Well, it’s happened again.
The media is on fire today about the new Brad Paisley song “Accidental Racist,” on which he teams up with LL Cool J to deliver a well-meaning but possibly not fully thought-out message about race relations in the South. See, Brad is sorry about wearing his Confederate flag T-shirt to a Starbucks where he’s waited on by a black barista (LL Cool J, moonlighting?), but not sorry enough to, you know, not wear that T-shirt. (He’s a Skynyrd fan, you see.)
Is “Accidental Racist” accidentally racist? Maybe! But mostly, it’s just accidentally stupid. Check out what Brad had to say to Ellen DeGeneres about the song.
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Due to controversy, no doubt, the song has pretty much vanished from the internet, but you can still hear "Accidental Racist" on Brad's website in snippet form. Though Brad and LL clearly have the best of intentions, the message they've sent is clearly dicey, with some lyrics of questionable taste like LL's "I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could / Feel like a new fangled Django, dodgin’ invisible white hoods" and "Now my chains are gold but I’m still misunderstood." (And others that are just a bit painful, like "the relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin'.")
When asked by Ellen what he's trying to say, Brad responds rather ineloquently, "I don't know!" Fortunately, LL was a bit more thoughtful:
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However, many don't find the message as progressive as Brad and LL obviously do. (Though in the South, where this music finds its biggest audience, the "Why can't we be friends?" sentiment may be a bit more radical than we think.) To keep things in perspective, here's a reminder of a few arguably more racist pieces of entertainment, some accidentally so... and some, maybe not so accidentally.
For a giant corporation aimed at entertaining families and achieving the widest possible audience, the Mouse House sure has been known to piss off just about every ethnicity on the planet. From Uncle Remus in Song of the South to the jive-talking crows in Dumbo... or the distinctly "Siamese" cats in Lady & The Tramp... or Aladdin's "Arabian Nights"... or the white-washed historical rewrite of Pocahontas... seriously, we could be here all day with this.
2. Jar Jar Binks
The Star Wars prequels are hated for a lot of things, but mostly, they're hated because of this space creature, in part because he seems like an African-American stereotype, and in part because he's just annoying as hell.
3. This Intel ad
4. Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany's
Sixteen Candles fights hard for the championship in Most Racist Asian Stereotype In A Live Action Movie, but we have to give the grand prize to Breakfast At Tiffany's, which casts a white man (Mickey Rooney) in the role. (Probably because no Asian actor was willing to sink this low in desecrating their heritage.)
5. Carbon Copy
Denzel Washington's film debut has one of the most startlingly offensive trailers we've ever seen, not to mention the movie itself. In it, finding out he has a black son is basically the most horrifying experience imaginable for a well-to-do white man, in a film peppered with racist jokes. Worst of all, Denzel's character looks to be in his mid-twenties but speaks with the intelligence of an eight-year-old. Luckily, this was a low point in a much better career.
6. "Rappin' For Jesus"
We can't believe enough people thought this was a good idea to get this made. Given the low-budget look, that might have only been two people. But still.
7. Skids and Mudflap from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Not to be outdone by Star Wars, Michael Bay inserted some pretty obvious racial stereotypes in his Transformers sequel. They're jive-talking and illiterate, and one has a gold tooth. Make of that what you will, though racism is far from the only thing to complain about in this franchise...
8. This picture of Miley Cyrus
Yeah, kids pose for a lot of dumb pics at this age, so we won't go too hard on Miley for this one. Still, not really her smartest move.
9. Romeo Must Die
The "star-crossed" lovers tale of Romeo & Juliet got a twist with this story about an African-American woman and a Chinese man (Aaliyah and Jet Li) who get caught in the crossfire of warring families. Sounds nice and modern, right? Well, the love story got watered down a lot when the big climactic kiss was cut from the movie because test audiences weren't comfortable with it. And seriously, how powerful is Romeo & Juliet if they're portrayed as just really good friends?
James Cameron has never been known for his subtlety, and some slammed his too-obvious story about a greedy corporation raping natural resources that a very Earth-familiar tribe of alien natives depend on. But audiences clearly weren't too bothered, since it became the biggest hit of all time both domestically and abroad.
11. Birth of A Nation
Obviously, older movies tend to offend a lot more than most recent ones when it comes to racism. Many have criticized Gone With The Wind's saintly Mammy character, but even more offensive is one of the earliest film classics from 1915, which cast white actors in blackface and portrayed them as stupid savages. It was so effective, in fact, that it was used by the KKK to recruit. Yikes! Next to this piece about Reconstruction, Brad Paisley and LL Cool J aren't looking nearly so bad...
Which instance of accidental racism did you find most offensive?