Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Accidental TouRacist

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.

6 comments:

troutking said...

I don't have much sympathy for Brad Paisley. This isn't something he said on the spur of the moment. He spent time recording it and he had time before he released it to have enough people listen to and gauge their reactions to see 1) if what they heard what was he wanted to say and 2) if he wanted to say what he said.

I also don't have much sympathy for white people who don't feel comfortable saying anything about race. It isn't that hard to figure out what's acceptable, what's honorable and what's ignorant. If you're really, really old and sheltered, maybe you get a little pass. If you're 65 or under, you've had enough time to figure it out. It isn't that hard.

Billy said...

Trout, I'm glad you've got it all figured out, and I'm glad your life is free -- past, present and future -- of having uttered or thought anything that might be construed as racist. How nice of you.

However, I'm pretty sure you could give me 3 minutes and access to Google, and I could easily prove that racial sensitivity and understanding in White Americans Under 65 is neither as obvious, or as easy, or as cut-and-dried as you seem to think.

I hate to reveal this harsh truth to you, but you don't get to be the judge of your own racism or lack thereof. If we all got that privilege, I daresay there'd be nary a racist on the planet. So perhaps you might save a little bit of wiggle room in the confidence of your own flawlessness.

troutking said...

Billy, I'm guessing based on your personal attack on me that you are either cranky after the late concert or took my post to be a personal attack on you. It was not meant to be, which is why I didn't mention you or me. It was a disagreement with the points you made about how our society deals with racial issues, and I stand by it.

1) Brad Paisley had plenty of opportunity to rethink both what he said and people's potential reaction to it.

2) I didn't say I was perfect and I didn't say people can't occasionally make mistakes. I DID say I'm pretty tired of the idea that the biggest issues we face on race today are that white people have a hard time knowing what to say about it and that white people get attacked for saying stupid or insensitive things. To me those are straw man/FOX News issues that distract us from the real victims of racial discrimination/anxiety.

Billy said...

You offer "little sympathy" and say "it's not that hard" for any white person under 65. Since it's obviously NOT as easy for All White People Under 65 as you seem to think, I imply you seem a bit too comfortable throwing stones and too dismissive of a real challenge in our national dialogue. I'm not sure where you think I "attack" you, but I apologize if that's the case. (Is it the last sentence?)

Secondly, no one is suggesting that Brad Paisley songs are more important than North Korea or world hunger. Writing about "Accidental Racist" doesn't imply that white people struggling to discuss these matters is the "biggest issue we face on race today." That you make this leap is, in fact, a "straw man" of your own device.

The fact is, lots of writers and people are discussing and exploring this topic and Paisley's song. There must be a decent reason beyond its sonic suckage, and I offered a link to one guy whose approach seemed more reasonable and judicious than most.

But yeah I'm also tired. Fun concert, though!

troutking said...

Fair enough. I may have overstated my case because I'm tired of the FOX News "It's so hard to be a white man these days" bullcrap.

Also, I think I'm not a racist because my family had a cross burned on our lawn once.

Bob said...

Aw, can't we all just eat some Asian food together?