Brad Paisley and LL Cool J, an unlikely duo to say the least, recently released the song “Accidental Racist” in which they attempt to ease racial tensions. They surmise that the issue is one of emotion, specifically people’s feelings regarding slavery. Paisley states: “Our generation didn’t start this nation And we’re still paying for the mistakes that a bunch of folks made long before we came and caught between southern pride and southern blame” and LL says: “You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would Now my chains are gold but I’m still misunderstood.”
Here in lies the problem: Racism is not an emotional issue.
Racism is the result of generations of systematic dehumanization followed by generations of systemic discrimination. While it certainly has emotional ramifications, mainly the feelings of superiority felt by many whites and the accompanying emotional trauma of being viewed as less than for Blacks, its most important and most often ignored (by whites) consequence is material and political. The ability to own property, testify in court, get a loan from a bank, the list goes on. None of this is even remotely touched on in the song.
Amidst the backlash, Paisley and Cool J reiterated their stance in an interview for ABC News. Again, they position racism, and the racial tension that accompanies it, as being an emotional thing that can be diffused by simply getting to know somebody, or changing ones way of thinking about the issue. This focus on emotion when discussing race is one that makes whites feel good. It means if you don’t feel like a racist you are not one. The problem is, again, that is not racism, and feelings are not the only criteria for racists. Ironically, conversations are contained in these parameters precisely because of racism and the privilege bestowed upon whites to dictate the terms of the discussion. This line of thought so dominates the rhetoric in the interview LL Cool J actually says: “Forget the bitterness. Don’t get bitter. Get better.” Paisley follows that up with: “Let’s not be victims of things that happened so long ago.” This is perhaps the most telling portion of the entire discourse. LL Cool J is acquiescing to the idea Blacks, or I suppose anyone who feels there is a legacy of slavery shaping our world today, is bitter. This is a hallmark belief of white supremacy. Imagine Obama, or any US president getting on TV and telling the Jews to “Forget the bitterness. Don’t get bitter. Get better.” It wouldn’t happen!!!! Paisley’s comment also betrays his privilege and racism, whether accidental or not. Equating folks, one infers he is talking about Black’s here, who are descendant from slavery to victims is something Rush Limbaugh would be proud of. In the end all this song does is serve to soothe the collective conscience of whites, specifically southern whites: Paisley’s fans. It does not further any significant discussion of race in this country. It won’t loosen the grip of white supremacy. It won’t hurry justice and equality. It will, however, give ammunition to whites who are not interested in exploring how this country and themselves, by virtue of being perceived as white, have benefited from the institution of slavery and racism. In short it further entrenches the privilege of whites to dictate the parameters of the discussion. And, similarly to how the Oligarchs who run this nation need the Democrats to push through the most regressive policies, Paisley needed LL to co-sign the white washed and sanitized discussion of race.
Racism is not an accident nor an emotion. If we don’t start there we have already lost.