” No doubt Paisley was hoping to provoke; judging from the reaction he got yesterday, when the song appeared online, he may have succeeded too well. A post on Jezebel
calling it “The Worst Song Ever™” was fairly representative of many early reactions, especially from publications not in the habit of writing about new Brad Paisley singles. In a thoughtful interview
with the Tennessean
, Paisley explained that the song, which he co-wrote, was his response to people who said they were offended by a T-shirt he wore celebrating Alabama, the venerable country group, with whom he has collaborated
. The shirt
has a design that includes a Confederate flag, and the criticism got Paisley thinking about what it means to be white and Southern.
” begins as the narrator’s explanation—it’s not quite an apology—to a Starbucks barista, implicitly African-American, who was offended by the Confederate flag on his T-shirt. Intriguingly, Paisley never resolves the tension in the song’s title—that is, he never suggests that “accidental” racism is a contradiction in terms. Instead, his narrator is a “proud” Southern white man trying to incorporate some humility into his identity:
They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears
We’re still siftin’ through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years
I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin
But it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin
It seems clear that “Accidental Racist” would never have amused and horrified the Internet if Paisley hadn’t decided to ask the rapper LL Cool J to contribute a verse. Unlike Paisley, LL Cool J has never been much of a provocateur, and perhaps he wasn’t the right rapper to address a subject as ticklish as this. It’s LL Cool J, not Paisley, who delivers the song’s most puzzling lines, adopting an oddly supplicatory posture: “You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would,” he raps, adding, “I want you to get paid, but be a slave, I never could.” (The syntax is as mangled as the logic.) As Paisley sings the final words, LL Cool J says, “Let bygones be bygones”—a sentiment that contradicts much of what’s come before.