heal Race Relations; Fails Spectacularly

Brad Paisley, LL Cool J, Accidental Racist
You make me miss that Nelly/Tim McGraw song.
"I get it now. I don't get it." - Stan Marsh, South Park, "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson"

by Ben Howard

I don't write a lot about race here. That's not because I don't think it's an important issue, I think its one of the most important issues facing not just Christianity but society as a whole. No, the reason I don't write about race is that I feel deeply unqualified to explore the subject. I've been trying to do better to educate myself and I'll often utilize the weekly “Best Of” column as a means to promote the voices that are helping me along that process.

So please keep in mind my ignorance and lack of qualification regarding issues of race as well as my general fallibility as a human, but something happened yesterday and I just can't let it go without talking about it.

Yesterday, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J released a, for lack of a better word, “song” called “Accidental Racist.” That's pretty much all the information you'll need to realize that this is not a very good idea, but I'll let you give it a listen if you dare.

If you couldn't stomach the whole video or if you just don't have time to listen to it right now, I'll break down the highlights. The song focuses on the tension between Paisley's southern pride, symbolized by the Confederate flag he's apparently sporting on his t-shirt, and the southern blame he feels for, ya know, owning people as property and denying them rights because of their skin color.

Confederate Flag, South, flag fo the south, southern pride
LL Cool J (Ladies do love Cool James) then joins in with an verse directed to, "Dear Mister White Man," in which he explains that he was neither part of Sherman's March nor is he opposed to white southerners making money, which he hopes they can do without the crutch of slavery to prop up their economy.

To be honest, the song is pretty much nonsense and I've already read far better take downs of the ridiculously clumsy lyrical content than I could ever produce. However, there are two points I want to highlight because I think they're vital to any healthy conversation about race, and for that matter, they're vital for any healthy conversation about almost any difficult topic.

First, Black Culture is not a monolith, neither, for that matter, is Southern White Culture. It is harmful and a great disservice to a healthy and useful conversation to imagine that there is a universally accepted norm for any group of people, especially when that norm is based on race. Brad Paisley should not and cannot speak for Southern White Culture just like LL Cool J should not and cannot position himself as the voice for Black Culture. Stereotypes are dangerous.

Second, everything is not okay. In one section near the end of the song, LL Cool J says, "The past is the past, you feel me/Let bygones be bygones." No. Too often people hear the term racism and they think about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's or they think about slavery. People hear "racism" and they think "history," but that simply isn't the case.

Perhaps there has been a decline in the kind of casual, socially acceptable blatant racism that we recall when we hear that word. I mean, we don't have separate drinking fountains or separate bathrooms, so we must have conquered racism, right? That's just ignorant.

racism, subtle racism, Barack Obama, child racist
So easy, a child can do it.
Not only are there still pockets of virulent racism, such as the school in Georgia who still has a segregated prom, but there are the more insidious institutionalized forms of racism. There's the oppressively high incarceration rates, longer jail sentences for black offenders than for white offenders when they commit similar crimes, the income inequality, the inequality in education, and let's not forget the tiny fact that our country elected a black president then constantly questioned his citizenship and his faith because he just couldn't be one of us.

The simple fact is that the past isn't past. It's still painfully present. I'm not sure what to do about that, but I know I need to do something. I know we all need to do something.

I'm sure that Brad Paisley and LL Cool J intended for their song as a call to unity and I'm sure their intentions are good. But good intentions don't matter if they don't change anything.

They get it, but they just don't get it.


Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.

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