It’s 2013. Barack Obama is president. The majority of people who use food stamps are white. How many people are going to have to come out as black or supportive of racial equality in order for America to reconcile its past and present?
At least, those are the facts supporting the assertion that music artists Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s collaborative country-rap song “Accidental Racist” would have you think: We are accidental racists. While their hearts are in a good place, their lyrics, method and assertions are not.
Ignorance may be accidental, but racism is not.
I can forgive a foreigner who buys a Confederate t-shirt, but I cannot forgive a Southerner who purposefully tries to rewrite history and redefine what that flag means. It is neither the wearer, nor the perceiver’s fault that the flag connotes what it does, but that does not constitute an allowance by any individual to repurpose it or reclaim it in a “Take Back the Night”-esque manner.
What has been done under that flag cannot be undone. Paisley thinks that the “guilt by association” he receives by wearing Confederate gear is accidental racism; his response isn’t to seek an understanding for the perception, but to assert himself as a victim of circumstance.
However unfortunate it is, the Confederate flag is one deeply associated with racism and slavery, red with the blood of victims. Those colors don’t run and they can’t be washed away. History, as the two musicians ironically say in their song, can’t be rewritten.
LL Cool J’s been drinking the Kool-Aid if he genuinely believes that, “If you don’t judge my gold chains/I’ll forget the iron chain.” Forgiveness isn’t found in forgetting. Progress isn’t made by misremberence. Attempting to reconcile and reach a mutual racial understanding by having a discussion based on stereotypes isn’t constructive.
A progressive discussion point would be addressing the inequities still evident in America, particularly in arrest and imprisonment rates, employment and other various evidence of racial discrimination.
For white people, dressing like a racist doesn’t make you a racist, but it does lend credence to making judgements about an individual’s choices and ensuing ideology. The same people who paraded under that flag also paraded about the desecrated corpses of innocent blacks. If you know the history of the Confederate flag and what it represents and still make the choice to wear it, you’re not an accidental racist. You’re making a racist choice.
No one’s going to shoot you for wearing a Confederate flag, but when you’re a young black male in America and you’re accidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time and dressed the wrong way because you’re fed a steady diet of gangster culture because of the various classism issues, you might be.
If you don’t think that stereotypes aren’t reinforced by economic forces and hasn’t been institutionalized, look at the differences in standards of living within our own city. Richmond is composed of two seperate cities, one black and one white.
To attempt to make a logical analogy between gold-chains and the Confederate flag, as Paisley and Cool J try, is a false dichotomy and emblematic of the average ignorant American’s ethos toward the socioeconomic status-quo of race in America.
When policies matches rhetoric, a racial equivalency can be reached. But until then, there will be no equivalent exchange where blacks trade in stereotypes based on their manner of dress for whites’ stereotypes based on their choices.
The song is, at the end of the day, a misguided attempt by two individuals frustrated by race relations in America; they are victims of America’s status quo. In their musical expression, they perpetuate a stale dialogue centered on misunderstandings regarding racial identity and racial privilege.
For anyone to take this song as simply a good-natured, well-intentioned attempt to bridge a divide is an intellectually dishonest mockery of a sensitive issue.
It’s clear that the song was never intended to be a hit, but rather a discussion-raiser; they failed in that respect because they perpetuate the same racial ignorance they rail against in asking listeners to forget about slavery, the Confederate flag and stereotypes.
Plus, the song is terrible.