Aren’t we all accidental racists?

Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J have just released a new country duet called “Accidental Racist.”  It’s caused quite a lot of buzz, with some saying it’s “a model for exactly how not to start [a] conversation” about racism in America.

Yes and no.

I think Paisley’s heart was in the right place, but some of the song might miss the mark.  But not all of it, or even most of it.  Let’s discuss (and try not to kill each other in so doing).

I just read through all the lyrics.  And suggest you do too, before reading any more about this topic.  It’s a nice song.  Paisley is clearly trying to do something good here.  Whether he accomplishes it, is another question.

The song assumes we only judge southerners by their past, and not their present

The biggest problem with the song is that it seems to suggest that all the problems are in the past, and that southerners are being judged for the sins of their fathers.

Yes, and no.  First, here’s a good explanation of what’s wrong with the song from a guy named Conscious on YouTube:

I think it was a poor song. I think the sentiments relayed are relatable to a whole lot of people. I feel if Brad Paisley is being genuine, it’s brave of him to sing such a song considering his constituents. There are a few lines that are very powerful. I think LL Cool J’s verse was wack but still it expressed some real issues. This type of song is in no way new. I think seeing as we’re in this made up ‘post-racial’ America this song is regarded as tremendously terrible not because of how bad it is song-wise but by how it’s speaking on something that hasn’t changed in America.

I’ll be the first to admit that, growing up in Chicago, I never gave two licks about the South.  I had studied the Civil War, and the civil rights era, in my high school history class, and that’s about as close to either issue that I ever got.  Then I moved to DC, at the age of 21, and about eight years after that started working on gay rights issue, and started learning more about the South, past and present.  And my image of the region started to sink.  And not because of its history, but because of its present.

Sadly, there’s still too much bigotry in the South

Stories like this – about four teenage girls in Georgia trying to throw the first inter-racial prom in their high school’s history – both give me hope, and make me extremely sad.

While it’s great the girls, two white and two black, have the gumption to do this, what the heck are we doing having whites-only college dances in the year 2013?  I didn’t even know high schools did such things any more.  And the fact that the high school wasn’t made a laughing stock in Georgia, and its sports teams boycotted across the state, and civil rights activists didn’t shut the school down, makes me less hopeful about real change ever fully coming to the South.

So, yeah, we do judge all southerners by things they weren’t responsible for.  And sometimes it’s unfair (perhaps a lot of times).  So Paisley raises a fair point, especially for those southerners like him, who seem to “get it.”

But we also judge southerners by the fact that far too many of their politicians are still racists, far too many of their states are still trying to undermine voting rights, and far too many of their citizens are homophobes, anti-women, anti-immigrant, and the list goes on.  All you need is look at the South’s congressional delegations, and the “new South” starts looking a lot like the old one.

So I will fault Paisley for that – I think too much of the song glosses over the fact that the reason a lot of us “judge” the South isn’t because of what people did in the 1860s or the 1960s, it’s because of the bigotry that seems a bit too prevalent even today.

But Paisley is right about the perils of “accidental racism”

Now for a word about the song title, “Accidental Racist.”  Paisley has a point here too.  He talks about “walkin’ on eggshells” when dealing with race issues.  And this point he makes is especially relevant there:

I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin
But it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin
‘Cause I’m a white man livin’ in the southland

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley

His point, I’d argue, is that we can and should try to do our best Atticus Finch and walk a mile in another man’s shoes.  But in the end, we can’t – not fully. I’m not sure any white person can fully appreciate what it’s like to be black in America, then or now.  And I doubt any straight person can fully understand what it’s like to be gay, or any man fully get the trials women going through on a daily basis simply because of their gender.

Accidental Sexism

A female reader pointed out to me, the other day, a series of articles about how women still get harassed on a regular basis just walking down the street.  I had always figured that, sure, a few crude guys still do this kind of thing, but I never realized it was still such a widespread problem for most women.  I’m a guy, I’ve given a lot of thought to women’s issues, I’ve done consulting work for Planned Parenthood, and I still never fully understood how bad women have it.  That, I think, is Paisley’s point.  And it’s a good one.

But what are the consequences of never fully walking in someone else’s shoes?  To mix my metaphors, it means that if you try to get involved in these issues, if you try to discuss them – write songs about them – you’d better walk on eggshells, because, even if your heart is in the right place, you’re likely to mess up, and you will get burned for it, badly.

This is a concern I’ve had for a while, not just on gay rights issues, but on issues of race, gender, and transgender, for starters.  On all of those issue, there’s a feeling that I’ve certainly felt, where you’re almost afraid to touch the issue at all, to write about it at all, to express any opinion, lest it be the “wrong” opinion, and you be labeled a racist, homophobe, misogynist, pro-rape, privileged cisgender trans-hater, bi-hater, etc.

