Blog of the Week: Devin Reviews Accidental Racist

Devin Grant

Okay, Devin told us what he thought of "Accidental Racist," and did so from mostly a musical standpoint. Lots of others have weighed in, too: the ladies on The View, Billboard's Joe Levy on CBS This Morning, and more. Now it's your turn. If you've heard it, do Brad and LL get an A for effort? An F for bypassing artistic instincts to deliver imperfect lyrics? Or somewhere in between? Tell us what you think (the lyrics are below).



There's been a lot of chatter online the last few days about the new Brad Paisley song "Accidental Racist." The song, which is featured on Paisley's new album Wheelhouse, features the country artist singing about the fact that the Confederate flag on his T-shirt doesn't necessarily make him a racist.


In the first verse, Paisley sings:


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 


Later in the chorus he sings: We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday/And caught between southern pride and southern blame. 


Later in the song things get a little weird as LL Cool J puts in his two cents. Yeah, I know; I can practically hear you saying "Wwwwhat?" like the guy on the AT&T commercial after the little girl tells her werewolf story. You read that correctly both times, though; LL Cool J is featured on a modern country track. Given the song's subject matter, getting the point of view of an African-American seems like a genuinely good idea here. Let's see what Mr. NCIS: Los Angeles has to say on the matter.


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 




Still later, Paisley and LL combine their ideas. 


Paisley: I'm proud of where I'm from

LL Cool J: If you don't judge my gold chains

Paisley: But not everything we've done

LL Cool J: I'll forget the iron chains

Paisley: It ain't like you and me can rewrite history

LL Cool J: Can't re-write history baby


Toward the end, LL actually says, "RIP Robert E. Lee."


Cue the AT&T dude again


Before I go on, I should probably give a little background on my personal beliefs on race relations and living in the South. I moved here with my family at the age of 12 back in 1982 from San Diego, California. In other words, I'm a person "from off," as they like to say here, even though I've been here more than three decades now. That's cool, I've learned to live with the fact that I'll never truly be Southern, no matter how much I love living in this region. My native-Charlestonian wife delights at reminding me of that fact.


I was brought up by a couple of pretty open-minded, well-educated parents who basically laid out to my siblings and I that a human is a human, no matter what color they are. Seeing actual instances of racism while living here (and yes, I'm likely not surprising anyone by saying that it still happens, even in 2013) still shocks me, but then I also realize that the world is full of idiots who also come in all different colors. We all know racism isn't exclusive to the South. I saw it living in Southern California as a kid, in Germany when I was stationed there in the Army, and in Saudi Arabia when I was deployed there. Too often the South gets a bad rap as being a place where everyone would love to see slavery make a return, but in reality, most Southerners—both black and white—are good people, especially the ones in the Lowcountry. I mean, come on, we've been called the most polite city in America how many times? I'm not trying to make it seem like I'm wearing a halo here, but I'm a live-and-let-live kind of guy. When the whole flap over the Confederate flag on top of the Statehouse was going on a few years back, I was amazed at the hatred that erupted on both sides—first when the flag came down off the dome, and then when it stalled out on the grounds of the Statehouse instead of disappearing altogether. Now I understand that there are plenty of descendants of brave Johnny Rebs that would argue that the flag represents their heritage. That's all fine and dandy, but it's a symbol of a time when this country was divided. It always amuses me when some good ol' boy sports a Confederate flag shirt while chanting "USA! USA!" So while there are plenty of folks who fly the rebel flag as a tribute to their heritage, there are just as many who do it out of spite and hate.


So, anyway, back to the song. It would be one thing if this tune were somewhat well written and executed, but it really isn't. In all honesty, "Accidental Racist" is a half-ass piece of songwriting all-around. What has me particularly stymied is the fact that I really dig both of the artists involved here. I got into rap back in the early 80s, when films like Krush Groove and Beat Street marked Hollywood's willingness to milk the art form of rap for all it was worth. I bought RUN-DMC's first album on cassette. 


Ya feelin' me?


During that time I loved LL Cool J's work. I mean, come on, this is the guy who gave us "I Can't Live Without My Radio," "Rock the Bells," "Around the Way Girl," and "Mama Said Knock You Out." He's a true hip-hop legend. Sure, he currently spends more time as an actor these days, but there will always be a part of LL that is still street as hell.


Brad Paisley is a different kind of "like" for me. For years, I could have cared less about the guy. He was one of those modern country artists I normally despise, the kind whose idea of country sounded more like schlocky rock and roll. Then I was sent to review one of his concerts at the North Charleston Coliseum a few years ago. I went with an open mind, despite my hatred of modern country, and much to my surprise I was blown away by the guy's showmanship. Paisley is the Eddie Van Halen of modern country. He tears it up on those signature paisley Telecasters of his.


I got a chance to see him a couple of years ago a second time at the Coliseum, and toward the end of the show, he took a nasty spill down a ramp on the stage. It was one of those falls that makes you cringe when you see it, and he just missed impaling himself on his guitar. Paisley recovered and stumbled off the stage, then took a trip to the hospital where, despite being injured, he posed for a picture with the medical staff. That's a standup guy in my book. 


My admiration for both of these artists makes it all the more painful to admit that "Accidental Racist" panders to the same sort of folks that get misty-eyed when they hear Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" (my distaste for that song deserves its own blog entry). Compared to "Accidental Racist," that other towering pile of crap dedicated to racial harmony, "Ebony and Ivory" by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, seems like high art in comparison. 


So that's my take on it. Obviously not everyone will agree with me, but then that's the great thing about art: everyone is entitled to their opinion. 


Here are the full lyrics to the song, just in case you haven't had the misfortune to hear it:


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 the 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


Songwriters: James Todd Smith/Brad Paisley/Lee Thomas Miller


Photos: cover:; above: Entertainment Weekly