“Accidental Racist?”

… or simply racist? It is clear that the legacy of the Civil War is still with us 150 years after the first shots were fired. For all of its poor word choices and cringe-worthy moments, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s song actually provides a glimpse into something quite revelatory. Memories are created, not self-evident. Oftentimes the memories we create about our past are used as coping mechanisms to make sense of events in our past that make us feel bad about our history and our ancestors who may have been complicit in perpetuating that history. Sometimes the goal of our memories is to also forget the past, as evidenced in the lyrics “let bygones be bygones.”

There are other interesting word choices in the song as well. The statement “Caught between Southern Pride and Southern Blame” is something many white Southerners have had to address at some point in their lives, I’d assume. Being a border/slave state native who has pride in being from that state, it’s something I’ve certainly thought about before.

It is interesting how Brad Paisley conflates the “Confederacy” with the “South,” which is something many people do without realizing that they are two separate things. Paisley himself actually represents this dichotomy quite well. He was born in West Virginia, a state that was created during the Civil War (1863) in response to Virginia’s secession from the United States. Not wanting to secede from the U.S., these 41 Virginia counties formed their own state and supplied many troops to the Union military (which also suggests that a conflation between “Union” and “North” exists as well). Thus, West Virginia does not equal “Confederacy,” although most would argue that it is a part of the “South.”

It would also be interesting to ask Paisley whether or not there are any black people included in his reference to the “Southland.” Who is allowed to call themselves a “Southerner?” What defines Southern identity? Aren’t there many Black Southerners as well? What is their version of the “Southland?” I also don’t appreciate LL Cool J’s reference to “Mr. White Man” or his ridiculous stereotypes about White people wearing Cowboy hats (or the assumption that that’s a bad thing) and all Black people coming from the ghetto and wearing saggy pants and do-rags. I understand that the intention of the song is to call for more understanding between different people, but it seems to me that it actually perpetuates hackneyed stereotypes about White and Black people instead. They seem to be arguing something along the lines of “Hey, this is the way we are, so let’s try to understand our stereotypes a little better.”

Enough from me. Listen to the song and make your own conclusions.

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
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
Just a proud rebel son with an ‘ol can of worms
Lookin’ like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view

I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the southland
Tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be
I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years
I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin
But it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin

‘Cause I’m a white man livin’ in the southland
Just like you I’m more than what you see
I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done
And it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn’t start this nation
And we’re still paying for mistakes
That a bunch of folks made long before we came
And caught between southern pride and southern blame

Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood
What the world is really like when you’re livin’ in the hood
Just because my pants are saggin’ doesn’t mean I’m up to no good
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would
Now my chains are gold but I’m still misunderstood
I wasn’t there when Sherman’s March turned the south into firewood
I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could
Feel like a new fangled Django, dodgin’ invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinkin’ it’s not all good
I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book
I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here

I’m just a white man
(If you don’t judge my do-rag)
Comin’ to you from the southland
(I won’t judge your red flag)
Tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be

I’m proud of where I’m from
(If you don’t judge my gold chains)
But not everything we’ve done
(I’ll forget the iron chains)
it ain’t like you and me can re-write history
(Can’t re-write history baby)

Oh, Dixieland
(The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin’)
I hope you understand what this is all about
(Quite frankly I’m a black Yankee but I’ve been thinkin’ about this lately)
I’m a son of the new south
(The past is the past, you feel me)
And I just want to make things right
(Let bygones be bygones)
Where all that’s left is southern pride
(RIP Robert E. Lee but I’ve gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean)
It’s real, it’s real
It’s truth