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There's nothing accidental about racism
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D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and lives in Orange Park, Fla., with her husband and cat. Her column is published here each Tuesday. Opinions expressed are solely her own.

Is racism accidental?

Country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J apparently think so. The two have teamed up to produce a new single, “Accidental Racism,” which will appear on Paisley’s upcoming album.

The lyrics have been leaked online and are already raising eyebrows.

"To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main/ I hope you understand/When I put on that T-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan/ The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the South."

"Our generation/Didn't build this nation,"

"I'm just a white man/Living in the southland/I try to put myself in your shoes/That's a good place to begin/But it ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin."

Then LL Cool J begins rapping: “If you don't judge my do-rag, I won't judge your red flag.”

Paisley goes on to say: "Proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done."

I have to assume the efforts of these artists are well intentioned. The racial and political climate amid the Obama election, the Trayvon Martin killing and the widening socio-economic gap between blacks and whites in America certainly provide opportunity for discussion around race relations.

But I believe Paisley and Cool J have missed the mark.

To suggest that the wearing of a Confederate flag shirt stands an equal chance of causing offense as the wearing of a do-rag is ridiculous.

The Confederate flag is a known symbol of racism and bigotry. It has been and is still used to symbolize the Old South -- a good time for whites who were awarded superior personal and economic status but bad for blacks who were consigned as less than human and whose value in the South was in how much they would fetch on the auction block or in cotton fields.

Those who display the Confederate flag are aware that the flag is offensive to most African Americans, and the offense therefore is not unintentional.

Racism in America is too widespread and has persisted too long to be called accidental. Racism is not usually unintentional or by chance.

To call racism accidental excuses the offender without a requirement that he or she changes. To call racism accidental allows Hitler to say, “My bad” and those who murdered Emmett Till to say, “Oops.” It allows those whose desire is to suppress minorities, immigrants and gays to hide their evil intentions behind a cloak of innocence.

For Paisley to use the much-used claim “our generation didn’t build this country” is an attempt to excuse present-day racism by laying it at the feet of dead racists.

But racism, like any other plague, needs a live carrier to survive, and we are the carriers who bring it into our generation. We are the carriers who pass it to our children. We are the generation that refuses to inoculate ourselves against it.

This generation of racists doesn’t ride on horses under white sheets. It doesn’t burn crosses on lawns or form late-night lynching parties.

But as an African American in this country and a child of the South, I can tell you that when I hear the blatant disrespect toward President Obama…when I read the vitriolic online comments on any subject having to do with blacks…when I see so many whites willing to excuse the killing of a black teenager coming home from the store with a bag of candy…or when I see the Confederate flag waving from the back of a dirty pickup truck or on the front of a t-shirt in a local restaurant, I feel the noose.

So I give Brad Paisley and LL Cool J credit for coming together and trying to have this discussion. But I challenge them to have courage enough to confront racism in a more honest way.

Artists of their caliber can do better than that.
***

D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and lives in Orange Park, Fla., with her husband and cat. Her column is published here each Tuesday. Opinions expressed are solely her own.



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December 19, 2014
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