There’s a lot to unpack from LL Cool J’s recent appearance on The Tonight Show: his statements that “you can’t fit 300 to 400 years” into a song like ‘Accidental Racist,'” and that he would never compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag–despite his linking the two in the line, “If you don’t judge my do rag, I won’t judge your red flag.”
It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to put on a shirt with a Confederate flag. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say he’s “got a lot to learn BUT.” It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to whine about “walkin’ on eggshells” and “fightin’ over yesterday,” as if racism is a thing of the past and not something active and present in the here and now. It isn’t a fucking accident for a White man to say “we’re still paying for mistakes / that a bunch of folks made long before we came,” as if White Southerners’ lingering discomfort with slave history is the same fucking thing as the structural effects of slavery that inform the lives of Black USians’ to this very day. It isn’t a fucking accident to compare the Confederate flag to a do-rag or saggy drawers. All of this is thoughtfully conceived and deliberate bullshit.
Marginalized people don’t owe privileged people non-judgment and tolerance and indulgence of their gross redefinition of symbols of oppression in exchange for basic decency. The inherent power imbalance between privilege and marginalization makes the entire idea of an “equal exchange” of good will reprehensibly absurd.
If White people want Black people to trust us, then we should make ourselves fucking trustworthy. That means releasing our stranglehold on a lot of symbols and images and words and practices with racist origins, even if we like them a lot—boo fucking hoo!—instead of trying to argue selective context. Especially when there are always plenty of White folks who still value the embedded racism in those things. Brad Paisley, you are literally expecting Black people to be able to read White people’s minds and magically discern whether this one White guy is wearing a Confederate flag just because he has Southern Pride, ahem, or because he hates the fuck outta Black people.
That wildly unreasonable expectation is no accident, either.
I, like the rest of the internet and world (outside of the Arista Nashville offices, apparently), think “Accidental Racist” is an absolutely awful song. With a title that sounds more like a play by Neil Simon than a country-rap crossover, this misguided attempt at finding racial common ground is so terrible because it’s just so ill-considered from both sides of the duet. Being like I am, though, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when things like this happen. I try to figure out why that actor called that other actor that homophobic slur. I hold on hope for fallen starlets for about a year longer than everyone else. But, because I also Like being appalled (it gives me an excuse to make this face), I often break it down the whole process when something like this happens.