Monday, April 29, 2013

Yet Another Person Pounding "Accidental Racist"

Image from:  Band Shirt Archive
So, as many of you are aware, Brad Paisley released a song a while back in which he attempted to address a concern that still plagues this country--racism. Since the backlash was much more critical than Paisley originally expected, Paisley has somewhat publicly wondered if maybe that was the wrong landmine to try to jump on.

Of course, part of the problem appears to be that he thought he could make some generally nice platitudes along the lines of “can’t we all just get along” and expected people to laud his praises as the bringer of peace between the races. Racism is a huge problem in this country because it’s such a complicated and complex issue. There are a lot of ingrained beliefs and practices that are racist that don’t seem immediately racist on the surface. Racism has gone underground in a lot of ways. I mean, sure, you still have southern politicians using phrases like “n-----r rigging,” but you’re not as likely to notice that people of color are largely unrepresented as actors and are not being featured on book covers--even when the story is about people of color!

There is also another problem with Paisley’s song, though. It’s his petulant whining is just that. He doesn't offer any solutions to the problem, and doesn't even actually correctly address the problem. His wording betrays a lot about what he thinks about the issue.

Let me give you an example.

The song starts with Paisley talking to a barista about his Lynyrd Skynard shirt, which apparently features a Confederate flag on it. He claims that he’s not racist, he’s just a fan of the band. And then he begins to expound on the situation, saying:

“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” [emphasis mine]

It’s his wording there--that this flag is somehow causing a problem--that is indicative of the larger issue. He doesn't see that he’s doing something wrong, but, being someone from the south, he can’t be ignorant about what happened here. Therefore, he’s displaying willful ignorance and stubbornness. As an example, it would be like a German wearing a t-shirt with the Nazi swastika on it and then becoming confused when people call him a Nazi sympathizer.

There are other issues with the first verse as well. For example, as Cracked writer Adam Todd Brown pointed out, there are plenty of Lynyrd Skynyrd shirts that don’t feature the Confederate flag. In fact, there’s quite a lot of them.  Paisley said the song was partially inspired because he got dirty looks for wearing an Alabama (the band) shirt with the flag. But there are plenty of those shirts without the flag as well.  All of which serves to make things even more inexplicable. After all, if it is just expressing your love of a band, why not express that love in a way that doesn't also carry the baggage of hundreds of years of brutal enslavement and systematic oppression?

But it goes even further. Here’s the next line:

“Just a proud rebel son with an ‘ol can of worms”

There are two issues that this line brings up. We’re gonna talk about both. First is Paisley describing himself as a rebel son. According to Wikipedia, Paisley is from Glen Dale, West Virginia. West Virginia exists as a separate entity from Virginia because WV seceded...from the Confederacy. They refused to secede from the Union. Which makes Paisley’s claim that he’s a rebel son flawed from the very start.

But then there’s also a much larger issue: the idea that the Confederates were “rebels,” and even if they were, that one should be proud of them.

I’m from Arkansas, dude--a state that actually seceded from the Union. So let’s talk about the Confederacy.

The Confederacy came to be because of state’s rights, sure. The right to own people! They got their knickers in a twist because the Union had the audacity to say “hey, maybe owning people and profiteering off the torture and enslavement of an entire race of people is bad.” Then the southern states started spluttering about how they had a right and the federal government couldn't tell them what to do. But seriously--it was the right to own people.

It doesn't matter how you spin it--it was evil. It doesn't matter that abolishing slavery would have destroyed the southern economy. That. Doesn't. Matter. We were still owning people, selling them off, breaking up families, forcing men to have sex with women for so we could sell off their children like colts, beating them when they fucked up. It was wrong, and we were wrong. Wrong. There is no pride. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to say they’re proud to be descended from these traitors. None. Sure, not all the soldiers that fought were necessarily fighting for slavery as an institution. But most were.

And this is relevant to Paisley’s song in another way as well:

“They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years”

Boo fuckin’ hoo, Mr. Paisley. Boo fuckin’ hoo. I know people suffered in the south after the Civil War. It sucked. You know who could have helped a lot with that? Abraham Lincoln, who had expressed the strong desire to allow the Confederacy to rejoin, and he wanted to help the south readjust. He wanted to help them develop new ways to sustain their economy--because that’s what the federal government does for its people. Instead, a pissy little southern man decided that Lincoln deserved to be punished for his crimes of preserving our country. Seriously. We fucked ourselves over.

And then we spent the next 90 years oppressing black people because we couldn't let go the fact that we once owned them.

And that is the biggest problem with this song. Paisley claims that he wants to start a dialog and maybe heal some wounds, but he doesn't actually seem interested in hearing what it’s like to be a black man in America today. He doesn't actually want to talk about possible ways that we as a society could be fixing these issues. He just wants to whine about how he can’t wear a shirt that he wants.

And finally, Adam Todd Brown also brought up this little gem of a line.
And caught between Southern pride and Southern blame
Come ON, Brad Paisley! Who in the hell doesn't use the word "shame" there instead?”
Yeah, why wouldn't he use the word shame there? It almost seems like he doesn't feel shame. Maybe he feels like he’s getting blamed for something that has nothing to do with him, like when your sibling breaks a lamp and then blames you for it. And if he were wanting to separate himself from that whole Confederacy thing, then I could understand this sentiment. But because he also pairs Southern blame with Southern pride, he’s implying that he does want to be associated with the south. He's implying that dressing in the military regalia, using the same terminology of the era, glorifying the soldiers, the culture--right down to the goddamned rebel yell--everything EXCEPT the very foundation that all of that was built on.

See that’s the thing. He probably doesn't feel shame. He thinks that all that race stuff is in the past. And because he’s white, straight, and a dude, he can feel that way. However, white privilege is a real thing. If the worst thing that people of color had to deal with was someone a bit of a douchey shirt, this wouldn't be an issue at all. Something about that whole not getting hired for jobs based on your black sounding name, the lack of representation in the media, the overwhelming number of black people vs white people in prison--all of that probably has a little more to do with why they’re less than keen to just bury the hatchet and call this whole thing good.  And Brad Paisley's attempt to broach this topic was either stupid and clumsily done, or maliciously dismissive, depending on which way you want to categorize him.