Racism is not an “Accident”

Oh my.

A friend of mine told me on Facebook that people have been eager to see me respond to the new Brad Paisley/LL Cool J mash-up, sorry I mean, hodgepodge, sorry I mean country/hip-hop duet, no wait, sorry, I mean the new white man lead-black man sidekick musical impersonation of a Mel Gibson-Danny Glover Lethal Weapon buddy-flick.

So, begrudgingly, I consented. Fortunately, my friend, Dr. Natasha Croom, an assistant professor of higher education at Iowa State University, directed me to a link that spared me the trouble of having to actually listen to the song: Accidental Racist: Read the Lyrics So You Dont Have to Hear Them | TheWrap TV.

SMH takes on new meaning after reading these lyrics.

Old heads like me know that LL Cool J stands for “Ladies love cool James.” Well, this (not)lady isn’t loving James and he ain’t cool. Which is a real shame because I love his character Sam on NCIS:LA. Brad Paisley I don’t know; never heard of him before this. I have no expectations of who he is or should be. And quite frankly, what I know of LL doesn’t predispose me to expect socially conscious activism from him either. His forthcoming tour with Public Enemy notwithstanding, LL isn’t my go-to for conscious rap.

Yet, despite that, I’m disappointed but not really surprised. The lyrics to this song (stop now and click the link from The Wrap above to read them for yourself) display some pretty common attitudes about race relations, racism, and the Civil War (aka, The War Between the States, Northern aggression, etc.).

Let’s start with the song’s title: “Accidential Racist.” Let’s be clear on one thing before we go any further. Racism is not an accident and people are not “accidentally” racist. They may be unconsciously or dysconsciously racist (ala Joyce King), but even that is not accidental. Racism is the intentional byproduct of social systems and institutional structures that were intentionally designed to value one group of human beings as more worthy than others based on the slippery biological fiction, yet social reality, of race as displayed through phenotypical features such as skin complexion, the width of nose and lips, hair texture, and mythological yet longstanding presuppositions about differences in genitalia. This country was founded on many things, one of them being white supremacy, as evidenced through the slave trade, the Constitution, the economic fact that without race-based chattel slavery, this country’s prosperity would have likely never materialized and the U.S. probably wouldn’t have effectively liberated itself from Great Britain. In order to maintain this system of White supremacy, White people socialized each other, their children, AND anyone else who could be forced to listen (Africans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and immigrants from all over Europe and Asia) that racial pedigree was 1) real, 2) White was on top, 3) Black/African was on bottom, and 4) that to practice systematic discrimination, bias, and economic, psychic, and physical terror against Black people was an act of compliance with a divine, cosmic, yea, even natural order that would be disrupted only at one’s own peril and the downfall of this country first and global humanity next.

So, no, Brad and LL, there is no such thing as an “accidental racist.” Racism is the blood that runs through the veins of this country and makes its heart beat. Oh well, I just lost 1/3 of you reading this. Keep reading, I’ll tick the rest of you off too.

Everyone, regardless of one’s racial status, in this country is introduced to racist socialization (the philosophy that White people are supposed to be in charge and other people are supposed to serve White people) through schools, churches, media, and sometimes, the home. Sometimes it happens at home first. What this means is that White people are introduced to racial dominance and people of color, including multiracial people, are introduced to racial oppression.

Now, after that introduction, whether or not this socialization is internalized and the degree to which it is internalized as real, right, and relevant for oneself and one’s relationships with others is a matter of what other socialization one is also exposed to at home, school, church, the media, etc. One does not internalized racist attitudes and exhibit racist behaviors “on accident;” it happens systemically, intentionally, albeit usually unconsciously. I know, it’s a paradox.

To title the song “Accidental Racist” is to adopt a philosophy that denies personal responsibility for the ways that racism is STILL practiced and CONTINUES to be manifested in the systems and structures of this country (and throughout the world thanks to colonization).

So, relatedly, the song goes on to have both Brad and LL talk about how we need to let the past be the past (LL) and refuse to accept responsibility for past injustices. Sorry, guys, as my good friend the Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington says in his Diverse Community Foundations, it may not have been our fault but it is our responsibility. And, for the record, a beer and a conversation is not going to rectify 400 years of racial oppression, notwithstanding President Obama for the “Beer Summit.” (If I rolled my eyes any harder, they just might actually get stuck like that.)

Further, do-rags and the confederate flag are not equally innocuous, nor are they equally terrorizing symbols. The only reason that some white folks are scared of black men in do-rags is because of their own racist fears of black rage and propensity toward violence. The reason a lot of Black folks (they are of course some who aren’t – one who even put it up in his residence hall room – look it up on YouTube), actually a good number of White folks, and folks of other races and mixed race are suspicious, afraid, resentful, bitter, and downright bothered by the Confederate flag is because it literally was the symbol of the Confederacy’s refusal to give up slavery. The whole states’ rights argument centers and is founded on states’ rights TO KEEP SLAVES and refusal to enact emancipation and abolition of slavery. Slavery was the foundation of Southern wealth and it was at the center of Southern social norms and codes. “A proud rebel son” sounds pretty innocuous until you consider what the rebellion was all about – keeping Black people in iron chains.

