Feature

‘Accidental Racist’: A plea for tolerance

Brad Paisley can hold a tune, but his recent attempt to “heal the nation’s continuing racial tensions” was way off-key.

Brad Paisley can hold a tune, said Melissa Locker in Time.com,but the country singer’s recent attempt to “heal the nation’s continuing racial tensions” was way off-key. Paisley’s new song “Accidental Racist” attempts to start a conversation about race relations—but has been widely denounced as ignorant and, yes, racist. In the song, Paisley argues that white Southerners should be allowed to celebrate their region’s history—and that when he wears a Confederate flag, it’s because he’s a “proud rebel son,” not a racist. “It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history,” he croons to a fictional black man in the song. “We’re still paying for mistakes that a bunch of folks made long before we came.”

Paisley wants us all to just get along, said Aisha Harris in Slate.com, implying that the country’s racial issues are based solely on a 150-year-old grudge. But in the South, some high schools still hold separate proms for blacks and whites, while the jails are full of African-Americans. If he’s going to take on a topic as complex as racism, Paisley shouldn’t be so superficial—“and ultimately, so dismissive.” Paisley’s song might be a bit naïve, said Alan Scherstuhl in VillageVoice.com, but give the guy a break. Why not cheer when America’s top male country star challenges his many fans to put themselves in black people’s shoes? Clumsy as the song is, at least it’s an honest attempt to reconcile Southern pride with white guilt. “Its heart is in the right, complex place.”

I have no problem with Southern pride, said Touré in Time.com. But Paisley’s defense of the Confederate flag only underscores his ignorance. The flag of the Confederacy is not just a relic of history, but a “symbol of slavery and white supremacy”—and black America will always recognize it as such. Paisley also gives himself a pass when he sings “it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin,” said Leonard Pitts Jr. in The Miami Herald. Is it really so impossible for a white man to understand what, say, a Confederate flag means to the descendents of slaves, or to empathize with anyone—black, Hispanic, Muslim—who suffers prejudice? To understand others, just open your mind, your heart, and your ears. Arguing that whites are locked into their own perspectives—and are only racist by accident—is “a cop-out, and a disappointment.”

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