Trying to Do Good Deed Can Backfire

Musicians Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have learned that race relations are the third rail of the entertainment industry. Touch it, and you may get quite a jolt.

The two artists, one black and one white, collaborated on a song titled “The Accidental Racist.” Both say it was intended to get people talking about relationships between people of different races.

Almost universally, the two have been slapped around like a puck on a hockey rink for the song. No one seems to like it. Quite a few people appear to think Paisley and LL Cool J have committed some sort of sin.

After reading some of the lyrics, it seems to me the two artists were, in effect, using the old “walk a mile in my shoes” angle on perceptions of some blacks toward some whites and vice versa. In other words, they tried to point out race relations can be a very complex, hard-to-get-a-handle-on issue.

Clearly, to judge by reactions to “The Accidental Racist,” they were right.

Now, Paisley’s credentials as a “southerner” may be in question among folks in the Glen Dale area, where he grew up. But that’s beside the point.

The point is that Paisley and LL Cool J tried to do something good – attempted to tackle a complex, controversial issue – and are being criticized roundly because some people don’t think they did a very good job of it. Other critics make it a point to question whether the two even understand what they’re talking about. Those critics are precisely the type of people at whom “The Accidental Racist” is aimed.

Is this a defense of LL Cool J and Brad Paisley? No. I don’t know either of them, so I don’t know what they were thinking when they worked together on “The Accidental Racist.”

And no doubt I’ll receive more than a little criticism for even writing about the two.

But isn’t that the problem? Are we afraid to talk about race because, when we try to do so honestly, the response is condemnation?

Appearing on the Jay Leno show, Paisley was asked if he’d do the song over again. “You know what? I don’t know,” Paisley said, before adding, “I guess so.”

How sad is it that? Do we really want “dialogue”? I’m guessing Paisley and LL Cool J wonder about that.

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