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.
That’s how country singer Brad Paisley begins his new song “Accidental Racist,” an earnest tune Paisley ostensibly wrote as a means of helping to heal the nation’s continuing racial tensions. But with lyrics that appear to gloss over the South’s painful legacy of racism and slavery — although they’re probably sung with the best of intentions — the track is raising plenty of eyebrows. “Accidental Racist” appears on Paisley’s ninth studio album Wheelhouse, which debuts today; the video appears to have been pulled from the Internet, however. You can read the lyrics here.
Paisley maintains that his heart is in the right place. “This isn’t a stunt. This isn’t something that I just came up with just to be sort of shocking or anything like that,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “I knew it would be, but I’m sort of doing it in spite of that, really.”
The chorus of “Accidental Racist” reads:
I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the south land tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be.
I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done. It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history.
Our generation didn’t start this nation. We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday.
Caught between southern pride and southern blame.
The song features a guest appearance by LL Cool J, shown in the video wearing a New York Yankees cap, whose verses includes the lyrics, “If you don’t judge my do-rag/I won’t judge your red flag.” and “If you don’t judge my gold chains/I’ll forget the iron chains.”
“This is a very sensitive subject, and we’re trying to have the discussion in a way that it can help,” Paisley told Entertainment Weekly. “I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you?”
Unfortunately for Paisley, the Internet’s answer to that second question appears to be, “this song.”
The Huffington Post said “Accidental Racist” “will probably make you cringe.” The Atlantic Wire opined that “There is no way Paisley was actually unaware that wearing the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. He just does not believe it should be.” Commenters at Rap Genius, a website devoted to transcribing and interpreting rap lyrics, have done a fairly hilarious job annotating Paisley and LL’s lyrics. And Gawker, meanwhile, simply called the track a “horrible song.”
Paisley, for his part, is sticking to his guns. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” he tweeted.