Imagine that you are sitting in a cafeteria, casually gossiping with your co-workers about the latest celebrity scandal and showing off pictures from your child’s first birthday party. A man stands up in the middle of the room, climbs on a table, and announces to the room how much he loves his wife. Cute, right? Right. Now pretend that, instead, the man climbs on the table and claims anyone who thinks his wife is not the greatest woman in the world is ignorant and should reconsider their views on marriage. Still cute? Probably not.
This situation demonstrates the fine line between pride and arrogance, one that Brad Paisley and LL Cool J seem to straddle with their new song, “Accidental Racist”. (Yes, that is the actual title.) The tune, which aims to disassociate the love of the south with racism, has sparked some controversy over the past few days. Its bold lyrics and stance has even classified it as The Worst Song Ever by some (an inaccurate claim, considering Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is still in circulation).
I think this is taking it a bit too far. Yes, “Accidental Racist” is a brazenly controversial title. Yes, Paisley’s claims about wearing a Confederate flag shirt to demonstrate his love of Lynyrd Skynyrd are a little unbelievable. Yes, LL Cool J’s use of “conversate” instead of “converse” is frustrating to anyone with a brain. I’m not denying any of that. However, behind some of the song’s offensive proclamations (at one point, Cool J yells “RIP Robert E. Lee), lies some honest ideas, ones that could have been better expressed had they not been overshadowed by Paisley’s need to defend his southern pride.
For example, in the song’s chorus, Paisley sings:
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.
Many critics (translation: the entire Internet) have condemned these lines for their suggestion that whites that express their appreciation for southern culture are subjected to discrimination simply because of the South’s past history. While, yes, the lyrics seem to lean towards the “Guys, it’s time to just let that whole slavery thing go” sentiment, they also point out a number of important themes, including the need to separate the person from their past and their image from their character. Additionally, Paisley’s patriotism for his homeland is almost admirable. After all, is it really wrong to be proud of your homeland? This is what the song is proposing.
To be clear, I’m not defending “Accidental Racist” or the artists who created it. In fact, judging solely from this song, I might peg Paisley as the kind of guy to question why “Black Pride Month” is a socially acceptable concept while “White Pride Month” is not. What I’m saying is this: “Accidental Racist” may trivialize the South’s history by portraying “the white man living in the South land” as a victim, but the song’s concept stemmed from good intentions. This does not make what Cool J and Paisley appropriate, of course, for the same reason that telling your best friend her butt looks fat in her favorite dress is not appropriate, even if you were trying to be helpful.
However, the situation does beg the question: Do good intentions justify bad actions? Should Paisley and Cool J be criticized for the song’s message, even though its underlying ideas were not meant to be malicious? If “Accidental Racist” were written with a bit more tact, could it have been redeemed? And lastly, can we write the tune off as an example of poor execution or should the duo be sentenced to some sort of psychological evaluation to determine how racist they really are? (Is racist even the right word?) Or if we decide to go back to the cafeteria metaphor, should we accept the lunch table guy’s slightly arrogant declarations simply because he has “good intentions” or should we tell him to sit down, keep his thoughts to himself, and let everyone continue discussing Kimye’s future child in peace?
Image via NYDailyNews.com