I’m the first to admit that we’ve likely created this atmosphere on gay issues, and I’ve probably helped to create it.  We are so intent on finding every transgression against our people that, perhaps, sometimes we catch someone in our net who isn’t a gay-hater at all, but simply misspoke, or simply expressed an “incorrect” point of view because they didn’t know any better, but were open to discussion, and rather than rip them to shreds, perhaps we should have tried talking to them first.  But we don’t.  We destroy them.  Having said that, it is important to stand up to homophobia, and some comments do cross the line, and aren’t said in good faith.  The trick is having the finesse to discern the difference, and the masses aren’t known for their finesse.

Let me give you an example of a good question gone bad.

Accidental Homophobia

I’ve been asked before, by more than one straight person, how a gay marriage would actually work.  Meaning, who’s the wife and who’s the husband?  Now, I’m not entirely sure if they mean sexually (though I’ve also been asked, by nice people, “who’s the ‘top’ and who’s the ‘bottom'”), or are referring to outdated gender roles (wife stays home with the kids, husband goes to work).  But it would be easy to be offended by the question and shut the person down.  Or there was the time I came out to my dad, twenty years ago now, and he asked through tear-filled eyes whether science might be able to some day “cure” me.  I could have gotten ticked off, in either example, but I could tell that the questioners was sincere – and more than sincere, they were sympathetic, even if they didn’t quite “get” where I was coming from.  And I, and my movement, would gain far more from engaging these people kindly, than from slamming them for their “ignorance.”  Sometimes good people don’t ask good questions.

I’ve personally had this problem discussing race issues.  Even with friends and colleagues.  I invariably say something that “isn’t quite right” and they get ticked at me, when my intent for having the discussion was simply that I wanted to talk about issues of race and learn something about an area that I just don’t have much personal experience in.  But that wasn’t enough.  I got slammed down, and now I’m far more careful about saying, or writing, anything about race.

And there’s the rub.  Far from being learning experiences, sometimes when you’re burned for discussing an issue the “wrong” way, the lesson you learn is not to discuss the issue at all.  And while perhaps that’s a good lesson if the student is Fred Phelps or the Family Research Council, I don’t think it’s a good lesson if the person being silenced either is an ally, or wants to be an ally, and just doesn’t fully understand the issue, and wants to be able to talk about it.

Accidental Bi-phobia

I learned in the last month, for example, that I hate bisexuals.  This was news to me, since I’m one of the only gay people I know who even thinks bisexuality is real (far too many gay people think bisexuals are lying to themselves – that they’re actually gay, but are afraid of being “gay,” so they claim they’re bi, since it’s “cooler”).  But worse than my hate for bisexuals that’s so closeted I didn’t even know I had it, apparently every time I write or say anything about bisexuality, I set their civil rights movement back.  I was informed by a bi leader that I shouldn’t mention bisexuality ever again until I take a half hour sensitivity training.

Why did all this happen?  Because I wrote a post about Chris Christie flip-flopping and trying to split the baby in half on the notion that gays can be cured.  So I titled the post: “Chris Christie is bi on gays.”  That made me hateful.  Of course, I made a similar pun about gays this morning in a post titled “Immigration reform is so gay — or not,” about gay couples being cut from a proposed bipartisan immigration reform bill.  As a result of the bi title, I was informed that I was a lifelong bisexual-hater and that all the conversations I’ve had with gay people over the past twenty years, in which I’ve defended the existence of bisexuals, never happened. (I was also informed that I was lying when I said, truthfully, that far too many gay people I talk to simply dont’t believe bisexuality exists.) I was a hater, a liar, and an enemy of the bisexual cause.  Period.

I almost didn’t mention the bisexual story because I was advised by friends to just not mention it, or the issue, again.  It was the same advice I got on transgender issues – just stop writing about the issue all together, it’s just too dangerous.

Accidental Transphobia

But I’m not going to stop writing about transgender issues, even if I risk offending someone because I used the wrong pronoun, mentioned a forbidden aspect of the debate, or worse, questioned the conventional wisdom.  I think transgender people face real discrimination, and in many ways are years behind the gay rights cause in terms of visibility and public understanding, and their cause needs a public vetting.  So I still write about their issues, but boy I watch my back when I do. And the same thing goes for race, for gender issues and for lots more.  And while some may say “good, he’s being more careful,” I’m not just being more careful, I’m pulling punches, and sometimes not even writing about the issue at all, because I know I risk walking into a buzz-saw, and at some point, the benefits just don’t outweigh the risks.

I’m not sure where you draw the line.  I’m not always sure when someone is a bigot and when it’s just an accident.  But I do know that I’ve already seen Brad Paisley excoriated for writing what, to me at least, seemed a clear, sincere effort to address the issue of race from the perspective of someone who is sympathetic, wants to help, and has a large audience that could benefit from the discussion.

The easiest thing to do would be to ignore the issue, and let it fester forever and never be resolved.  Whether or not Paisley got it all right or got it all wrong, he deserves credit, and a civil debate, for at least trying.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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94 Responses to “Aren’t we all accidental racists?”

  1. ConcernedBlackMan says:


  2. Naja pallida says:

    I agree in principal, someone has to maintain civility in the discussion and try to approach it from a standpoint of logic and sensibility, but there is a saying: The problem with arguing with an idiot (bigot) is they will drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience.

