Why Is "Accidental Racist" So Ridiculous? Because Brad Paisley and LL Cool J Just Won't Speak for Themselves
So I finally listened to "Accidental Racist," and the upshot is that now I kind of want to write some Brad Paisley-LL Cool J fanfiction. Nothing weird -- that would be Brad Paisley/LL Cool J fanfiction, and there's a huge and scary difference -- just Brad Paisley and LL Cool J hanging out at the video store, or pulling wacky pranks on each other, or road-tripping to a My Chemical Romance show. (Every music fanfic is eventually about My Chemical Romance, for demographic reasons.)
I want to do that because I love writing fanfiction, but also because the sentiment in the song -- hey, let's try to understand each other and be pals, instead of hiding all this resentment -- is so nice. I want to hang out with these guys. Which doesn't explain why "Accidental Racist" the song is the most stunningly awkward, wrong-footed thing to hit the Internet since the Insane Clown Posse wrapped an teleological argument for pantheism around magnets.
More: Brad Paisley says it's okay to be the minority.
"Accidental Racist" -- you can read the lyrics here, and you absolutely should -- has already been compared to a lot of things, most notably (and successfully) Saturday Night Live's famous "Ebony & Ivory" parody. But it's most interesting in its own right because this is really about the exceptionally strange way in which a positive idea was strangled by its own weird execution.
Brad Paisley, after all, is not a Generic Pop-Country Cypher. He wrote a song about a white minority being a-okay; he's into the idea of coming to a cultural cease-fire with LL Cool J. A country song about being aware of what the Confederate flag represents to different groups of people should have pushed him permanently into the NPR listener's some-of-my-best-friends-are-country-music-singers firmament.
But the one he released just turned him into a meme.
It's a bad song, but I think it's bad for one specific reason. That is, I think this song would be salvageable if Paisley and LL Cool J were singing and rapping about only themselves and not, say, every last person racially or culturally associated with them.
Because the problem isn't just the ham-fisted equivocations between Reconstruction and slavery, or forgetting about iron chains in exchange for not judging gold chains. The problem is that these two famous, goofy individuals have reduced themselves to huge, historically fraught identities, which has left white people who don't identify with Brad Paisley and black people who don't identify with LL Cool J a little mystified.
When group identity, which is such a weirdly intimate abstraction, becomes the primary way we see ourselves -- Brad Paisley presenting himself as any-cowboy, LL Cool J as any-"black yankee" -- we're always a step away from speaking for people we shouldn't. If "Accidental Racist" were a conversation between its two middle-aged stars, it would be a sincere and ridiculous but inoffensive attempt at reconciliation.
It's the abstraction -- the idea that anybody can say something like "R.I.P. Robert E. Lee" on behalf of all people subjugated by some equally large, equally abstract anybody-else, and mean it -- that makes it weird. If they hadn't been so intent on being A Cowboy and A Rapper, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J might have written something really touching about their own relationship.
At least, that's the premise of my fanfic.
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