I have heard a steady and incessant stream of criticism for Brad Paisley’s new song (featuring LL Cool J) today. Let me start by saying most of it is bush-league and unenlightened and if you don’t have the ability to discern the difference between ignoring history and trying to create a better future, you do not belong in the “critiquing game.” Small minded people with limited depth of thought really need not apply.
Here is what I see in the song, first and foremost, an attempt by two artists to do what the rest of the country (world?) should be doing; specifically, moving toward a better place. The lessons of the past should not be forgotten, and I’m certain that no one, Paisley or Cool J included, wants to pretend slavery didn’t happen. However, in the real world of today, established social conditions of fear and bigotry are a real and tangible problems and attempts to get beyond those are worth far more than clinging or giving deference to atrocities of the past.
There is not a single black person alive in the United States today who has felt the sting of a foreman’s whip on a plantation, who has been denigrated and treated as less than human by their “master” or who has had all of their liberties systematically striped from them (assuming they ever had them to begin with). There is not one who cannot vote because they are property rather than people and they can drink from the same water fountains (et. al.) as everyone else. However, each and every black person in the United States today, does continue to suffer from the residual effects of slavery. They do not enjoy parity as citizens, equality in the workplace, or uniformity of perception by their peers. They live their lives cast in an inescapable societal role defined by outdated and in most cases never accurate assumptions, perceptions and stereotypes. Or, in simpler terms, they exist in the context of institutionalized ignorance and (hopefully an ever reducing amount of) bigotry.
Therefore, while I agree it is important to remember our history so that we do not repeat it, I do not agree that we need to let it take priority over anything attempting to promote communications and understanding. There is no greater potential power against inequality than knowledge. Comprehending someone else’s reality allows one to understand that they are not the enemy, simply another person (or group of people) moving through life, just like you and me. This is the crux of this song, Paisley trying to clear up what his flag shirt means to him, as opposed to what it might mean to someone who has seen it without any context with which to interpret it. LL hits the nail on the head with this (much maligned) line “I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air but I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here.”
I am flabbergasted that critics have elected to point out that “conversate” is not in the dictionary while ignoring the significance of this outreach (the same critic who used the oh-so-compelling argument of “oh LL” – full stop – to make a point and said “…you can’t be no…” ’nuff said). The intent (read: the substance) here is a stated interest in understanding and a candid admission of what scares him about going down that road. There is more actionable content in that sentence than in the entirety of all of the articles/blogs/videos I have seen bashing the song combined.
If people can begin to understand each other and stop crossing the street in fear because a bunch of black kids are approaching from the opposite direction (or because of a bunch of tattoo’d white kids, or whatever) then that is real progress, something that can make a difference in the world. Understanding that a guy can wear a do-rag without being in a gang, or whistle Dixie without being a racist is a worthy goal… something for which we should be saluting these two artists, not disparaging them.
There are some historical issues in the song, for sure. It is even debatable if the song (musically) is good. However, what is undeniable is that two people from opposite sides of the spectrum got together to produce a piece of art that attempts to unify rather then divide. And if you can’t get behind that, then frankly (and bluntly), I can’t get behind you.