  3. But I don’t think that’s acceptable. When I read the stuff on Michelle Shocked a few weeks ago, something didn’t feel right. I waited a few days, then finally wrote about it when the audio came out, but was clearly something was “off” with her, and I said so in the post. Rather than treating her as just another anti-gay bigot, I tried to show some nuance. That’s an extreme example, but I don’t accept that, just because the masses are bound to go nuts and treat every perceived slight equally, means that the rest of us should act the same. It’s our job as opinion leaders to try to cut through the masses and get to the truth. That might be hard, it might be impossible, and it might lead people like that wonderful women below to call me the Klan. So be it.

  4. And this becomes an interesting point. It’s generally accepted that you should be deferential to people about whatever slight they’re feeling. Meaning, gays are certainly more tuned in to what constitutes anti-gay prejudice than straight people. We’ve lived it, we know the nuance that others might not see. However. ..

    Straight people are far more tuned in to the nuances of being anti-gay. Meaning, while gay people might just see someone as being “anti-gay” because he opposes gay marriage, or whatever issues – a straight person knows first-hand that he actually does support gays, does support their rights, doesn’t want to see them fired, but maybe still isnt’ ‘100% there on marriage, etc. That doesn’t excuse their position against marriage. It does however mean that it would be naive for me to tell a straight person “you’re straight, you have no idea what straight people think about gay people when you suggest that there’s actually a continuum from ‘awful on our issues’ to ‘not so bad and possibly an ally’.” A straight person is going to know that far better than a gay person would.

    It also says that that person is certainly better than the Family Research Council, but not as good as (pick your favorite pro-gay straight person). In other words, there’s a spectrum of anti-gay-ness. Again, that doesn’t mean we that we accept the prejudice of those who are only slightly, or partly, anti-gay. But it does mean that perhaps we should treat people who are 90% of the way there on our issues differently than we treat people who are 0% of the way there. I think on these issue, far too often, people refuse to see nuance. They simply assume that if you’re not 100% of the way there, even if you’re trying, you’re the devil, and the same as the Klan, the Family Research Council etc. That’s the point of this point, a please for nuance.

  5. Naja pallida says:

    When it comes to addressing discrimination, in any of its forms, we’re essentially forced to the lowest common denominator. Trying to be nuanced never seems to work.

  6. Hmm…of course if you’re a Nazi or think Nazis are cool, you’d want to view the nationalism as “culture”…it’s an interesting question. I’ll do some digging and reading. It cuts to the fundamental understanding of culture, what it is and what it isn’t, what place subjectivity has in it, etc. Personally, I’m horrified by the Confederate flag. Once or twice I’ve been in bars where it’s displayed and it makes my skin crawl. I just happen to think that it’s a more complicated issue than it’s being made out to be, and I have a real problem with northerners being so judgmental when the American flag has its own problematic history in terms of human rights and can mean different things to different people; I feel like one of the reasons people are castigating Paisley so shrilly without room for discussion is to feel morally and culturally superior, when slavery implicated the whole country; slaves built the White House, for crying out loud. Anyhoo, good debate! Thank you.

  7. I was born in the south, and virtually everyone in my background was born in the south, or lived there most of their lives. Not a single one of us ever flew the rebel flag. Yes, some of my relatives were racist, but not many. My grandmother, who was born poor in Mississippi always admired black people, and would recall to us how much she liked playing with them as a little girl, and loved to hear elderly black people talk (she said they’re so wise). I’m personally sick of all the bigotry, racism and homophobia in the south (and elsewhere), but I’m still not going to tar everyone as some rebel-flag-flying idiot. It doesn’t solve anything.

  8. Are you being excessively tribalistic? Looking at what you wrote it seems you are assuming everyone in the south, including Paisley is a redneck racist. It is a poor idea to assume you know something about a person just because of their race or where they were born. There are some people who need to be knocked in the head (leaders of the Catholic church, everyone in NOM, etc.), but others are not vested in doing wrong (like Paisley), but are doing what they can to understand things better. Were you born knowing everything you do now? Some people learn early, some later, but they aren’t rotten racists because they haven’t learned everything already. Is your goal to improve the world we live in, or is it only to punish transgressions? Are you perfect? A little more understanding and genuine humanity can accomplish more with most people.

  9. Houndentenor says:

    I’m from Texas. I have also lived in Florida, Arkansas, Ohio, New York and Germany. I heard overt racism in all those places. The south is more overt, but racism is a problem everywhere.

  10. BeccaM says:

    You really don’t want to know what I got up to at the Power Exchange in SF… Or maybe you do. ;-)

  11. dula says:

    They may perceive Nazi nationalism as a positive thing, short of war and genocide of course.

  12. dula says:

    They might be able to identify with the flag on other levels besides racism but if they wished to fly it it, that would indicate racism based on what that flag will stand for for centuries to come.

