Brad Paisley, the Confederate Flag and the Politics of Offense

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates says that what Brad Paisley, of "Accidental Racist" fame, fails to understand about blacks and the Confederate flag is that it is far worse than "offensive."

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Brad Paisley at a performance this summer in Wisconsin (Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Thunder)

In a piece at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that what Brad Paisley, of "Accidental Racist" fame, fails to understand about blacks and the Confederate flag is that it is far worse than "offensive." He tackles the politics of offense and offense-taking.

New York's Jody Rosen has an interview up with Brad Paisley that's worth checking out. When Paisley released "Accidental Racist" earlier this year I got into some conversations on Twitter (I used to live there) with some of his fans. They defended him as a singular figure in the country music scene willing to push borders and challenge all manner of convention. You see that guy on display in Rosen's interview. Usually people who end up on the business end of the barrage Paisley endure come out sounding scornful. Paisley sounds more like he's grappling. We should all be so lucky.* 

I'd like to focus in on something:

Some Southerners got very mad it me: "I'm done with you. How dare you apologize for the Confederate flag." But the majority of my fans said, "We know you, we love you -- and we don't understand the controversy, we don't get why everyone is so mad." Which tells you all you need to know, right there.

There is a gulf of understanding that I was trying to address. The most surprising and upsetting thing was being thought of by some as a racist. I have no interest in offending anyone -- especially anyone in the African-American community. That song was absolutely, earnestly supposed to be a healing song. One hundred percent.

I don't really doubt that Paisley wasn't trying to be offensive, nor that he really, earnestly was trying to do some good. But I don't think he really gets what bothers black people about the Confederate Flag. It is not simply that the flag is offensive. It is that it is the chosen symbol of slaveholders and those who wanted to live in a republic rooted in slaveholding.

Read Ta-Nehisi Coates' entire piece at the Atlantic.

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