The above is a collaboration between country-pop singer Brad Paisley and noted R&B/hip-hop artist LL Cool J. Take a moment and listen to the lyrics. If you happen to be of the corn-fed good-ol-boy persuasion, try your best not to shut it off as soon as LL Cool J's vocals appear.
For those not familiar with American history, the above is the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, as used by the primary force of the Confederate States of America. As it became increasingly well-known as the rallying visual of the Confederacy, the red, white and blue heraldic saltire found its way on the second national flag of the CSA sometime around 1863.
For generations after the end of the American Civil War, the battle flag evolved into a versatile symbol for many people. For many, it's the symbol of proud southern heritage. For some, a soothing balm to lessen the historical sting of defeat (i.e. "The South Shall Rise Again"). For others, it's a reminder of the Confederacy's failure as a splinter nation and an encapsulation of the odious practices that went on even before the idea of a confederacy was ever broached. It's also been used as a symbol of rebellion and defiance - take note of Georgia's addition of the saltire to the state flag in 1956 as a "fuck you" response towards Brown vs. Board of Education, for instance.
For black Americans, it's a symbol of white society's disdain and utter hatred of blacks under any capacity other than bonded labor and occasional entertainment. Throughout the Southeast U.S. and even points further north, the battle flag's been the rallying brand of people and groups dedicated to curtailing and exterminating the rights of black citizens, from the Ku Klux Klan to the seemingly innocuous and benign "concerned citizens" groups.
To many black Americans, the battle flag is akin to the old "Whites Only" signs of the Jim Crow era - wherever one's flown, hung, printed or posted, it's simply means one thing and one thing only to most blacks: "You're not welcome here."
That's what "Accidental Racist" is all about - a white guy who wants to show off his southern pride but winds up representing all the ills that come with his choice of symbol. At the risk of "Godwin"-ing this blog post, I'll just say that outside of underground hate groups you won't hear of anyone belting a polemic tome bemoaning the stigma of the Nazi flag when they were only trying to show off their National Socialist pride. He bemoans how people see him whenever he decides to embrace the battle flag of the Confederacy as a symbol for southern pride.
Later in the song comes LL Cool J to not only compare Brad Paisley's suffering of stereotypes to his own, but also to beg "Mr. White Man" to overlook his appearance, disregard stereotypes and see LL for LL himself, similar to what Paisley's asking of his listeners. Speaking of LL's vocals, here are his main verses, courtesy of Sharon W.:
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
"Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood." That's LL's refrain.
Truth be told, most black Americans have little to no desire to understand their white counterparts' wish to embrace a symbol representing some of the worst excesses of racial antagonism, violence and discrimination, just as Mr. White Man has little to no desire to understand his black counterparts in any way, shape or form that doesn't comply with their own idea of black Americans.
"I guess we're both guilty of judgin' the cover not the book." Doo-rags, gold chains, sagging pants, oversized white T-shirts and expensive designer athletic shoes are attire that's usually associated with "Ghetto culture" and criminal behavior, as far as the majority of white Americans are concerned. Most whites become distinctly uncomfortable upon seeing a black male dressed this way.
Likewise, most blacks become distinctly uncomfortable upon seeing a white male sporting anything with the battle flag on it, thanks in large part to what that symbol represents to them. They have no way of discerning the wearer's true intentions for donning it, nor can they simply take them at their word if they directly ask why they chose to don it. Weary, suspicious looks and a desire for avoidance are a given for both scenarios.
Sadly, "Accidental Racist" goes a ways to equate doo-rags and sagging pants as equal to Confederate imagery, which they aren't, no matter how many black-on-white or black-on-black crime stats anyone throws at the argument to make it stick. Contrary to what today's media and what most white Americans would suggest, there's no black analogue to the Ku Klux Klan. And for those wondering, the Black Panthers and other radical black groups come nowhere close to the Klan's historical track record for violence against blacks and other minorities. LL Cool J punts the ball by claiming a variation of "Both Sides Do It," equating black urban dress to one's embrace of the battle flag. Gold chains do not equal iron chains, LL.
Personally speaking, I wouldn't have minded if the Union made a more concerted effort to disinfect the South and the U.S. as a whole of Confederacy instead of letting bygones be bygones, similar to how it was impressed upon the German government to disinfect the country of Nazism. I genuinely believe Reconstruction was America's last chance to settle the issue of race, namely by honoring its commitment towards freedom and equality when it came to black Americans. By not grabbing the bull by the horns when we had the chance, we have to accept feel-good pablum like "Accidental Racist" that does little to nothing when it comes to confronting racial animosity.
But hey, at least Brad and LL are shoo-ins for a Grammy nomination or two, right?
EDIT: After this, I looked at other responses to "Accidental Racist." Here's a decidedly non-diplomatic take from Illuminati Zozo:
You know what the most fucked up thing about “Accidental Racist” is?
It’s how fucking one-sided it is
It puts the blame for a white man sporting a Confederate Flag as being racist squarely on the shoulders of black people for perceiving it that way instead of “letting go of history”
instead of actually soul-search (well, we know white people don’t have souls, but whatevs) and choosing to relinquish imagery that everyone has a god damn right to judge someone for rocking.
Even worse is LL Cool J’s coonery on that track.
We, as black people, don’t need to apologize for gold chains, du-rags or saggy pants - white people were the ones who arbitrarily decided that shit was bad as a way to demonize. White people are the ones who created a cultural climate where a god damn fucking teenager wearing a hoodie gets hunted down like a dog in the night and fucking MURDERED.
You know who decided the confederate flag was a bad thing? Fucking white people when they decided to fly that shit as they demanded their right to keep slaves. Fucking history teaches us to abhor those symbols.
If that wasn't enough, then I don't know what else to tell ya.