  13. The American flag represented/represents equality, tolerance, and upward mobility to those of us who’ve been able to profit from it; it has a different and completely legitimate meaning to others, and I frankly surprised that someone so passionate about racism would call my analogy irrelevant when I’m pointing out that our country was made possible by massacring, robbing, and degrading the people who were here before the European invasion, and that the people on the receiving end of that may not see a symbol of equality and tolerance where you do. Slavery was an American institution before it was a Confederate one, and the North profited handsomely from slavery as well; get off your high horse.

  14. but there weren’t any good things about Nazi culture–there was actually a big cultural upheaval in Germany then because of Hitler’s attempt to purge anything not “purely” German from the country’s culture, which proved to be impossible because there’s no such thing. Naziism had no culture, only propaganda. And your friend should not have been harassed after explaining herself. She was wearing a traditional swastika, and there’s nothing hateful about that–of course people who don’t see the difference (the Nazi swastika is inverted) will freak out, but after she explained herself they should have let it go. The symbol’s original meaning is thousands of years old and is quite positive; it’s a shame it was co-opted.

  15. okay, that’s fair. Do you think it’s possible to identify with the flag without it being racist, or are those who claim this in denial?

  16. the book is excellent–it’s an actual account by a white journalist.

  17. HolyMoly says:

    Speaking of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, has anyone ever heard of the movie “Black Like Me”? Early 60s, I think. The main character (white) darkens his skin so he can experience life as a black man in the segregated South. The only thing is, unlike so many others, he has an escape mechanism: He can go back to being white whenever he’s had enough. So he can’t truly understand. I highly recommend the movie…I think it was way ahead of its time, in terms of tackling the issue of race head-on.

  18. Mike Meyer says:

    My family home is in Alabama. The Stars And Bars represents the succession to me. Call it what YOU will but its my inheritance.
    So having seen and heard it ALL my life, by golly EVEN in the south! I have observed—

  19. NCMan says:

    But, my point is that now that Paisley has been enlightened, if he keeps up with displaying the Stars and Bars, the racism isn’t accidental any longer, is it?

  20. dula says:

    I agree with your notion that there are things to appreciate about Southern culture. I disagree that the Confederate flag represents those things.

  21. dula says:

    I have worked alongside quite a few transplanted Southerners and the conscious ones have fond memories of certain aspects of Southern culture like the cooking and the charm but don’t have an affinity to the flag because of what it stands for.

  22. hoplite_i says:

    Paisley is just a good looking redneck who can sing = country music star. He’s not running the conservative movement. He’s preaching to a wing of that movement. One that happens to buy his records and make him millions of dollars in the process. But that movement must be defined accurately. And since the confederate crowd is a big part of their movement it’s critical we brand it as it is. It’s our only chance. We don’t have the money, we don’t have the media, and we don’t have the luxury of letting them off the hook because sweet tea or biscuits.

  23. hoplite_i says:

    Irrelevant. At the time of the civil war the American flag represented some things. The confederates did not agree with those things. So they betrayed us. Those who fly the flag today make very clear what side they’re on.

  24. hoplite_i says:

    Which explains why it’s so popular in Idaho. So enlighten me. What is “southern culture”

  25. New Orleans is amazing.

  26. Well, my record of dealing with the Family Research Council speaks for itself. It’s hardly a series of joint cocktail parties :) But I think calling this Paisley guy the equivalent of people “killing” us is stretching things, and again, that’s the point in what I wrote – we need to find a little more nuance in our discussions, all of us, gay issues included. That doesn’t mean Paisley is correct, but not being correct doesn’t mean he’s necessarily equivalent to the Klan either.

  27. I’ve written a ton of things excoriating the South for its racism and homophobia, among other things, but I’ll also be the first to admit that there “is” a South, and it does have its own culture and traditions that are worthy of respect, beyond slavery.

    Starting with the accents on the boys in Charleston, and the city’s buttermilk biscuits. :)

  28. what does the American flag represent if you’re American Indian?

  29. I don’t think taking advantage of a teachable moment and then sharing the exchange because it’s relevant reinforces me as anything. I’ve had my views tested and I am aware of my own accidental racism, some of which I absorbed culturally and some of which I unfortunately inherited from my mother. I’m privileged by my race and that limits my perspective; addressing that is an ongoing effort. I’d argue it limits everyone’s who is in a socially advantaged group, and we should do a better job of confronting that and discussing it, myself included.

  30. there is more to Southern culture than slavery, just as there is more to American culture than an Indian genocide.

  31. not being snide, really asking: how many evolved southerners do you know? Are you from the South? If so, you have WAY more credibility on this topic than I do.

  32. I don’t deny the fact that it’s a racist symbol and that Southern racists utilize it as such and yes, usage and context change meaning. And the Israeli flag analogy isn’t focused on American culture or history; if the American media didn’t do such a poor and one-sided job of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, maybe we could talk about it in a modern American context. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it’s a valid one.

