Aaron R. Davis
Last week one of history’s worst crimes against music was perpetrated. I’m speaking, of course, of Brad Paisley’s attempt to say “It’s okay that I’m a racist and defensive about it, because my racism is halfhearted and a black guy said it was okay” in song form, “The Ignorant Bigot.” Or, excuse me, “The Accidental Racist.” Well, same thing, isn’t it? He could’ve called it “The Incurious Dipshit Racism Apologist” and meant the same thing, although anyone who writes a song equating hundreds of years of slavery with brothers wearing baggy pants probably doesn’t know what words like “incurious” and “apologist” mean. I’m about 99 percent sure, after hearing this song, that Brad Paisley doesn’t know what “racism” actually means, other than the usual uptight white guy bullshit of “a black person made me feel bad for not being more sensitive about the messages I’m unconsciously sending.” Because to too many white people, that’s what racism actually is: someone to who institutionalized racism happens making you notice it.
The song might as well actually be called “I Won’t Tolerate Your Intolerance, But Here’s Why You Should Tolerate Mine.” We have this weird thing in America now, which I’ve spoken about at length, where we’ve somehow confused the idea of freedom of speech with the freedom from being disagreed with openly and the freedom to be as intolerant as I want and not told that I’m acting like an entitled jag. In the song, Brad Paisley is immediately made uncomfortable (by one “Mr. Black Man,” who I’m reasonably sure is made up) because he’s wearing a shirt with the Confederate flag on it and “Mr. Black Man” doesn’t like what it symbolizes. In the song, Paisley says something along the lines of “Hey, I’m just taking pride in my Southern heritage,” and “Mr. Black Man” responds by saying “Well, I’m also Southern, and I don’t take pride in the part of my Southern heritage that involves centuries of chains and dehumanization to prop up a privileged aristocracy.” Oh, no, wait, he says “That’s okay, just don’t make fun of my gold chains.”
Now … that’s a message of racial tolerance? That’s a meaningful dialogue? Brad Paisley defends his right to wear a symbol of slave ownership and racial degradation, and then “Mr. Black Man” says he’ll let all of that go if we’ll just accept that sometimes he’s going to wear do-rags and jerseys? Uh … I’m no dialectician here, but I think the words I want to adequately describe how I’m feeling right now are “Go fuck yourself.” If you think those are remotely the same thing, you are a tool and you need to have your Internet access cut off for a while.
Can we talk about this stupid Confederate flag, please? I mean, really talk about it, without a bunch of white Southerners getting in our faces about pride and heritage and all of that other shit they fool themselves with?
Who are these people who are actually taking pride in a heritage of racism? Because let’s stop fooling ourselves right now: the Civil War was about slavery. There is nothing else that you can use to justify it. “But there were political factors!” Yes, but they were all about whether or not the federal government had the right to outlaw slavery. “But there were economic factors!” Yes, but they were all about whether the Southern economy could be competitive without slaves. “But there were representational factors!” Yes, but they were all about whether or not the less-populous Southern states could have equal representation in the federal government while counting slaves as only part of a human being. It all goes back to slavery and nothing else. The Confederate flag is a symbol of a slave system, and wearing that symbol on a shirt is not harmless. It is a reminder and basically an endorsement of and even a glorification of a mythical Antebellum past of slavery and elitism and governmental insurrection. It’s racist. Because it’s not part of a proud Southern heritage. It’s part of a proud white Southern heritage. It’s a symbol that says one and only one thing: “We fought for the right to keep and own other human beings because they were black.” That’s all it means.
I know, I know, “Southern heritage.” Ask a black person from the South how he or she feels about their “Southern heritage.” I guarantee you they won’t tell you that your symbols of intolerance and hate will bother them less if you just stop giving them shit about how they dress.
Also, can we just talk about the cowardice inherent in the way the flag is referred to in the song? They keep referring to it as a “red flag.” No. Wrong. The Confederate flag is not just an innocuous “red flag.” China has a red flag. Good ol’ boys have a rebel flag. A symbol of the time they took up arms against their own country in order to protect their inhuman institution of people-farming. Despite what you’ll hear some people knock on about, the Confederacy was not a real, separate country. It was an insurrection. It was stolen land. And it was not recognized by any other government besides a loose collection of two minor German states, briefly. You can claim it was a separate nation all you want, but if your land is stolen from another country and you aren’t legally recognized, it’s not a real country. England and France didn’t recognize the Confederate Rebellion because they didn’t want to endorse slavery.
“But we had our own government! Our own currency! Our own flag and constitution!” Yeah, well, so do a lot of clubs. That’s about the only nation-status I’m willing to see conferred on the “Confederate States of America.” A club of slave enthusiasts. With a lodge in Richmond.
Why does Brad Paisley go to so much trouble in the song — and it takes all of one line to get there — to defend the rebel flag? He’s not interested in a dialogue, of course. He’s interested in a lecture that makes him feel comfortable in his bigotry, because he doesn’t really “mean” to be racist, so he thinks he shouldn’t be made to feel bad for not being mindful of what anything actually means. He doesn’t understand that his “Southern tradition” is sometimes an idiotic tradition of keeping these symbols of racial intolerance alive and pretending they mean something else, and that’s the essence of ignorant bigotry and not at all the same thing as being annoyed with how some black people dress. He doesn’t want to understand. Listen to the song: it’s not about understanding, it’s about explaining away, and I have to say, Brad, buddy, you don’t need to explain it. You need to shut the fuck up because it’s not 1865 anymore and I have no sympathy that you don’t get to take pride in being a racist anymore.
Look, pal, here’s the thing: no one’s telling you to be ashamed of who you are or where you came from or the troubled past of our nation. They’re asking you to be mindful of where you are now and to put away the symbols of a less enlightened time. You can be proud of being from the South and not proud of slavery. But it does mean that you have to let go of the rebel flag and all it represents, because you can’t change what it stood for. Accept it, and leave it in the past. Stop fighting for it.
But that’s not the point of the song. What the song all comes down to, really, is that other people don’t matter in the way he sees the world, but please stop shaming him when he just wants black people to serve him coffee in peace. It’s only polite.
And where is the inherent racism in that kind of statement?
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.