Not What We Meant by Racial Harmony

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LL Cool J (Jason Merrit/Getty Images); Brad Paisley (Steven Lawton/Getty Images)

(The Root) — Country singer Brad Paisley's new CD is titled Wheelhouse, but if there's any subject firmly not in his, it's race relations.

"I think it's music's turn to have the conversation," explained Paisley on Ellen after his first single, "Accidental Racist," was released online Monday to the polar opposite of rave reviews.

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The problem is that instead of sparking a candid dialogue about political correctness and point of view, "Accidental Racist" does little more than lampoon.

On the song's absurd hook, Paisley croons, "I'm just a white man coming to ya' from the Southland/Trying to understand what it's like not to be/I'm proud of where I'm from, but not everything we've done/And it ain't like you and me can re-write history/Our generation didn't start this nation/We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday/And caught between Southern pride and Southern blame."

OK, deep breath.

"Accidental Racist" has been justifiably skewered on every medium imaginable. From Twitter to Facebook to watercooler chatter and comments sections, most agree that Paisley's attempt to harmonize racist apologist logic with sophomoric lyrics just isn't the jam. A good friend of mine joked that a Lil' Kim and Carrie Underwood remix to "Before He Cheats" would have been a better idea.

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Even Ellen DeGeneres seemed to struggle with the country singer's winding explanation of why he decided to team up with LL Cool J (yep) for the Django-inspired duet.

According to Paisley, "I don't know if any of you noticed, but there is some racial tension, here and there. ['Accidental Racist'] kind of deals with that."

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"And so, but you're basically saying … ?" prompted DeGeneres, perhaps hoping for an inspired response about a white Southern man's perception of race relations 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn.

"I don't know," answered Paisley.

Analyzing the lyrics, which attempt to explain everything that's happened in American since Reconstruction with allusions to do-rags and Confederate flags, is a job for a very patient seventh-grade remedial-English teacher. Suffice it to say that lines like LL's "I'd love to buy you a beer/Conversate and clear the air/But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here" are accidentally ridiculous.

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The road to racial reconciliation isn't paved with nursery rhymes. And despite their supposed best efforts, Paisley and LL Cool J are hardly the Simon and Garfunkel of the "Can't we all just get along" sentiment.

But perhaps "Accidental Racist" has some rudimentary value. The song might prove — aside from the fact that "conversate" is still not a word — that there is a market for less-than-mediocre recognition of what's right in front of our faces. Instead of wasting studio time trying to figure out what rhymes with "postracial," Paisley & Co. at least tried to give voice — admittedly a tone-deaf one — to the often hush-hush subject of race.

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Yes, "the relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin,' " as LL so profoundly interjects while Paisley intones, "Oh, Dixieland." But are these the two to do it? No. And does the image of Paisley's fan base belting out, "I'm just a whiiiiiite man" at his sold-out concerts scare me just a little? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Still, however off-base and unintentionally hilarious "Accidental Racist" is, the song says something about the comfort level of guys with the guts to actually sing it anywhere — save the shower. 

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Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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