  33. dula says:

    The Israeli flag is not firmly established in the modern US as a flag of hatred/oppression like the Swastika is…though that may change down the road. Now if you smugly waved it in front of Palestinians like Boss Hog whips out the Confederate flag in front of Blacks and yelled, “I want my country back,” I would have to take a closer look. Red flags are easy to spot.

  34. hoplite_i says:

    The people running the movement are KILLING YOU. Literally killing you and the planet you’re on. If you want to make nice with them at a cocktail party go right ahead. But other than that we need to define the movement accurately. If we do that we have some hope of peeling away enough people who are not hyper-immoral psychopaths to make their movement politically irrelevant. Entertaining their white pride butthurt doesn’t help.

  35. dula says:

    True, but those who are most vocal about waving the Confederate flag are the racist ones. I don’t see evolved Southerners wistfully clutching the Confederate flag.

  36. I had a dialogue with a senior staffer at the Family Research Council on gay rights issues, and I think it helped both of us. Friends of mine had a dialogue with Jesse Helm’s staff in the 1990s, and I know for a fact it helped us on gay rights issues behind the scenes. So yeah, I do think that dialogue can be a good thing, even with someone you think is too far gone. Because I’ve seen it work first-hand. And I’ve been surprised more than once to find out that my enemy wasn’t nearly as against me as I thought.

    And I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a post about having a dialogue about whether slavery and secession was a bad thing. This was, however, a post about how it wasn’t possible to discuss race without being accused of defending slavery and secession. Same goes on gay issues, and other issues. I just think that sometimes it’s helpful to talk without demonizing each other right away.

  37. hoplite_i says:

    It doesn’t just symbolize slavery. It symbolizes a social order that has white people on top. Today.

  38. hoplite_i says:

    Seriously? You want to get along with these people? Have a dialog with them? To what end? And what “issue” are you trying to understand? What debate about a flag that represents the very antithesis of the American ideal and celebrates making war on the United States to keep slavery would you like to have?

  39. hoplite_i says:

    Yes of course. Pride in the fact they betrayed and took up arms against the United States to preserve slavery. The chances that she was proud of an agricultural based economy or sweet tea are pretty small, eh?

  40. That’s the point of my entire essay :) And not just race, but gay rights too, and feminism and lots more.

  41. hoplite_i says:

    This is crap. Everybody knows what the confederate flag, the confederacy, and the civil war were all about. They took up arms against the United States to preserve the institution of slavery. They betrayed the United States… on behalf of the plantation owners. Not only are people who fly the confederate flag racists, but they’re also traitors and against the very things that make us American. The AMERICAN flag represents ideals of equality, tolerance, and upward mobility. The confederate flag is the antithesis of the American flag. It represents the preservation of not only a grossly immoral racial order, but an oligarchical social-economic order as well. This is not just about race. Conservatives have been working on behalf of the plantation owner since before this country was founded. They wanted slaves back then and they want wage slaves today. They can take their confederate flag and get the [email protected] out of the country. They’re not Americans.

  42. And no, I won’t delete your comments – but yeah, the Klan thing did get you banned. I don’t tolerate hate on my site either.

  43. Maybe I’d like you going all medieval….oh never mind :)

  44. You have the patience of a parent. I don’t. So I can recognize it when I see it :)

  45. Nik, it’s a discussion, not a lecture. And again, you’re proving the point of my article, which is that on these issues, sadly, some people are incapable of having a civil conversation, even with people who agree with them.

    And while I am not an expert on what racial minorities think about race, I am white, and I know for a fact, through my own personal experience, that white people have a wide range of nuanced views on race that range from totally getting it to being a total racist – very few are exclusively in either extreme, or perhaps more precise, a large number are somewhere between the two extremes. On that I do know a lot, first hand. And what Im asking is for people on all of these issue, my gay rights issues included, to perhaps try to recognize more nuance in our supposed enemies (aka people who don’t 100% agree with us), rather than simply attacking people who might be possible allies. I realize you don’t feel that way. And that’s fine. But I still think it’s worth talking about these issues. It’s the only way we’re going to help people grow.

  46. Naja pallida says:

    That may be so, but when it comes to an issue like racism, how many people are going to take the time to honestly delve into his sincere intent, and not just take it in the most simplistic way they possibly can?

  47. And I could just as easily say shame on you for turning more potential friends into enemies and focusing so much of your energy on hating. But as the point of this story is for us to avoid being jerks, I’ll refrain :)

  48. That’s a fair point. And I agree, far too many of the folks engaged in the flag debate on their side have seemed to be the racists.

  49. Did you feel that his song did that? Maybe it did – I’m certainly not as tuned in on racial issues as I am on gay rights – but it didn’t strike me that way. But I wanted to hear what people think, so that’s cool.

  50. His song, and interviews, struck me as far more sincere, and complex, than that :) But I might be wrong.

  51. I’m not sure I understood the gist of your comment.

  52. hefetone says:

    It is possible in your eyes only because she agreed to look at the issue through your lens…and allowed you to be the kind, gentle progressive teacher….so reinforcing to you. If she had asked you to look at your views, to consider whether your definition of racism is an ever expanding meme that relies on constant moral one-upmanship in order to win arguments, would it still have been a discussion without screaming/cries of racism from you?

