Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Accidental Racist" is accidentally racist

And honestly, I'm not that surprised.

I get the point that Brad Paisley is trying to make. The Confederate battle flag is a part of Southern culture. For better or worse, it just is. But does wearing it make him a racist? He's offended that people might think that. He's just a good ol' boy, tryin' to do no harm. And so he wrote a song about it.

I am not a scholar in critical race theory, but I have found the following things present in the song that do not help his argument that really, wearing the Confederate flag isn't racist:
  • Defensiveness ("And it ain't like you and me can rewrite history," "walkin' on eggshells")
  • White guilt ("Caught between southern pride and southern blame")
  • I have a black friend, and he approves, so it's okay ("If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains")
  • Reductionism and lack of context ("They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears" -- Reconstruction was about way more than fixing buildings and drying tears, and there's nary a mention of Jim Crow, which set race relations in the South back even further than before the Civil War, besides that slavery thing)
And when I see the above things, I realize it's the same tired old argument, the same tired old white guilt that people feel proud of, defensive about, frustrated by, or all three at the same time.

I also know the importance narratives play when trying to decide if something is racist (not if someone is racist; the two are different things.) And while I understand that the Confederate battle flag is a part of Southern heritage, I also understand that there are people who are offended by or who feel nervous when they see it. It's even mentioned in the song ("I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here"). Both narratives are important. But even while trying to do research for this post, I found a lot more hits for the "the Confederate flag is part of our Southern culture" narrative than for the "this makes me uncomfortable" narrative. I have a hard time believing that this symbol doesn't have deep negative meaning, at least for some. But why don't I hear their opinions? Why is that narrative reduced to one line in the song?

I hear a lot of white voices --including mine-- surrounding this issue; those who support the flag and those who do not. But where are the voices of people of color? Why can't I find them with simple Google searches? It seems Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's question of whether the subaltern have a voice is still extremely relevant today. I cannot make an informed decision until I hear the narratives of those who are supposedly affected by the negativity inherent in the symbol.

But until then, Brad Paisley is not telling me anything I don't already know about the fact that white guilt exists and that it does absolutely nothing to confront the issue of racism. It just states his position and despite the inclusion of his "black friend" LL Cool J, does not seem to invite dialogue on the issue, but instead exhorts people to leave the past in the past and try to see this symbol so often construed as negative with the positive connotation he puts on it as a white Southerner instead.


  1. That flag makes me feel super uncomfortable.

    When we were driving down to our vacation we stopped in Virginia at a restaurant and a truck pulled in beside us with a bumper sticker of the Confederate flag that said "Fighting terrorism since 1861" and I felt like I was going to throw up. I was honestly afraid to eat in the restaurant with the driver of that vehicle. I said to Brad, "Well, I guess we're officially in the South now."

  2. (Not that my opinion is one you're looking for, as I am not a person of color!)


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