Kelefa Sanneh at The New Yorker on Brad Paisley's accidental racism After country star Brad Paisley's latest effort, "Accidental Racist," exploded on YouTube and beyond this week, focus shifted from the incendiary lyrics to Paisley himself. "Paisley has long been one of the genre's most mischievous and self-conscious stars—he is preoccupied with the question of what makes country country, and why," writes Kelefa Sanneh, who profiled Paisley in 2010. With "Accidental Racist," Sanneh observes, "Paisley was hoping to provoke; judging from the reaction he got yesterday, when the song appeared online, he may have succeeded too well." After mining rapper LL Cool J's perplexing cameo, Sanneh appraises the song's sentiment: "Accidental Racist," he argues, is "a more interesting artifact than some of its detractors admit—an awkward but earnest song about being 'caught between Southern pride and Southern blame,' sung in the voice of a white man who suggests there are good reasons for both." Eric Weisbard at NPR largely agrees: "There is a history to 'Accidental Racist,' the history of how white Southern musicians — heatedly, implicitly, at times self-servingly and not always successfully — try to talk about who they are in answer to what others dismissively assume they are." In saying that he "can understand why an artist like Paisley would be attracted to an artist like LL Cool J," The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates delivers some harsh realities: "The assumption that there is no real difference among black people is exactly what racism is," he says, later adding that if Paisley really wanted to push boundaries, he "would have to be more interested in a challenging conversation and less interested in a comforting lecture."
John McWhorter at The New Republic on the use of "illegal immigrant" Can a human being be designated as "illegal"? The Associated Press's decision to drop the phrase "illegal immigrant" from its copy re-upped a long-running debate, fueled by the journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, about how to talk about people who lack identity papers but permanently reside in the United States. To John McWhorter, the argument seems overblown: "The idea that illegal is misused in applying to a human being has a visceral appeal, but founders on both logic and custom," he writes, assessing the relationship between language and policy. "The claim 'A person shouldn’t be called illegal' is a handy slogan but sloppy logic, unless we are prepared to accept that a person shouldn't be called a convicted felon because no human being qualifies, in their dignified essence, as 'convicted.' Decrying the designation of the people as illegal is like trying to put out a housefire with an eyedropper: language’s record on seriously transforming thought is scanty indeed." Alistair Denvil at PolicyMic assents. Illegal immigrant, he argues, "isn't a slur and it doesn't involve deriding anyone. It simply refers to people who, in entering a country, did so by breaking the law. That's all." But Tanya Golash-Boza at Al Jazeera argues that language exerts a powerful influence on the way people think. The AP's decision, she writes, "is crucial because it will help us avoid dehumanising language. One action a person committed — crossing the border without permission or overstaying his/her visa — should not define him/her. ... This debate over language drives home the point that all language is politicised."