  53. Naja pallida says:

    Hey, I know all these things could be offensive to someone, but hey… I only mean them in the good ways. See, I have a black friend.

  54. hefetone says:

    Oh man, I just love this part:

    So, yeah, we do judge all southerners by things they weren’t responsible
    for. And sometimes it’s unfair (perhaps a lot of times). So Paisley
    raises a fair point, especially for those southerners like him, who seem
    to “get it.”

    Especially since it is a throw-off line that is followed by a rhetorical BUT……

    Can we please just admit that this is a form of stereotyping just as pernicious as white on black racism? Please? Can we at least be logical and ethical regarding this business? I am so tired of the one-way discussion regarding race..where people must submit to the racism belief narrative of progressives or risk being called racist?

  55. NCMan says:

    the problem I find with the types who claim that the flag just means pride to them, is that once it is explained to them, they still want to wave their flag and expect everyone to believe in their “pride only” definition.

  56. NCMan says:

    Brad Paisley is 40 years old. He doesn’t get to claim that he doesn’t know what the Stars and Bars represents. I don’t care what he was raised to believe as a CHILD. He isn’t a child any longer and can’t hide behind what he thought as a child. He’s had 40 years to grow and learn

    He also doesn’t get to claim that he has a different “personal” view of what the flag means to him that isn’t racial. It’s just southern “pride”. If we are going to let him get away with that, the we will also have to let that rapper Azaleia Banks get away with her explanation that she has a different definition of the word FAG that isn’t offensive.

    I don’t plan on giving a pass to either of them.

    Now, if you do plan to give Paisley a pass, does he say anywhere in this story that now that he is fully aware of the meaning of the flag he’s going to stop wearing it? Or, is his goal for everyone else to just get over it?

  57. condew says:

    So you’re told that you can’t discuss bisexuality until you’ve had a half hour “sensitivity training”? What absolute arrogance! Maybe you have to play along because you want a contact in the community; but it’s exactly the same as some Republican wordsmith telling you that you can’t discuss his issue until you give his staff a half hour to frame the issue and inform you which vocabulary and phrases are acceptable and which are forbidden. Pure BS. Somebody who is that touchy is never going to be a trusted, reliable friend anyway. If I got that kind of crap from anybody, I’d tell them to go f— themselves.

    That’s not to say I don’t value a little insight, a little pointer on how to be polite from time to time; but arrogant is the only word I can apply to a person or group who think they can control the language, and that you somehow owe it to them to see their issues their way, and only their way.

  58. Nik Marina says:

    Whatever. I’m not being rude to Eve. But I am done with this and I’m done being polite to you. You are incredibly condescending to go around lecturing racial minorities on how to deal with racism. And you are carrying water for racists. Perhaps you and Paisley can find a Klan rally to hang out at. I’m sure you will delete all my posts and ban me. Go ahead because I’m not reading your site ever again.

  59. I was taking to heart what you said in the comment thread about feminism–we don’t try to engage with each other enough online and tend to scream first and think later. A recent article in “Mother Jones” talks about this phenomenon and how humans have emotional reactions WAY before they have rational ones (it’s evolutionary), which is why it can devolve into a screaming match so quickly–we literally type before we think. I’m trying to do better because I’ve certainly been guilty of it.

  60. Damn, you have patience.

  61. Stop it. Eve is being incredibly level-headed and tolerant in trying to discuss this with you. And you’ve been nothing but rude to her in response. You have sadly given a prime example of the problem I discuss in the article: People incapable of discussing anything in a civil manner with anyone: attack; attack; attack. Sometimes attack is necessary – Lord knows I’m living proof of that. But sometimes you need to be civil. Eve isn’t your enemy. Stop trying to turn her into one.

  62. I did answer: it’s not a fair analogy. And my point was that symbols aren’t static and can have more than one meaning. I can tell you’re wound up and there’s no point in discussing this further, but I hope some time in the future you’ll consider the other side.

  63. Nik Marina says:

    I didn’t ask you for a history of the swastika. I asked you about the Nazi swastika specifically. Instead of answering my question, you tried a derailing tactic. I think it’s pretty clear that all your flowery talk about dialogue is BS, since you danced around the question instead of actually answering it.

  64. If I were to wave the Israeli flag in front of you, would you think I hated Palestinians?

  65. which one? The swastika is thousands of years old and signifies peace and good luck in southern Asia. And the Nazi swastika has no cultural significance to anyone besides Nazis, whose whole MO was ethnic cleansing and hatred. It’s not a fair analogy.

  66. Nik Marina says:

    How about we try the same tack for a second. If I were to wear a Nazi swastika in front of you, would you think I’m an anti-semite?

