There’s Nothing “Accidental” About Being a Racist

accidentalracistThere 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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  • Ishmael

    Not having grown up in the South prior to the civil rights movement I am sure most Americans have no idea meant to Southerners, particularly those who were just a generation or two removed from Reconstruction. And YES, I understand that the Stars and Bars were coopted by the Klan. But it DID NOT mean that every Southerner who revered the Rebel flag was a racist. Yes I understand the North won the Civil War, and as such get to rewrite history. I also understand that many, if not most blacks are offended by the flag of the Confederacy and for that reason I can go along with not displaying it publicly. Beyond that, however, GET OVER IT. There is entirely TOO MUCH POLITICAL CORRECTNESS in this country. If you get to the point where you get your feelings hurt because a son of the south mentions the respect for that flag that many of us who were raised here have, then you have just gone entirely too far. I would not intentionally hurt your individual feelings or the feelings of any race, but if you constantly wear your feelings on your sleeve — at some point you’re gonna have to learn not to cry when they get hurt. Hear this — The Stars and Bars are NOT the property of the KKK. The Stars and Bars are NOT the property of the Aryan Nation or the American Nazi Party. The Stars and Bars were the ORIGINAL FLAG of the CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA. My grandfather and two great uncles died under that flag. While I do not personally agree with the cause they died for, they did not own slaves and I doubt very seriously they SAW it as a fight for slavery as much as they were PROUD to be born and raised in the SOUTH. I don’t expect to change your mind but I hope this post will shed a little bit of light on how Brad Paisley or whomever wrote his song felt when it was written. And it is WRONG to call the songwriter a racist, accidental or otherwise. And here’s a little tip… if you plan on even hinting that Ice-Tea is an Uncle Tom … I believe I would be about three states away when I thought it … and even then I wouldn’t SAY IT OUT LOUD.

    • Ishmael

      Woops !! I am an OLD FART and my fingers sometimes get ahead of me. But I am not that old. It was my GREAT grandfather, and I meant to type LL Cool J not Ice-T. Geezers may know history but RAP is not really one of my strong suits.

  • Becky Kleitz

    Ishmael, I never identify that horrid flag with racism, but pure unadulterated TREASON.
    The people that created that flag and flew it, fought against the United States of America. THAT is my country.
    I had uncles and grandfathers in the Civil War as well. From Vermont. From the same stock that fought with Ethan Allen in the Revolution.
    If you fly that flag you are admitting to the world that, while you might not be a racist, you are PROUD of the treason of your ancestors.

    And just so you know, I lived in southeast Alabama for 30 years or better, off and on…only because my whole stupid family decided to move there cos it’s cheap to live there. Those people, TO THIS DAY, hate the Union. I was called a “yankee N*g*er lovin’ bitch” down there because I wouldn’t use that awful word, and because I am OFFENDED by that nasty flag.
    I would gladly burn them all if I could get my hands on them.

    • Ishmael

      Interesting analogy about your ancestors having served the Revolution. Had the 13 colonies LOST the Revolutionary War we would all be living under the Union Jack and there would be those (not unlike you) who would see the Stars and Stripes as the hated symbol of TRAITORS that YOU see the Stars and Bars. That, of course is the privilege of being on the winning side. You not only get to destroy the losing sides’ economy and treat the losers as second class citizens for a hundred years, you get to hate and despise them forever. The English did that extremely well with Scotland and Ireland from where my ancestors emigrated to America. I too grew up probably less than 100 miles from where you lived. As a child I saw the racism and bigotry that you remember. Fortunately I had parents who taught me that hating someone for their religion or color of their skin or even their beliefs is wrong. I did not accept the slanders and the epithets as part of my own ethos. Nor did I choose to remain friends with those who did. But I did grow up to love the South for all that was good and despite its many faults and the shortcomings of many of it’s citizens. How fortunate it must have been for you having been born in the North were everyone was perfect. Where no one hated, Jews or Italians, or the Irish, or Blacks, or Polish or Catholic or any other ethnic racial minority. And how sad your parents forced you to live someplace for 30 years and hold you against your will in a place that you hated so. That sounds almost like slavery. My folks we somewhat more modern in their parenting. When I turned 18 and started earning my own living they let me move wherever I damn well pleased. God Bless America. Finally, …. you did not live in the South during Reconstruction nor in the 100 years following the Civil War that it took the South to get back on its economic feet again. Had you been born here, lived here and died here as four generations of Southerners have …. you might have been able to gain a glimmer of understanding of the romantic myth of “Gone With the Wind” we so successfully created for ourselves to endure what we believed was unjust punishment for the crime of losing the Civil War. That flag you so despise, is to us a symbol of a way of life (perhaps that never was) but will never be again. To HATE it. To want to BURN it, simply because you do not understand its true symbolism, or more pointedly …. DO NOT CARE … is just as narrow-minded and as bigoted as the redneck racists you so justly abhor.

  • TBorg

    Meh. It may be less than the art you are looking for, but there is a difference between wearing the flag with a “whatcha gonna do about it?” sneer, and saying I’m Southern, but I’m wanting to move forward, too.

    Just curious. What are some of the “plenty of other ways” to show pride in one’s Southern heritage and culture? Grits? Mint julips? Lawn jockeys? Thoroughbreds seem a bit much.

  • I moved back to the south after 30 yrs. absence, and nothing has progressed. Backwards as hell and everyone has a rebel flag. Having a blended family meant I would be all alone…No chance to meet new and open minded people here in the red state of South Carolina. Everyone seems racist to me. And I’m white!!!! It’s so pathetic.

  • Donise

    Look, I think it’s about two men trying to show the damn difficulty society has in bridging certain cultural gaps at the individual and community level between whites and blacks and blacks and whites. This cultural and societal issue is complicated, complex, has a million layers and maybe, just maybe they’re more sophisticated enough to understand that. And, maybe you’re not. I don’t know. I know I disagree at a visceral level with your essay and I haven’t even listened to all the words. They may be musicians but they’re also very smart and good men.

  • Donise

    Just read the lyrcis. And, what they’re doing is trying to start a national conversation. I don’t see anyone else doing that. And, sometimes a national conversationn requires the courage to just put it out there. That’s what’s wrong with this nation…we’ve become too wrapped up in that political correctness and maybe, sometimes that political correctness is itself a communication barrier. I like the song. And, I think people need to have some courage…

  • Donise

    And, this just represents that struggle in the South – that “Southern blame”. And, this is only one swath of the country. the communication barriers and bigotry that keeps the toxic walls up between the whites and blacks and blacks and whites in the chicagoland area (of which I’m from) and the St. Louis area (also from which I’m from). Those are completely different historical, cultural, and societal barriers. It’s too complex, too dynamic, predicated on the part of the country you live in. And, good for Brad Paisley. I think it’s awesome. I’d like to see that done in other areas of the country by other artists and movers and shakers in different industries. Maybe America could get past the White/Black; Black/white divide which will take generations to come if it’s ever to happen.