There’s a new country song out that’s causing a bit of ruckus, namely “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J. Because some of you might not be able to listen to a country song, here’s a link to the lyrics. Not paying much attention that world, I didn’t know the song had stirred up any controversy. But, it has and for good reason, too. The song is supposed to be about reconciliation, but it comes off as a white dude whining because people think he’s a racist for wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt. I hate to break it you, but the Confederate flag is a racist symbol, if only because African-Americans see it as one. The days when white folks got to determine what is racist are gone, if they ever existed in the first place.
The problem here is one of privilege, something a lot of us have but don’t acknowledge. Because if this, most white people don’t think they enjoy any privilege at all. But, we do and remaining ignorant of that fact is a luxury we don’t have anymore. So, how do we get past this ignorance?
To realize you have privilege, you first need to know what it is. A general description of privilege is a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. In this case, however, we’re talking about white privilege, which is “the set of societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces”. And, make no mistake: if you’re white in America, you have privilege. If you don’t think so, ask any minority and see what they say.
It is privilege that allows us white folks to wear something that represents a vile and detestable period of American history and say that it doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just a symbol of southern pride. Okay, it’s arrogance, but it’s privilege, too. A lot of the time, however, privilege is pretty damn arrogant.
Yes, the song is full of ignorant white privilege. Yes, some of things LL Cool J says minimizes what black Americans have gone through. And, yes, the song reduces the thorny issue of race to a mild disagreement between acquaintances. But, for all its faults, the song is an indicator that white people are finally beginning to understand that it’s not all sunshine and roses where race is concerned. They’re not ready to acknowledge their part in that quite yet, but we’re getting there. Slowly, yes; but we are getting there
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can’t wear a shirt with a Confederate flag on it. I’m not even saying you shouldn’t wear a shirt with a Confederate flag on it (you probably shouldn’t, but I’m not saying that). If you’re grown, you do whatever you want. What I am saying is that doing whatever you want has a cost. And, in this case, the cost is people thinking you’re a racist.