  67. Nik Marina says:

    So, according to you, when Paisley flat-out lies by omission in order to erase the history of that flag, that is meaningful constructive dialogue? Yes, Paisley is my enemy for intentionally trying to distort history and spread racist propaganda. And no, I don’t accept the idea that any adult is innocently wearing the flag (unless they have developmental issues or just arrived in the country or something like that). Pretty much everyone in this country takes American history in school and learns about the civil war and slavery. The people flying the flag know full-well what it’s tied to racism and slavery. Paisley is blatantly trying to omit that history.

    Shame on you for trying to carry water for that racist.

  68. I once had to help an elderly African-American guy get a cab on Capitol Hill years back – they wouldn’t stop for him, he was like an old granpda. It was amazing to witness first hand.

  69. let’s try a different tack. I’m Jewish and was raised to believe that the Jews have exclusive rights to Palestine; it was literally all I was taught, day in and day out, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of this, I carried this belief into my 20’s until I had the opportunity to learn the other side of the issue–I had never had any exposure to a different perspective. You could say that the Israeli flag is to Palestinians what the Confederate flag is to African-Americans, but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of regular people–not galloping racists, not willfully ignorant folks with hearts full of hate–see the Israeli flag as a sign of pride in their culture and religion. Something can be a symbol of oppression to one group and a symbol of pride to another. It doesn’t mean we should roll over and accept racism, but it does mean we won’t get anywhere with reductionism and anger. This is not a black-or-white issue.

  70. Nik Marina says:

    I don’t really see what benefit there is to say that racists like Paisley have their hearts in the right place. That song is racist propaganda. Paisley tries to reduce the rebel flag to just being about a band. Oh, and there was some vague stuff that happened hundreds of years ago, and who knows what it really is and who was responsible for it? Paisley is trying to marginalize the real experiences of people who are still alive.

    Maybe I should wear a Nazi swastika down to the local synagogue. Then John can tell everyone how my heart is in the right place.

    Of course, that flag is also a flag of treason. Paisley is not only a racist, he’s a traitor as well. And so is anyone else who flies that flag.

    ETA: LL Cool J is a racist, a traitor and a quisling.

  71. And maybe the point of this exercise is to realize that there are southerners who are on your side and don’t see the confederate flag as symbolizing slavery. That doesn’t mean that the flag DOESN’T symbolize slavery. But it does mean that perhaps not everyone who waves the flag is your enemy, and they might even be on your side and thus able to be educated the issues, so perhaps your response to them should be more nuanced than calling him a racist, questioning his motivations, alienating someone who wanted to help, and thus making him the enemy you accused him, wrongly, of being – which in the end, makes race relations even worse. Which was the point of my entire essay.

  72. Well, Im not sure if you’re referring to him or me, but I was talking about the fact that some people’s attitude chills any debate, even by people who are on your side but still trying to understand the issue better. And if we don’t have that debate, then people are never going to learn, and things will never get better, on any issue. So, yeah, I think his whine, and mine too, is well deserved, and worth thinking about. That is, if we’re actually here to make things better, which I am.

  73. I corrected it, should work now

  74. Yeah, I was going to mention the Israel-Palestine issue as well. Same thing. I get hate no matter what I say on it.

  75. You make good points. And your description of walking into a buzz saw reminds me of how it is when people try to discuss Israel and the Palestinians. So many are so quick to condemn, when the world would be a better place if we didn’t just assume malice. To me, Paisley was at least “trying” to address racism in the way he knew how. I don’t expect him to come up with a perfect way to discuss it, or to discuss it at all, so in that sense, I give him kudos for trying. Just because he may have a way to go doesn’t make him a racist. I wasn’t born with my views, I had to learn them, and I’d hate to be defined by my past wrong-headed views that I’ve since learned to ditch.

  76. I once spoke to a young woman from the South who was raised with the flag in the house and the belief that it simply signified southern pride. When I explained to her that whatever she associated it with, to African-Americans it signifies slavery and is comparable to the swastika for Jews (Al Sharpton’s argument), she told me she’d never thought of it that way and would reconsider the flag’s meaning. It is possible to discuss this issue without screaming at each other, and we’ll get a lot further if we try.

  77. do you think this isn’t a beneficial discussion to have?

  78. nicho says:

    I was once stopped for “driving while white — with a black guy in the passenger seat.” This was in a small, posh neighborhood where a friend had a summer house. I used the house a lot and never had an issue with the police. The one time I went with a black friend for the weekend, we were stopped within minutes of entering the community for an imaginary infraction.

  79. BeccaM says:

    Link is slightly broken there — either delete the closing parenthesis or put a space between the URL and it.

    But yeah…that should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t really ‘get’ the sexual harassment many women have to endure, just trying to walk down the street or ride a subway or bus.

    The one thing I don’t think Pia Glenn makes clear is that even women who aren’t as strikingly beautiful as she is also are subject to it.

  80. BeccaM says:

    All I could think was that while the worst Paisley will have to endure is being thought a racist, he won’t ever be stopped for “Driving While White.” Or receive harsher prison sentences or be more likely to receive the death penalty due to his skin color. Or have to endure the discrimination and harassment of actual racists.

    Being falsely presumed a racist is nothing at all like being the victim of racism.

