Country singer Brad Paisley (who, for what it's worth, is a pretty great guitarist) and rapper LL Cool J teamed up for what may well be the dumbest country song ever recorded—no small feat. The song is rife with extremely questionable logic leaps, presumption, and factual errors, and I thought it'd be fun to point them all out, if only because my Twitter peeps would get irritated if I posted the thousand tweets it would take to cover all this.
To begin with, it's impossible to be accidentally racist. Accidentally offensive or insensitive, sure—and that does seem to be the case from the story the 1st verse tells—but not accidentally racist. Racism is "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." The belief that one race is superior, or that one race is inferior, isn't something that one stumbles into. You either are racist, or you aren't. But I can't fairly hold a country singer in lower regard for having trouble with the English language, so let's move on.
Verse 1 "To the man that waited on me at the Starbucks down on Main, I hope you understand When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan"
Maybe I'm just prejudiced against the kind of person who works at Starbucks, but I don't think it's fair to assume they know who or what Lynyrd Skynyrd is. They might recognize "Sweet Home Alabama" if they get lost on their way to a jazz recital or Lumineers show and accidentally hear it, but Skynyrd? There are better chances of getting a cup of Starbucks coffee that doesn't eat at your esophageal lining like acid.
"The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south And I just walked him right in the room"
By "red flag" he means the Confederate battle flag, or rebel flag. You know, the one that is more than a little controversial to a good portion of the population of the South. And he's showing a real yellow streak by calling it the "red flag"—which no one ever calls it anywhere ever—instead of "rebel flag," "Dixie flag," "stars and bars," or any of the other real titles for it. Way to stick to your guns, Brad.
"Just a proud rebel son with an 'ol can of worms Lookin' like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view"
A. Brad Paisley was born and raised in West Virginia, and as such is in no way a "rebel son," proud or otherwise; yet he continues to insist, throughout the song, that he is "a white man"—accurate!—"comin' to you from the southland," which he, again, is most certainly not. West Virginia was part of the Union, not the Confederacy. West Virginia divorced Virginia-proper to make it so.
Chorus 1 "I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland Tryin' to understand what it's like not to be"
I don't know what this is supposed to mean. What it's like not to be...what, Brad? An idiot? A failure at sentence structure? A white man? My guess is that last one is what it's supposed to be, though the rest of the song's lyrics certainly make a lie of it if that was the intent.
"I'm proud of where I'm from but not everything we've done"
He's proud of where he's from—again, West Virginia, not the actual South—but not what they've done. So he's proud to be West Virginian, but not of coal mining, hillbillies, or 16 and Pregnant or Buckwild?
"Our generation didn't start this nation We're still pickin' up the pieces, walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday"
Fair enough, Brad, the current generation didn't start the nation, and isn't to blame for the backlog of awfulness that set up your current situation with the Starbucks guy. That said, we're only still picking up the pieces in 2013 because idiots like you and other Lynyrd Skynyrd fans keep throwing history in people's faces and being bad people. The ghost of Stonewall Jackson didn't force you to wear something with a rebel flag on it.
Or, oh man, did he? Is your closet haunted by Stonewall Jackson? Why aren't you writing a song about that instead? Platinum records, baby! Platinum!
"And caught between southern pride and southern blame"
This could be one of the only acceptable lines in this whole stupid song, if a single word were different. "Caught between southern pride and southern shame" would be a perfectly accurate summation of the way many—most even—Southerners (of which you are not one) feel about our culture and legacy. But you went passive aggressive with it, and instead come off as a giant douche. You are now the guy who ruins parties by spiking the punch and then blaming people who drink it for getting sick. No one likes that guy, Brad. No one.
"They called it Reconstruction, fixed the buildings, dried some tears We're still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years"
Unless the Federal government is still trying to rebuild some stuff even now, nope. Unless you mean some sort of metaphorical Reconstruction of the Confederacy? Is that what you mean here? It is, isn't it. Good gravy, Brad. The South, no matter how much you want to be a part of it, is not going to rise again. Even if a majority of its citizens wanted to (and they don't), the logistics of it are mind-boggling. How many hours do you think it would take the US military to recapture the missing parts of the country? You probably couldn't even brew a decent pitcher of tea in the interim.
