Why did country star Brad Paisley write the song "Accidental Racist"? Because he thinks it's time musicians step in to have a national conversation about race. Paisley told Ellen DeGeneres Tuesday that, along with LL Cool J, he wrote the song to spark the dialogue that has been going on for a while but that he apparently has never before noticed. "I don't know if any of you have noticed but there's some racial tension here and there?" Paisley joked. The Ellen audience laughed-ish. "I don't really trust Hollywood … or talk radio or anything like that to sort of deal with that [race] anymore. I think it's music's turn to have the conversation." Music has been having this conversation for a long time.
Paisley's song, in a way, noted this. "When I put on that T-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is/ I'm a Skynyrd fan," Paisley sings in "Accidental Racist." But Lynyrd Skynyrd said in 2012 that it would stop using the rebel flag because "people like the KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag," only to immediately reverse itself, saying the flag represents "the Civil War was fought over States rights." Correct! A state's right to have slavery and Jim Crow.
Paisley probably wasn't expecting so much criticism. White southerners are used to hearing that they're the real victims of racial tension. It's tough to sell that to an outside audience. Here, for example, is the late racist Sen Jesse. Helms, in his memoir: "I felt that the citizens of my community, my state and my region of the country were being battered by this new form of bigotry." Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" is about that, too. Paisley whines about Reconstruction, LL Cool J seems to feel bad about the burning of Atlanta. Paisley says feels like he's being labeled a racist for things that aren't his fault, just because he wears a symbol of the Confederacy. "Our generation didn't start this nation / We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday."
On Ellen, Paisley struggled to articulate what he wanted people to take away from "Accidental Racist." DeGeneres asked him, "OK, so you're basically saying...?" He responded, "I don't know."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.