There are few things as awkward and painful to watch as a dialogue on race that falls flat on its face, in front of everyone. That’s exactly what the song “Accidental Racist” does, and it’s not only accidentally racist, it’s painfully contrived.
Even if Brad Paisley meant well, it still doesn’t excuse how completely dumb this song is–and I’m not cutting LL Cool J a break either.
First off, you don’t start a dialogue with making excuses for a flag that, like the swastika, fell on the losing side of history. I know a lot of people like to bring out the “it’s about heritage, not hatred” argument to justify why they fly the rebel flag or display it on their vehicle. If you’re proud of your southern culture and heritage, there are plenty of other ways to show it without coming across as a backasswards racist dolt. If I hadn’t known this was supposed to be a serious song, you could easily mistake it as a failed Saturday Night Live skit.
Secondly, with lyrics like these, this portrays you as somehow the victim of a misunderstanding you brought upon yourself by displaying that flag. That’s a classic passive-aggressive tactic and it shows.
I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the southland
Tryin’ 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 can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame
You can find the complete lyrics here and they aren’t any better than the part I selected for this article. The song tries to be both edgy and somewhat safe at the same time, and it just fails so horribly. There’s a good way to talk about race, a bad way to talk about race and then there’s “Accidental Racist” which can only be described as the cliched trainwreck. I think the only way they could have made this worse is if they had David Duke and Lil’ Wayne do this song together.
There are plenty of good songs about racial inequality and getting along. They tend to come from the punk rock/ska/reggae genres, not the country music scene. The Clash, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Specials and The Selecter are all bands I love that have confronted racism head on without denigrating and trivializing the discussion as this almost comedic monstrosity has.
Would I like to see more efforts from the country scene to do crossover songs and address racism? Absolutely, but the person who thought “Accidental Racist” was a good song should have been tarred, feathered and run out of Nashville on a rail.
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