"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"
Again, I just don't believe you, because you're still wearing the rebel flag t-shirt and acting like it's the Starbucks guy's problem for being offended.
"Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would"
Listen, Mr. Cool J, Brad Paisley is more than just the color of his skin; you should try to get to know him. And not every white person assumes that someone who's "saggin'" is up to no good (though most of us do assume the concept of belts has never been properly explained to you). Also, he's from West Virginia, not the South, so there's no need to explain--
"Now my chains are gold but I'm still misunderstood I wasn't there when Sherman's March turned the south into firewood I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could"
It's hard out there for a pimp, I've heard, so I feel you on the gold chains and misunderstanding. I do feel like there was a pretty big misunderstanding going on during the recording of this song, though. At no point, lyrically, anyway, has Brad suggested making black people return to slavery. Did he say something when the mics were off? You can tell us, you're among friends.
"Feel like a newfangled Django, dodgin' invisible white hoods So when I see that white cowboy hat, I'm thinkin' it's not all good I guess we're both guilty of judgin' the cover not the book"
A couple things: line 1—has the KKK discovered cloaking technology, or ghosts, or what? Line 2—cowboy hats aren't a Southern thing, that's the West you're thinking about: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico... Line 3—I am 100% confident no books of any sort were consulted during the recording of this song.
"I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air"
Not a real word.
"But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here"
I understand Brad wanting to soften the subject of his rebel flag t-shirt, but not LL doing it. Call a rebel flag a rebel flag, man; don't be the guy calling his mugger a non-paying client. Also, is LL Cool J the Starbucks guy? Why is he working at Starbucks? He's a very successful rapper and actor—he was almost eaten by sharks that one time.
Chorus 2 and Wrap-Up "If you don't judge my do-rag I won't judge your red flag"
This is the first of a series of compromises LL Cool J, here serving dual-duty as Starbucks Guy and representative of black Americans, is going to present to Brad Paisley, here serving dual-duty as Idiot in a T-Shirt and representative of white Southerners. Neither of this pair is an unauthorized representative, and Mr Cool J's compromises reveal a terrible sense of value. A do-rag protects hair styles; the other is a symbol of oppression and hatred and a shameful past. Clearly—obviously—they are equal bargaining chips.
"If you don't judge my gold chains I'll forget the iron chains"
As a white man I am in no way able to speak authoritatively on behalf of black people, but I am 1000% sure that this is true for no one except LL Cool J himself. And I'm pretty sure if stopped to think about what he just said, he'd take it--
"Can't rewrite history, baby"
Well. It is at least the most accurate line in the song.
"Oh, Dixieland (The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin') I hope you understand what this is all about"
The Mason-Dixon he's referring to is a line. A...line. There is no "between"; it's a scientific--I just can't with this. Unless he's suggesting resurrecting Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon and having them go to couples' therapy, I have no idea why this line exists. Except, perhaps, to give me joy at its ridiculousness.
"(Quite frankly I'm a black Yankee but I've been thinkin' about this lately) I'm a son of the new south (The past is the past, you feel me) And I just want to make things right (Let bygones be bygones)"
I doubt it, LL, and no, you're not, Brad. And no, you don't, because you're still wearing the rebel flag t-shirt. If you want to make things right, don't wear things you know are going to offend people.
"Where all that's left is southern pride"
West Virginian or Yankee pride, you mean?
"(RIP Robert E. Lee but I've gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean)"
This line is a mystery to me. It's almost as though LL Cool J is saying that if Abraham Lincoln hadn't been the coolest cat, Robert E. Lee, the man who almost won the Civil War for the Confederacy, would claim the position. "If it wasn't for Ghandi, my favorite historical figure would probably be Herman Goering."
"It's real, it's real It's truth"
It is real. This song does exist. It was performed by two grown men who should know better, and recorded for posterity. It's true, this did happen.