Thursday, April 11, 2013

Seems the racism isn't the accident

Please, LL Cool J, tell us "Accidental Racist" was an accident.

Please clarify that, like what happened with that famously terrible anti-Islam movie, you went in the studio thinking it was something else and they chopped up your words and dubbed your voice on the most jaw-dropping parts. If it is all you, say we're misunderstanding it. Something.

I know that most movements with racism at the core trot out at least one minority to make it OK, but why did that have to be you, LL? They have people for that already — people who need the work far more than you do. You're an icon of hip-hop, and your acting isn't bad either.

I know you're a good guy, LL. I'm sure Brad Paisley is too. A collaboration against racism is all well and good — exciting, even.

But "Accidental Racist"? Let me tell you about being accidentally racist. I've written anti-racist columns and blogs that people have taken the wrong way. Racism is always a touchy topic, even more so when you take the chance to lampoon racists. As far as comedy and satire go, racists are about the most fertile ground there is. But there's a fine line. If you're not careful, or if your audience isn't clued in, what you say can backfire. And for someone devoted to destroying racism, that's one of the worst feelings in the world.

The inbred cousin of anti-racist satire is when someone tells a racist joke under the guise of, "How terrible is this joke?" Yes, it's so terrible that they told it anyway, and got the same laugh they'd have have gotten with no rationale. Those people will generally claim that they aren't racist either. And in the South especially, they may really think they aren't. But they are, to some degree, accidental racists.

I don't see much in the song lyrics that suggest any misunderstanding or satirical intent. Clever as your wordplay might be, it offers no counterbalance to Brad's dominant, yet put-upon, Southern boy.

I grew up white in the South. All my life I heard (and still hear) that racism was over and that it was blacks, not whites, who were the real racists for keeping the conflict alive. That blacks had their hand out for reparations for something that we had nothin' to do with. That white people had moved on and that it was past time for blacks to stop playing the race card. At some point I asked myself, "Have whites really moved on? Don't blacks still live with the lingering effects of institutional prejudice? Is it really the descendants of slaves who should apologize to people still pining for the Confederacy?" The way that many Southern whites still insist that opposition to the Confederate flag is rooted in "political correctness run amok" suggest to me that the racist mindset remains. 

Oh, I don't doubt that people revere the flag for reasons not related to slavery — but it's condescending at best to pretend that others don't see hatred in its fabric. Racist at worst.

"Accidental Racist" is the ultimate fantasy of a 21st-century good ol' boy — a culture clash between white and black, where the black man apologizes. Where seeing racism in the Confederate flag is the equivalent of judging a black man for his do-rag or gold chains (and where only the flag misunderstanding deserves an apology). In the dubious tradition of Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain, LL's presence turns what should have been a horrifying exercise into a justifiable jam for the good ol' boy. "It ain't racist! It's the truth!"

Not Cool, J. 

Or, for that matter, Brad.

We're all better than this, aren't we?

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