Brad Paisley's 'Accidental Racist' Sparks At Least One Dialogue : Code Switch The song was an instant hit all over the Internet, though not (perhaps) the way its creators intended.
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Brad Paisley's 'Accidental Racist' Sparks At Least One Dialogue

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Brad Paisley's 'Accidental Racist' Sparks At Least One Dialogue

Brad Paisley's 'Accidental Racist' Sparks At Least One Dialogue

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And one of the songs Will mentioned has generated a lot of debate, and a heap of scorn - the song "Accidental Racist." Here's the chorus.


BRAD PAISLEY: (Singing) I'm just a white man coming to you from the Southland, trying to understand what it's like not to be. I'm proud of where I'm from...

CORNISH: As we heard earlier, the song also features rapper LL Cool J. Now, to find out why "Accidental Racist" has struck a nerve, we turn to Gene Demby. He's our lead blogger for NPR's new team covering race, ethnicity and culture. Welcome, Gene.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: Hi, Audie. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So tell us a little bit more about this song. What's the plot of it? What's the story it's trying to tell, and how did people react to it?

DEMBY: So in the song, Brad Paisley is walking into a Starbucks, and he's wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt, and he is reacting to people reacting to him wearing the Confederate flag T-shirt. He says that he's wearing the shirt not because he has any kind of racist inclinations but because he's a Skynyrd fan, and the song is...

CORNISH: A Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, yeah.

DEMBY: A Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, yeah. And he's kind of asking for people to be more understanding of this symbol, this iconography.

CORNISH: And how does LL play into that?

DEMBY: LL Cool J basically says, hey, it's cool. It's cool. That's OK. Hey, we can all get along. I'll make space for your Confederate flag T-shirt if you make space for my hip-hop attire.

CORNISH: So how did people react to this?

DEMBY: The overwhelming response on Twitter, where "Accidental Racist" was a hashtag that was kind of blowing up all day, was snark and eye-rolling. It was just - it was received as very earnest, very well-intentioned but a very earnest song.

CORNISH: But is this just the case of the Internet being the Internet, or are there real historical or other issues with the song?

DEMBY: Well, the comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted jokingly: Can't wait for Brad Paisley and LL Cool J's next single "Whoopsy Daisy, Holocaust, My Bad." A lot of people felt as if it was kind of sheering off kind of the rough edges of our history.

CORNISH: And today, Brad Paisley was on the TV show "Ellen," and she asked him to try and explain what he was trying to say with this.


PAISLEY: I don't know. It's kind of - we're sort of asking the question of - as a proud Southerner, and he is a - as a black New Yorker, it's sort of like, let's - one of my favorite lines of the song is, he says, "I think the relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin'."


PAISLEY: Leave it to a rapper to put it so simply...


PAISLEY: ...and so beautifully.

DEMBY: We were wondering, on our team, why Paisley chose LL Cool J and not a Southern rapper. Atlanta is the epicenter of the hip-hop universe. It's been that way for a few years now. And we were wondering whether a Southern rapper might have a different take on the Confederate flag. One of the lines that LL Cool J says in the song - that got the most attention, actually - he says," if you don't judge my gold chains, then I'll forget the iron chains."

CORNISH: Kind of comparing the two as symbols...

DEMBY: Right.

CORNISH: ...and it sounds like people think those symbols aren't weighted equally.

DEMBY: Right, exactly. The criticism has been, there's kind of a false equivalence.

CORNISH: Now, why do you think this has been such a lightning rod? I mean, is it because it's two polarizing genres of music that people have strong opinions about? Is it the song itself? Is there any way to do a good, interracial message song? I mean, was this doomed from the start?

DEMBY: You know, there isn't a very long track record of well-done, interracial message songs, right? You have "Black or White" by Michael Jackson, which is kind of cheesy. You have "Ebony and Ivory," which is like, notoriously cheesy. I wonder if there's a way to even tackle this subject kind of head-on directly in popular music, in a way that wouldn't cue a bunch of eye-rolling.

I think it's also kind of the content of the song, a bit. I mean, the song almost doesn't work if LL Cool J is not there. I mean, Brad Paisley basically needs a black friend in the song - for the song to work. It doesn't work if he's just him singing the song by himself. It becomes a completely different song, as a matter fact.

CORNISH: Gene Demby is our lead blogger for NPR's new team covering race, ethnicity and culture. Thank you so much for stopping by.

DEMBY: Thanks, Audie. Thanks for having me.


PAUL MCCARTNEY, STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Ebony and Ivory live together in perfect harmony...


We couldn't resist. It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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