Thursday, April 11, 2013

Writer says musicians flub attempt to discuss sensitive issues about slavery and the South

Brad Paisley (Wade Payne, AP)
Musicians Brad Paisley and LL Cool J missed the mark in their attempt to duet about race relations, the legacy of slavery in the South, and the meaning of the Confederate flag, David Graham opines for The Atlantic. The duo released a song called "Accidental Racist," which Graham says turned out to be, well, accidentally racist.

In the song, Paisley sings "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." (Lynryd Skynrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" replied to Neil Young's "Southern Man.")

LL Cool J
In response, LL Cool J sings, "If you don't judge my do-rag, I won't judge your red flag. If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains." Graham writes, "It's pretty insane to compare an inoffensive piece of headgear to a flag that represents a treasonous secession movement devoting to maintaining the practice of slavery. It's even more insane to compare jewelry to slave shackles."

Jocelyn Neal, director of the Center for the Study of the American South, told Christian Science Monitor reporter Mark Guarino that country musicians sometimes feel an obligation to address Rebel pride. “Country music as a genre carries with it this association with Southern identity, specifically the Southern white identity, even though radio surveys continue to show the country music audience is more highly educated and better paid than record company executives assume they are," Neal told Guarino. “There is a tension right now in country music between a lot of songs producing a defiant stance saying, ‘We are Southern, we are redneck’ … even though there are plenty of people who live in the South who see the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate." (Read more)

UPDATE, April 13: "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," Eric Weisbard writes for NPR. "Ever since white Northerners started putting out their records, Southern whites have represented a backward rural mindset in a national culture of jazzy modernity." Weisbard digs deeper, linking Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the Drive-by Truckers, "whites raised on rockabilly and black R&B. . . . But that moment of reconciliation, a time of redneck rock and smoking pot on the roof of Jimmy Carter's White House, proved equally short-lived." (Read more)

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