Home > Culture, History, Music, Politics > “Accidental Racist” and the Neo-Confederate Ideological Inheritance

“Accidental Racist” and the Neo-Confederate Ideological Inheritance

Already the most contentious politically-tinged country music song since Toby Keith offered to put a boot in Osama bin Laden’s ass, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s much-maligned collaboration “Accidental Racist” has been firing the relays of Internet snark and disgust since word of it began to break sometime yesterday. If you’re not familiar, check the embed below (if it doesn’t vanish from YouTube again first) and hear for yourself, if you like.

But I can easily summarize the highly sophisticated lyrics for you. Brad Paisley, Virginia-born country superstar, feels kind of odd and conflicted that the African-American barista who gave him his tall cinnamon dolce latte at Starbucks didn’t take too kindly to his t-shirt displaying the battle flag of the white supremacist splinter state that rebelled against the legitimate American government 150 years ago in order to preserve its wealthiest citizens’ right to own black people as property. The rebel flag is “somehow” “the elephant in the corner of the South” (don’t ask him to explain how, though, he’s missin’ some of that book learnin’). This makes him feel reflective and even mildly apologetic about that whole slavery thing that his ancestors did, but not so much so that he isn’t still proud that they are his ancestors and that they owned slaves and fought and died to keep them. It’s not really his fault anyway, it’s all those dead white supremacists that did it, so why can’t white people and black people just move beyond the past and try to get along? Also, Reconstruction was just a big construction project with a bit of hugging thrown in. He thinks he might have read that somewhere, maybe even in a book.

We have so much in common. Navy blue ballcaps, for instance.

To support this surely sincere but pretty damned irresponsible string of sentiments, Paisley trots out the compromised husk of a once-fine-flowing MC, LL Cool J, who has not once before evinced the slightest interest in race relations in his considerable musical oeuvre. LL purportedly answers “Mr. White Man” with how “Mr. Black Man” is feeling, mostly worried that white people don’t like his clothes or resent him because William Tecumseh Sherman levelled Georgia in 1864, which he sure didn’t have anything to do with. No, sir, he was just wearing baggy pants in the ghetto. Anyway, LL comes around to saying (or at least implying), your ancestors did buy and sell mine like livestock and gave up the right to do so only after crushing military defeat, and their modern descendants still defend and glorify the war effort while simultaneously disavowing its proximal, massively immoral cause. But I don’t like your hat, so I guess we’re equally guilty.

The always-indispensible Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes Paisley’s explanation of his intentions with the song and then unpacks the precise ways that it is quite non-accidentally racist, so there isn’t much to add on those subjects. But what emerges most clearly, for me, is that the post-Civil War Reconstruction project failed on no count more thoroughly than on that of ideologically restructuring the former Confederate states. There was considerable resistance amongst the remainder of the antebellum social order to increased rights and freedoms for their freed slaves, definitely. The story of the post-Civil War South tends to be told predominantly in terms of the curbing of African-American equality in favour of a re-established plantation hierarchy under the Jim Crow laws and then under segregation. The social malevolence of racial inequality has been gradually and painfully named, legislated, and reduced as far as the American political appetite is willing to allow it to be.

But the sentiments expressed by Paisley in “Accidental Racist” as well as in his defence of it demonstrates that Reconstruction’s failure to address the profound cleavages that resulted from the Civil War did not merely do disservice to blacks in the South, but to whites as well. It took until after the Second World War for the former Confederacy to catch up to much of the rest of the country in terms of economic development and educational output. The inability of white Southerners to face up to and disavow the supremacist ideology of their Confederate forefathers has contributed to a cultural backwardness that was once lampooned by acerbic public voices like H.L. Mencken and is often played off as a Yankee stereotype of the Dixie hayseed. But there is little doubt that the continued contrast between the beliefs and historical opinions of the Southern States and that of the rest of America is related to the Lost Cause perspective being given leeway rather than being forcefully suppressed.

But the astoundingly wrong-headed attempt at reconciliation by Paisley, one of the most prominent names in the vanguard form of neo-Confederate cultural ideology that is country music, puts the glaring, long-delayed need for Deconfederatification into sharp relief. In his mea culpa for the song, Paisley repeats the truism that previous generations committed awful acts and a blameless current generation is “left holding the bag”. The problem with this analogy is that far too often, Paisley and his Stars-and-Bars-wearing confederates peek into that bag, that “burden” of previous generations, and don’t think what’s in there is quite so bad. And, in songs like “Accidental Racist”, once the demonstrative conflicted feelings and half-apologies and platitudinal urgings for tolerance and coexistence are trotted out, they pass that bag on again.

Categories: Culture, History, Music, Politics
  1. April 9, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    I like how you are calling this racists or bigots, when in reality, by naming them “confederates” you are doing the exact same thing. You place someone who is associated with a particular genre, into a “belief”. A belief that all country singers or all southerners for that matter are racists.

  2. April 9, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    I like that, too. That’s why I wrote it.

  1. July 9, 2015 at 1:17 am

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