  81. Suemarie says:

    Speaking of the street harrassment thing – xojane currently has an excellent first-person account (

  82. Nik Marina says:

    I do think it’s a defense because he says things like “I think Paisley’s heart is in the right place.” And Paisley’s heart isn’t. If Paisley’s heart was in the right place, Paisley wouldn’t be waving a flag of racism at everyone, and he wouldn’t be writing songs about it. I find this entire column thoroughly offensive.

  83. Swami_Binkinanda says:

    I upped this for all but the last sentence. I don’t think this is a defense, it is a point-counterpoint analysis that I don’t think defends the song at all in the end. The South is broken and wrong and needs to catch up, grow up, and not rehash Ebony and Ivory with played out performers. Couldn’t even get a rapper from Hotlanta to rhyme on it? Snoop creature from Mississippi? That’s a problem right there.

    Civil rights are human rights and the universalism of those rights is right in our founding documents. We have nothing to lose but our chains by trying to live up to that universalism.

  84. Nik Marina says:

    Whatever. When desegregation was happening, Southerners flew the rebel flag in protest. They changed their state flags to include the rebel flag just to shout loudly to the world that they loved racism. And that’s not something that happened in the distant past. That’s something that happened in living memory. That flag is a flag of racism and fire hoses and lynchings. And those Southerners who made a conscious decision to associate the flag with racism are the ones to blame for it. I’m sick of hearing people whine about that flag. Every time they wave it, the spit in the face of people who had to fight for basic rights under our constitution. Brad Paisley isn’t an accidental racist. He’s an intentional one. And frankly, your defense of this song is utterly disgusting.

  85. BeccaM says:

    I have a simple rule: I don’t dis allies and people who stand up for my causes, even if they don’t always say exactly the right thing or unconsciously use terms or language that could be found offensive.

    I’ve frequently remarked in my complaints about our purported Dem allies how they talk a big game, make all the right promises — but they rarely back up their promises with action. “Words, not deeds,” is how I usually put it.

    This should apply in the other direction as well. If someone is proving through their actions that they’re a real ally, they deserve more than a little slack if they mess up in the words department. Personally, I thought that linking Christie’s ‘flip-flopping’ with being ‘bi’ was a poor choice of words. Am I going to go all medieval on your ass, John, for it? Nah, ain’t worth it and you’ve proven to me on more than a few occasions that you do respect us bisexuals at a gut level. Same thing with the transgendered; when the loss of ENDA in 2009 was blamed on them (and not on the Dems’ and Obama’s political homophobia in general), including by many gays and lesbians who once again questioned their membership in the ‘gender-queer’ club, you didn’t go there.

    Paisley does have a point, that as a white southern male, there’s a good chance he has to face the prejudicial assumption that he’s a racist. But he doesn’t help matters in trying to claim that the “Stars and Bars” is just a symbol of Southern pride and nothing more. It’s disingenuous at best. We all know the history, and it goes right down to what the Confederacy offered as its peace terms at Hampton Roads in early 1865: Their first preference was a peace treaty between two nations, no more American union, slavery continues. Lincoln and his negotiators refused. Their second was to be readmitted and returned to full status soon enough to stop the 13th Amendment. This was also turned down, in that there were already Reconstruction plans underway to assure that at least two former Confederate states would ratify.

    After that, the flag continued to be used as a symbol of rebellion — and was soon adopted by the anti-Reconstructionists as a means of intimidating former slaves into submission. It’s not what the symbol means to a given person, but what it means to everyone else, and to those who aren’t white southerners — or those ignorant of its real history — it’s a symbol that for some is as offensive as a Nazi swastika. (Not me, personally, but I respect that others do feel that way.)

    Yes, it’s wrong to prejudge every southern man. But what is ‘Southern Pride’ rooted in, exactly? An identity as a group of secessionist states that broke away to protect their slave-based economies, and who in subsequent decades adopted the symbols of that rebellion to enact and perpetuate institutionalized racism. Wear the flag and it’s silly to think some won’t assume you’re cool with it. “No man, I wear the swastika because I love Volkswagens! And space rockets! My people are from Germany and it’s just my way of showing pride for German engineering!”

    Anyway, Paisley isn’t an accidental racist. However, he does seem to be wearing some godawful big blinders.

  86. rustykc says:

    The first problem I saw was that we have yet another straight white dude whining about how hard it is to be a straight white dude. The poor guy has to think about what he says and does, and has to deal with the consequences of his choices. The horror! I mean, who else in society ever has to do that?

    If we all just realized how unreasonable we’re being that he can’t do or say anything he wants with no consequences, I think we’d all be a lot better off! For sure, he (and all the rest of the straight white dudes out there) would sure feel more comfortable……

  87. more like Accidental Flop

  88. Trash talk, meet trashier talk.

  89. Indigo says:

    It’s a good start on a discussion we have not had. The Puritans among us are quick to condemn but slow to make workable suggestions. If only they wore black shoes with buckles, we would know who they are before they trash talk us from their lofty perch.

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