So this is a real thing in the real world: Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley.
I find this song so discouraging. Not because I'm not aware that I live in a culture that is profoundly racist; I am aware. And not because I somehow thought that white US southern culture and its music was somehow immune to that (HA HA NO), because I didn't. And not because I assumed that the music industry would have the requisite checks and balances to catch something like this before it was made, because I didn't. And not because I hoped that the music industry would think that a song like this would be a detriment rather than an asset, because I don't and it probably isn't. (Unfortunately.)
I'm discouraged by this song because I expect more.
I will try to be as charitable as possible and say that I hope that Brad Paisley sang this song because he is awakening to the realization that he is a privileged white man living in a profoundly racist culture, and that he is realizing that the things he does and says without thinking (like wearing a Confederate flag) telegraph actual meaning to marginalized people who can't move in society with the same thoughtless luxury. And I hope that LL Cool J sang this song with Brad Paisley because he feels like any exposure of casual racism to a white southern audience -- an audience which is frequently profoundly hostile to even acknowledge the existence of casual racism -- is a positive thing that might move even a single person to stop being an entitled racist asshat.
This song? Is not a good thing. There are a lot of huge problems with this song, but some of the biggest problems with this song is the way in which it elides the fact that modern racism isn't an "accident" for many, too many, people; the way in which it fails to understand that thoughtless racism and careless privilege aren't softened by good intent (and that the explanation of that good intent is unwelcome and directs the focus away from corrective action); and the way in which it casually suggests that "real" racism is a thing of the past that we're only stuck with because of inertia.
To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand...
No. Your intent is only valuable insofar as it makes you do better once you've been educated as to the problematic nature of your actions. The onus is not on others to understand your intent; the onus is on you to understand why your actions are a problem and to correct them.
Lookin' like I got a lot to learn, but from my point of view...
No. Your point of view isn't what needs to be shared here. If you are part of a privileged class, your point of view is already put forward front and center to everyone else. If you are part of a privileged class, you need to be listening to others' point of view, not speaking up to share your own.
I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland...
No. You are not "just" part of a privileged class. You need to understand that while you don't speak for the entire group, you have benefited from privileges extended to that group, and others have been marginalized systematically for not belonging to that group. You also need to understand that being part of that privileged group makes you capable of being a threat, even if you choose not to be -- and that marginalized people can't read your mind or see the future to know that you won't harm them.
And it ain't like you and me can re-write history
Our generation didn't start this nation...
No. Racism isn't something that just happened in the past and that we're stuck with today because of history and inertia. Racism is something that is actively perpetuated daily, right now, in violent and non-violent ways. Pretending that everything was bad then but is good now invisibles real problems and makes it impossible to address them. It's a form of deflecting responsibility and it brings nothing of value to this conversation; in fact, it actively harms.
We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells...
No. If you are a member of a privileged group, you are not "walking on eggshells" because nothing bad happens to you if an eggshell breaks. Being careful to not fuck up and be a privileged ass isn't "walking on eggshells"; it's being careful to not fuck up and be a privileged ass. You also need to understand that casting "being careful to not fuck up and be a privileged ass" as this super-hard thing that is super-hard to do, you're pretending that being a member of a privileged class is rough (maybe even as rough as being a marginalized person!) and that is unhelpful and harmful.
We're still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years...
No. See above, re: pushing off modern problems onto people of the past in order to deflect responsibility.
There is more, so much more, to say about how wrong this song is, but unfortunately I have a sick husband I need to take care of tonight. But I want to say that as a white southern woman and sometime-country-music-listener, I do not approve of this song. I don't agree with it. I am deeply discouraged by its existence.
I expect more.
Update: Melissa McEwan has a much better take on it, as usual. I recommend reading it.