Accidental Racist

In part, I agree with Alan Scherstuhl, over at The Village Voice, that, “Today’s country stars are in the reassurance business” and that Brad Paisley is, indeed, attempting to challenge his audience. And that, as far as that goes, the song is commendable. Which I think is kind of the point that Peter Cooper is trying to make. (Though I find his contention that anyone’s saying, “that racial consciousness and American history are too complicated to be handled in a contemporary song” to be so disingenuous as to be jaw-dropping. People are saying that it’s too important to get wrong in a shitty song, but who, exactly, is saying is shouldn’t be done?)

I think the song suffers from a racist trope, though, which both Scherstuhl and Cooper refuse to acknowledge: The Confederate Flag, as a symbol, isn’t some kind of misunderstanding of meaning between black people and white people that can be resolved by everyone just coming to understand each other. The Confederate Flag is a symbol of white supremacy, the unifying symbol of a country devoted to white supremacy. And even since the fall of that country, it has been used and continues to be used by white supremacist groups as a unifying symbol of white supremacy. (And here’s the important part.) The fantasy in which a black person comes to understand that the Confederate Flag is not (just) a symbol of white supremacy, but is something that is so important for white people (for some other, vaguely articulated reasons) to hold on to, and in which the black person comes to believe that it’s kind of okay for white people to wear or fly the Confederate flag is a white supremacist fantasy.

It doesn’t make you a bad person to have this fantasy or to respond strongly to this fantasy. I don’t think Brad Paisley is wrong or evil for sharing this fantasy. It’s very hard to stare directly at the ways that white supremacy has been ingrained into our culture, they ways in which it is the default, easy-to-support position. You can, indeed, be an “accidental racist” just by going along with “the way we’ve always done things” because the way we’ve always done things as a country is racist as fuck.

But wanting black people to set aside the systemic oppression and dehumanization of their ancestors, to pretend like the state-sanctioned oppression of Jim Crow, and the violent opposition to the Civil Rights movement (which took place under the re-popularized Confederate Flag), and the ongoing violence they face at the hands of racists who identify with that Flag is somehow not that important, less important than white people’s feelings is wanting black people to set aside their own history and to ignore a useful literal red flag of someone who intends violence against them in order to not make white people uncomfortable. Wanting that–for black people’s lived history to count less to them than the feelings of white people–is white supremacy: our feelings should be superior to your history.

That’s why I’d have far less problems with the song (though I’d still think it kind of sucks) if LL Cool J weren’t on it. I do think it’s imperative for white people to talk amongst ourselves about white supremacy and not continue to put the onus on non-white people to fix our racist problem. Even if we do so awkwardly and sometimes fuck up.

But, under the guise of arguing against white supremacy, the song enacts a fantasy of it.

(And also all this good stuff.)