Tuesday, April 9, 2013

unpacking outrage: why elitists hate "Accidental Racist" by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J

The outrage of the day is a country song with a rapper guest star. If you want to sample the twitterrage, #accidentalracist is your ticket, but all the usual identitarian sites are covering it, so you can easily google to learn how awful you're supposed to think it is.

1. "Accidental Racist" is about a white guy in a Confederate battle-flag T-shirt talking with a black guy in a do-rag, gold chains and sagging pants. These are not things that rich elitists, black or white, wear unless they're in costume. Elitists think those are the clothes of the lower class.

2. "Accidental Racist" is a country-western song with a bit of rap. Elitists love to sneer at country music, and tend to be ambivalent about rap—they rarely like it, but they hate appearing racially insensitive.

3. "Accidental racism" is a term that identitarians sometimes use to describe racism that's not recognized or intended by a racist. It's more often expressed as "unintentional racism", which is a very odd notion--people either are or are not racist. No one wakes up and says, "I intend to be racist today."

4. Neither Brad Paisley nor LL Cool J went to the schools of the elite. Elitists love their own kind.

5. "Accidental Racist" is about poor whites and poor blacks agreeing to try to get along. A united working class is rich folks' worst nightmare—even worse than rap or country music.

ETA: Mind you, I'm not defending the artistry of this song. I'm just cocking an eyebrow at the outrage. I did go to some elitist schools, so I have problems with earnest art. I'm trying to get over that.

Also, for anyone who thinks Paisley supports wearing the Confederate battle flag, he sang another song, "Camouflage", with this verse:
Well, the stars and bars offend some folks
And I guess I see why
He's clearly not the "I" of the song. He grew up in West Virginia, and I doubt there's a West Virginian who doesn't know which side of the Civil War their state was on.

The lyrics:
To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand
When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan
The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south
And I just walked him right in the room
Just a proud rebel son with an 'ol can of worms
Lookin' like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view

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

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We're still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years
I try to put myself in your shoes and that's a good place to begin
But it ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin

'Cause I'm a white man livin' in the southland
Just like you I'm more than what you see
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
And we're still paying for the mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold but I'm still misunderstood
I wasn't there when Sherman's March turned the south into firewood
I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could
Feel like a new fangled Django, dodgin' invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I'm thinkin' it's not all good
I guess we're both guilty of judgin' the cover not the book
I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here

I'm just a white man
(If you don't judge my do-rag)
Comin' to you from the southland
(I won't judge your red flag)
Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be
I'm proud of where I'm from
(If you don't judge my gold chains)
But not everything we've done
(I'll forget the iron chains)
It ain't like you and me can re-write history
(Can't re-write history baby)

Oh, Dixieland
(The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin')
I hope you understand what this is all about
(Quite frankly I'm a black Yankee but I've been thinkin' about this lately)
I'm a son of the new south
(The past is the past, you feel me)
And I just want to make things right
(Let bygones be bygones)
Where all that's left is southern pride
(RIP Robert E. Lee but I've gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean)
It's real, it's real
It's truth

More lyrics: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/b/brad_paisley/


  1. I think the internet requires all of its inhabitants to be outraged by at least ten* ludicrous things per day. Otherwise the luddites- er- terrorists will win.

    I don't think I mind earnest art, but my idea of good country music is Doc Watson so I couldn't force myself to listen to Accidental Racist in its entirety. Ech.

    *You can get around this by being outraged by exactly the same thing ten times per day if there just aren't enough ludicrous things over which to be outraged.

    1. I'm old school on my taste in country, too. Artistically, I much prefer Paisley's "Camouflage" to this. The end is better than the beginning, for what that's worth.

      Your first paragraph pretty much covers it.

    2. You're right. "Camouflage" is less annoying to listen to.

  2. My take is that this song is, ultimately, two wealthy cynics trying to put together a crossover hit, generate a little controversy, and make a great deal of money. I don't think either artist is so unsophisticated they don't know quite accurately what they are about.

    1. Well, all pop music is commercial, but I think its problem is it's too sincere. The artists in question may be rich, but unlike a lot of pop artists, they don't come from wealth. Cool J was a high school drop out, and Paisley's educational background won't impress anyone. I think they mean well, and wouldn't mind making a killing if it came.

  3. Really excellent post, Will. I like the way you think. My only criticism is that it is a bit too earnest for me to not take seriously.