Country music star Brad Paisley says he was just trying to initiate a “conversation” about race relations, but instead he stirred up a full-blown controversy.
The “conversation” — more like a mini-firestorm — resulted from a new song called “Accidental Racist,” which appears on Paisley’s new CD, “Wheelhouse.” And it’s been a hot topic on the TV talk shows — from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to “The View.”
The song is about a southern man who is misunderstood when he happens to wear clothing with the Confederate flag on it.
In the song, the man expresses his desire that he not be judged as a racist just because he wears the “stars and bars” representative of the Confederacy.
The song even includes verses written and performed by rapper LL Cool J — who provides an African-American reaction to the flag and what it symbolizes.
Appearing on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Wednesday night, Paisley said the issue of race was on his mind because of two of last year’s most acclaimed movies — “Django Unchained,” a slavery-era drama, and “Lincoln,” about the abolition of slavery.
“Racism has been on my mind,” Paisley told Jay Leno. “Last year, we had some really powerful movies deal with it really well. We had ‘Django’ and ‘Lincoln’ and the media deals with it all the time. And I thought maybe it would be an interesting conversation between country music and rap music to deal with this subject between two individuals in a loving and sort of understanding way to come together that way.”
The song starts this way:
“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 …”
The song then goes on to paint a picture of a man who doesn’t have race on his mind when he wears a shirt with the Confederate flag. He notes that slavery and all its misery came many years before he was even alive, and he questions why it’s still such a big issue 150 years later, especially in the South.
In the wake of the song’s release, the “conversation” it has ignited has focused on exactly those issues, including the symbolism of the Confederate flag. The flag in particular is a hotly debated subject — as various groups have sued to have it removed from statehouses, universities and other institutions across the South.
Among those who have been talking about this song recently were the women of “The View.”
Interesting thing about Paisley: Though he’s a country singer who naturally identifies with the South, he’s not a southerner in the Civil War sense of the word. The 40-year-old country star was born and raised in West Virginia, which was admitted to the Union as a state during the war (in 1863) after it broke from the rest of Virginia because residents of the state’s western sector didn’t share the same values.
On Thursday night, LL Cool J will be on the “Leno” show, where he will presumably take up the same subject.