On his new single, “Accidental Racist,” Brad Paisley’s character describes himself as “Just a proud rebel son/With an ol’ can of worms.” And as he cracks that can wi-i-i-i-ide open, the worms aren’t the only ones squirming – millions of listeners are, too.
The song, featuring a solo by rap legend LL Cool J, is a look at race relations from both sides of the issue: a white Southern man who’s tired of being blamed for the sins of his ancestors, and a Northern black man who sees the other’s Confederate shirt as an unspoken message that “you wish I wasn’t here.” But some of the ideas expressed in the song – like the notion that we can just “forgive and forget” the evils of slavery – have both music critics and fans howling with outrage and laughter.
Paisley explained in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly that he didn’t write the song as a “stunt,” but as a way of addressing age-old issues that are far from resolved. “We’re all left holding the bag here, left with the burden of these generations,” he said. “And I think the younger generations are really kind of looking for ways out of this.”
As fathers to members of that younger generation – Paisley has two young sons; LL has four older children – the musicians no doubt felt a personal call to make a difference, too. So they deserve credit for at least putting the subject out there. If “Accidental Racist” gets kids talking honestly about race issues instead of keeping quiet out of discomfort, that’s no small feat. (And hey, anything‘s better than listening to them sing “Harlem Shake” for the zillionth time.)
Here are some of the issues in “Accidental Racist” that can help you get an important dialogue going with your children:
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The message: Don’t judge people by what they wear 2 of 6The song says: "When I put on that T-shirt/The only thing I meant to say/ Is I'm a Skynyrd fan," says Brad's character. "Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good," LL Cool J counters.
Critics say: Like it or not, clothes send messages. It's naive to wear an outfit associated with racism or criminal behavior and expect others to see past the duds into your good heart.
Ask your children: Have you ever made a snap judgment about someone based on what they wear? What do you think your own clothes say about you?
The message: It’s about regional pride, not racism 3 of 6The song says: "The red flag on my chest is somehow like the elephant in the corner of the South...Just a proud rebel son with an old can of worms/Looking like I've got a lot to learn."
Critics say: The flag will always be associated with slavery and its horrors. You can't separate the two, any more than you can wear a swastika and say you're just doing it because it's an ancient symbol.
Ask your children: Can a symbol's bad rep ever be redeemed? Should we stop seeing the Confederate flag as a reminder of evil?
The message: Don’t blame people for the sins of their ancestors 4 of 6The song says: "We're still paying for the mistakes that a bunch of people made long before we came."
Critics say: Modern Southerners may feel unfairly judged, but racism still exists in this country, and we can't sweep it under the rug or call slavery a simple "mistake."
Ask your children: Is it fair to think of Southerners as racist because of the history of slavery in that region? How far have we come as a nation since the days of Jim Crow? How far do we still need to go?
The message: Both sides have something to be forgiven for 5 of 6The song says: The black character sings, "If you forget my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains."
Critics say: Um, what?! You can't compare an inner-city fashion choice to the shackles that kept slaves unwillingly bound to their masters. And how can we expect African-Americans to forget centuries of discrimination and cruelty?
Ask your children: Is it fair to compare the "iron" and "gold" chains? By forgetting the iron chains, is the black character rejecting his own history?
The message: Let’s just put the past behind us 6 of 6The song says: "Let bygones be bygones....The past is the past, you hear me...It ain't like you and me can rewrite history."
Critics say: Just plain wrong. The issues here are too deep for a simplistic solution like this.
Ask your children: Is "forgive and forget" the best answer here? Do you think racism in America will ever end for good? What can we do to help?
[Photos: via PacificCoastNews, Wikimedia Commons]
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