So, no, LL, I will NOT forget those iron chains, and neither should you. White resentment of Black entertainers’ wealth displayed by gold chains (usually hocked, debt-ridden, and owned by a music company) is really displaced anger over the fact that their economic supremacy has not manifested for them as individuals and a transference of anger that is more rightly placed at the feet of the .1% (even less than a full 1% according to one FB meme recently) who happen to be almost exclusively White by the way.

One last point, we will not, cannot, and should not move on until we fully and honestly deal with the issues of race, racism, and the role of racism in this country’s origins. It’s the lack of historical awareness that produces a song like “Accidental Racist.” Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

Where do I get my perspectives and information from? Read the following folks just to get you started:
John Hope Franklin
Molefi Kete Asante
Patricia Hill Collins
Angela Davis
Marimba Ani
Tim Wise
Allan G. Johnson
Any critical race theorist

As another friend of mine said, Dr. Claire Robbins, superficial interracial friendships don’t help to deconstruct racism and undo racist attitudes. It takes more than contact with diverse others to understand racism and learn how to competently engage it and moreover to disrupt it. That is work that must be done deliberately by EVERYONE regardless of race.

 

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9 thoughts on “Racism is not an “Accident”

  1. This is a very interesting piece. I think I could have gone the rest of my days without knowing that song existed and been happier for it, but now that I know…I like what you say about unconscious racism. I think so many people are so entrenched in their own way and upbringing, and so ignorant and naive concerning the ways others that without evil intent, they are racist without being fully cognizant of it. I do think that interracial friendships and even “superficial” contacts are important however. I think a beginning to attacking racism, which is these days all the more challenging because it is “silent,” (As you indicate, many of the most racist people certainly would not identify themselves that way. Don’t you just love when someone starts a sentence with, “I’m not a racist, but…?) is to relating to individuals as individuals, not as members of a group, be it race, gender, sexual orientation, religious background or preference, or what have you. This is very HARD, since grouping and selecting is natural behavior. It’s what children do, without being taught or told. These things are the same, and these things are different. People naturally associate things that are the same as they are as “good,” and things that are different as “neutral” or “bad.” Many people are even fearful of what is not the same, though they have never been taught to fear it.These natural instincts have to be deliberately countered through conscious actions and teachings. Somewhere in the drivel of those lyrics is this point, I think. And I do agree with that.

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  2. What is really sad about this is it’s true. I am a white female who was raised on the belief that we are all created equal and I teach my children the same. In this day in age I’m appalled that racism still exists. We are all part of the HUMAN race – regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, etc.

    Unfortunately ignorance rules in todays day in age and those who speak the loudest are often heard first. With that said, I won’t even entertain the idea of listening to this song.

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    1. Chris, thanks for your comment and your consideration of the ideas I raise here. What makes racism so insidious is that racist attitudes and behaviors often get enacted through neutral concepts like merit and even equality.

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      1. I agree with you when you say “racist attitudes and behaviors often get enacted through neutral concepts like merit and even equality”. But how do you propose we change this? What could I do to help in this endeavor?

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  3. “superficial interracial friendships don’t help to deconstruct racism and undo racist attitudes. It takes more than contact with diverse others to understand racism and learn how to competently engage it and moreover to disrupt it. That is work that must be done deliberately by EVERYONE regardless of race.”

    This is really hitting home for me, largely because I think it can apply to so many groups. It’s not enough to say, “I work with a gay person therefore I’m not homophobic” or “I met a transgendered person once.” For me, it took really getting to know people of all sexual identities (and coming to know my own) and now dating a transgendered woman to truly understand the struggles.

    And yes, I understand that there are huge differences between racial inequality and sexuality/gender struggles but I find this to be an interesting similarity.

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    1. Dear Matthew, I find it interesting that although I didn’t call anyone racist that you have chosen to label me as one. Further, I do not believe in white supremacy, nor am I equipped to have any beliefs about racial supremacy of any group be enforced or supported by society. Therefore, I am not a racist. I recommend some more reading about racism and its role in U.S. history. In fact, you should check out Howard Zinn’s People History of the United States and Ron Takaki’s A Different Mirror for starters. It is not racist to point out and acknowledge how racism has shaped this country, nor is it racist to point out that racist ideology still influences opportunity and outcomes for non-White people in this country. What is racist is denying the reality of those things and wanting others to do the same. Thanks for your comment though!

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