It takes a lot to take me away from my normal Sunday night viewing on PBS but when I was flipping through the channels and saw LL Cool J was making a guest appearance on the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM), I just had to tune in. And I'm glad I did!
This week, Brad Paisley will be releasing his new album, Wheelhouse, and it has surprise collaboration with one of my favorite artists, LL Cool J. The rapper and country boy Brad Paisley have teamed up with an amazing perspective in their song, 'Accidental Racist.' This could not be more needed given today's political tone nor could the timing have been more perfect.
When LL stated on the ACM that he and Paisley had a new song coming out, I buzzed over to Paisley's web-site to see if a sample was up. It wasn't, but the lyrics of this amazing song are up and, together, LL and Paisley confront the stereo-types that both white people and black people hold toward each other.
The first verse starts like a letter, rather a note, to a Starbucks employee, "I hope you understand when I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan." Paisley then takes on the confederate flag on his shirt and calls like it is, "the elephant in the corner of the south." The final line in the first verse speaks volumes, "lookin like I got a lot to learn but from my point of view."
One article of clothing and he's judged.
The second verse begins to build the bridge of communication, "I'm just a white man comin' to you from the southland, tryin' to understand what it's like not to be." The verse continues with the pride southerners feel about where they're from, but not everything that has happened.
History is history. It can't be changed and it should not be repeated.
The chorus resonates the truth about their generation (and mine): "Our generation didn't start this nation." We didn't start this country yet the south, and the nation, is left carrying the burden of yesteryear, and many are "caught between southern pride and southern blame."
It's time to pull together, not tear each other apart.
The song then touches upon the Reconstruction period and how, after 150 years, we're still trying to rebuild in many ways. As much as we try to put ourselves in another's shoes, it, "ain't like I can walk a mile in someone else's skin."
We need to re-start the re-build.
The chorus shifts a little with the second line. He's still a white man and just like you, he's "more than what you see."
Don't judge me and I won't judge you.
The lyrics then shift perspectives, "Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood," and speaks to life for black people "livin' in the hood." The clothing style contrasts are once again highlighted, "Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good. You should get to know me."
Like you, my clothes do not represent who I am.
The lyric "Now my chains are gold" gives me an appreciation for the progress that has been made but the subtle inference, "I want you to get paid but as a slave I never could," speaks volumes as do the lyrics, "Feel like a new fangled Django, dodging invisible hoods. So when I see that white cowboy hat, I'm thinkin' it's not all good."
LL then nails it, "I guess we're both guilty of judgin' the cover not the book."
The most poignant moment is where the lyrics speak to buying a beer and having a conversation to clear the air. But, there's one thing that gets in the way: a tee shirt with a flag leading to the misunderstanding, "you wish I wasn't here."
The ending of the song carries both perspectives in parallel. One white guy from the south, one black guy from the north; don't judge me and I won't judge you. History can't be rewritten, the past is the past, a longing to make things right (Paisley) and let bygones be bygones (LL).
I'm Gen X and very proud of these two Generation X men. Like the millennials/GenY, we shared our classrooms with many different cultures and skin tones. It didn't mean that there were some hidden judgments, there were. We ignored them and had a beer.
Like LL, I'm from the north. I do realize that there are pockets in the south who do not share my views and they need to get over it.
The political narrative that permeates our discourse right now is more than a little concerning and it's coming from both sides of the aisle. It's a rehash of the LBJ/Goldwater years taking us backward, not forward. It's time to stop imposing the false labels on one another.
Yes, we'll disagree on certain politics. But, this is about more than politics. It's about communicating with people and ending, not perpetuating, the polarization. If a country boy from West Virginia and an inner-city guy from Queens can step out of their genres, so can we.