Is 'Accidental Racist' the Worst Song Ever?

The furor over the "Accidental Racist" song by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J could have been avoided with some guidance from those being stereotyped.

By Barbara Frankel

Is there anything good about "Accidental Racist," the duet by country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J explaining the white Southerner's need to wear "racist" symbols, like the Confederate flag?

The negative outcry from music lovers and the press has been huge. Critics have called it "the worst song ever" and "actually just racist." And two days after it was released, the song's video seems to have been taken down from YouTube.

Paisley even went on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to defend the song, which describes the meeting in a coffee shop of a white Southern man wearing a Confederate flag and a Black man from the city. In the song, Paisley sings: "Our generation didn't start this nation/We're still picking up the pieces, walking on eggshells, fighting over yesterday … caught between Southern pride and Southern blame." LL Cool J responds: "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."

The irony of the song is that, according to both artists, it was an attempt at cultural competence, trying to walk in another's shoes. But like many efforts in corporate America, if cultural competence and D&I training are done poorly, they defeat the educational purpose and just serve to further perpetuate negative stereotypes.

For example: "The red flag on my chest somehow is like the elephant in the corner of the south/And I just walked him right in the room/Just a proud rebel son with an ol' can of worms lookin' like I got a lot to learn."

Paisley admits here, and later in the song, that he doesn't know how to behave and is proud of his roots but not the "mistakes" made. Never does he acknowledge the unbearable pain of slavery and how the wearing of its symbol strikes a visceral chord for those whose ancestors suffered and died.

As for LL Cool J, he's received criticism from some in the Black community for perpetuating stereotypes. He sings: "Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good/You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would/Now my chains are gold but I'm still misunderstood." And adds "RIP Robert E. Lee."

Effective Cultural Competence

The key to getting well-intended messages of mutual understanding across is first not to alienate your audience. DiversityInc's monthly Meeting in a Box, for example, features timelines and facts on demographic groups tied to heritage months, such as Blacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians, women, LGBT people and people with disabilities. All comments, including our popular Things NOT to Say series, are vetted by members of those communities.

And that's a lesson companies on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity increasingly learn: They use their resource groups as focus groups to avoid the kind of multicultural missteps that cause public outcries. Consider this positive use of resource groups by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation to erase misperceptions of Blacks, Latinos and Asians about participating in clinical trials.

This is a very transparent age, so anything that is offensive or abrasive goes viral immediately.

Dr. Claude Steele, Dean of the Stanford University School of Education, has spoken to DiversityInc numerous times about the danger of "stereotype threat." People from underrepresented groups are often so afraid of being viewed through the lens of a stereotype that they become paralyzed and don't excel. The key to creating an inclusive workplace, he says, is to have an environment where stereotypes can be discussed and eliminated.


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