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The Accidental TouRacist

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Different Forces - AM & Shawn Lee (mp3)

Let’s just get this out of the way: The new Brad Paisley song sucks, sonically speaking. It’s forgettable and overlong and combines a canned vanilla (not racist) country sound with LL Cool J in a mash-up that would make Girl Talk vomit like an Exorcist baby.*

* -- NOTE: LL Cool J, for those of you under 30, was a rapper before he was an actor. For those of you under 30, “rap” is what guys used to do to sampled music and is as mostly dead a genre as the Dread Pirate Roberts on Miracle Max’s operating table. 

Brad Paisley was apparently so bored with writing vanilla (not racist) country music, so bored with raking in millions of dollars for forgettable music, that he decided to make a theme song for the movie “Higher Learning” as written by Lynyrd Skynyrd. And he called this song “Accidental Racist.”

Ursula the octopussy sorceress could not have more successfully transformed Paisley from a multiplatinum country star into an entire school of goldfish in a small wooden cask than the man did to himself. And the Internet masses and trolls love nothing more than shooting fish in a barrel. Paisley offered himself up as the Ultimate Easy Target, and everyone can feel better about ourselves by mocking that one guy.

If you think we as a culture will ever move beyond bullying, just read the comments section of Ta-Nahisi Coates’ post in The Atlantic blasting the song. Many of the comments make good points, but the points are often scathing, and they reek of a level of superiority and self-righteousness that begs me to wonder what these people’s daily lives might look like under an ethical microscope.

Bullying is in our nature, and we justify it by saying Paisley asked for it, that he’s rich and successful, therefore it’s not bullying. Let’s go beat Paisley over the head for being an idiot on our way to protesting the inhumane treatment of stray animals. ("People can be sooooo cruel to dogs!")

If the Road to Hell is indeed paved with good intentions, Paisley’s thrust him in the fast lane in a Ferrari. I remember feeling similarly let down by Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," a film that wanted so desperately to Mean Something but got stuck in a muck almost from the opening credits and only made sense in its mashup of other scenes from other movies near the end. Paisley's misstep is thankfully shorter and more formulaic, but it feels more clueless, and hardly apologetic. ("If I'm racist, it's accidental. Oops sorry! So... what's for lunch?")

In the firelight of the Internet Mob, wild-eyed and marching to the jailhouse to hang poor Brad as the townsfolk cringed and cowered in their storefronts, peeking out of the corners of their windows, up stepped Eric Deggans, who did his best Wyatt Earp impersonation to quell the crowd.

Deggans is a kickass columnist and prolific writer whose book “Race Baiter” attempts to address problems with how the mass news media mis-handle issues of race. He’s as capable of writing an authoritative review of “The Voice” or “The Walking Dead” as he is addressing issues of race or class.

Deggans’ column was titled, “Why we shouldn’t give Brad Paisley too much grief over the misguided song ‘Accidental Racist.’” He then proceeds to give the man and the song grief... but not too much grief. Just enough to make the point -- a point all of us love making -- that the song kinda sucks, and the lyrics kinda suck.

But Deggans recognizes the intentions, and he is more aware than most Internettzi that millions of white people will hear this song and be moved by it's "honesty" and identify with the "see? I'm not racist either! (Except maybe accidentally!)" message. More importantly, he recognizes that many of us in this country feel incapable of uttering a word about race without someone stepping up to remind us how terribly we said it, how ignorant, how mistaken or inaccurate, how racist we are.

I love and devotedly read both Coates’ and Deggans’ columns regularly. They’re both gifted and compelling writers. But it seems to me that where race issues are concerned, Deggans works harder at building something, at patiently bridging understanding, while Coates is more interested in being angry and, if necessary, divisive. Think Professor X and Magneto (who were in turn inspired by MLK and Malcolm X). In this case, when the mob is easy to rouse and the target has gills and is stuck in a small enclosed space, Deggans is a far more valuable and appreciated voice.

Will Paisley's song help start A Real Conversation About Race and Racism? I hope so, but I doubt it. If Invisible Man and Do the Right Thing can't jump us over that hurdle, this crappy little ditty doesn't stand much chance.

Another fascinating and nuanced look into "the history of white southern musical identity" is on NPR.

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