One thing we learned from the stomach-churning collaboration between rapper Nelly and country singer Tim McGraw back in 2004 is that the two genres should never, ever go together. Sure, the country hip-hop ballad “Over and Over” became a surprise hit, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the song was an atrocious attempt at blending musical styles. And here we go again: country superstar Brad Paisley arrives with his contribution to the country hip-hop mash-up, but this time the subject matter takes on a socially conscious (albeit ill-conceived and offensively executed) slant. “Accidental Racist” is a puzzling, frustrating duet featuring LL Cool J—from Paisley’s new Wheelhouse album, out today—in which Paisley and LL clumsily offer their two cents on the racial debate in the South and mending the wounds of the past.
Paisley lets listeners in on just how hard it is out here for a Southern white guy. Oh, you didn’t know? Let him school you. Paisley kicks off this ode to his plight by first honing in on the unfair judgment he endures due to his bold and misunderstood fashion choices. Black guys aren’t the only ones unfairly discriminated against for the way they choose to dress (more on that later). Paisley is tired of people labeling him a racist when he’s out getting his coffee wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate flag. What’s so wrong with the Confederate flag anyways?
(Well, besides the fact that for decades this controversial flag has been a marker for White supremacy, slavery and segregation, and has been adopted by a number of racist hate groups. Maybe looking like an extra from The Dukes of Hazzard in 2013 shouldn’t be a sartorial objective?)
“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,” Paisley croons disingenuously. Obviously, he didn’t get the memo that even Lynyrd Skynyrd have been trying to disassociate themselves from the flag. “Our generation didn’t start this nation and we’re still paying for the mistakes.” It really does suck when all this talk about racism and slavery is keeping “a proud rebel son” from feeling at ease in his favorite T-shirt.
The country singer’s condescending and naïve outlook on racism isn’t novel. Though this isn’t the first—and definitely won’t be the last—time a White person in America expresses such simplistic notions about racial cohesion in this country, what baffles the mind (besides how anyone involved in this song from producer to label execs could possibly think this was a good idea) is how on earth LL Cool J could co-sign this crazy mess? Why he felt the need to resort to playing the caricature of the clueless Black northerner to Paisley’s ignorant Southerner is one of these questions that will haunt us for years to come. I lost five minutes of my life listening to this nonsense.
Things go from bad to downright horrifying when LL chimes in with his outrageous South Park-worthy lyrics on improving race relations. The first four words of his questionable verse, “Dear Mr. White Man,” set the stage for what could possibly be some of the most jaw-dropping, cringe-inducing lyrics ever in hip-hop, and by far the reason this song is really so shocking. His passive verse raises so many more questions than answers.
LL does a great job at rounding up his own set of racist clichés of Black men he believes White southerners should learn to accept. “If you don’t judge my doo-rag, I won’t judge your red flag.” I don’t recall the doo-rag ever being an emblem for resistance against the rights of Whites, but according to LL, the two go hand-in-hand. (And side note: Who still wears doo-rags today outside of racist representations of what a threatening Black men looks like?) LL is even willing to forget the “iron chains” (yes, you read right) of slavery, if White southerners would just stop judging us for our penchant for gold chains. How does one even begin to rationally compare gold jewelry to slave shackles?
It does seem like LL is the one making a whole lot of sacrifices and glossing over a lot of offensive and outdated notions of Southern pride in their collective attempt to “let bygones be bygones.” It’s really hard to swallow what LL is selling here, and many of his Black and White fans have taken to Twitter voicing disappointment with the rapper. This song may be the worst possible execution towards racial understanding, ever, in pop culture.
While it’s true that the history of racism in America is a discourse that should be unfolding in every corner of the country, I’m convinced, judging from this song, that these two gentlemen aren’t the ones who should be having it in this public forum. For Paisley and LL, all it takes for a Black man from Queens and a White man from West Virginia to get along is a complete disregard for honest and meaningful discourse and a heavy dose of racial amnesia.
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she’s not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she’s writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and her blog, Fringueuse.com.