Why cultures collide and what you can do about it
Apr 112013
 
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Alana and Hazel opined on “Accidental Racist” by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J in The New York Times’ “Room for Debate.”

Because popular music lyrics are so memorable and pervasive, they powerfully shape individuals’ thoughts, feelings and actions. How many of us could not recall, even if our lives depended on it, the basics of algebra we worked so hard to memorize, and yet know every word of Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” even though we’ve tried hard to keep it out of our heads?

Like many social and cultural forces, once lyrics weasel their way into our unconscious minds, they subtly direct our behavior. And so it is good and right to examine what LL Cool J and Brad Paisley are crooning about in a heavily promoted product of the musical industrial complex. Both artists are naïve to think that other people should look past their cultural accoutrements — the do-rags and red flags — to “get to know me.” The notion that our cultures and our selves can be cleanly separated is a myth.

Behind this naïvete, however, are two well-intentioned people attempting to negotiate their cultural differences in front of an audience of millions. Their duet is one of the more socially salubrious entries in our collective playlist, which is otherwise clotted with racist, sexist, classist and regionist warblings. And unlike the “Ebony and Ivory” of yore, “Accidental Racist” does not conclude that “people are the same wherever you go.” Instead, the song begins to grapple, however clumsily, with the fact that people are deeply different. One group’s cherished cultural symbols are sometimes another group’s heartaches or nightmares. How we as a multicultural society can reconcile these culture clashes is a much longer conversation.

What do you think about the duet? Is it really a cross-cultural bridge-building, or a poorly timed apology for the Confederate flag?

  7 Responses to “Lyrics on the Mind in The New York Times”

  1. I agree that our cultures and our selves can’t be cleanly separated. They both influence and shape each other, whether we’re aware of it or not. However, people are still individuals, and even within cultures not everyone thinks and acts the same. While people are influenced by their cultures, not everyone meets the typical stereotypes and assumptions about people from their culture as a whole. For example: not everyone from the south hates African-Americans, and not all African-Americans from urban areas are gangsters and criminals. Snap judgments about someone based on things like their skin color, religion, or ethnic background aren’t always correct.
    Another important thing that this song highlights is that we’re not always aware of how things in our culture are perceived by other cultures. Because of this, we may hurt or offend people without meaning to, or even realizing that we did. It’s important to become more aware and knowledgeable about other cultures around us, and try to use this knowledge to cooperate and live in harmony, instead of allowing our ignorance to cause avoidable conflicts and pain.

    • Totally agree with your points, Heather C. As we illustrate in Clash!, each of us is a unique cocktail of different cultural forces. For instance, I am a white woman, raised a Methodist, from a working-class neighborhood in Memphis, TN, who got a bunch of education (elevating my social class) and has spent the bulk of her adult life working in academia and media on the East and West coasts of the United States. I have discovered that this particular mix of cultural forces is pretty unusual, and makes me quite different from other people (e.g., white women in San Francisco, where I currently live) who, on the surface, look really similar to me. The way forward in our diverse nation is to start talking, candidly and creatively, about our cultural differences and similarities, rather than pretending that we are all alike and we no longer have culture troubles.

      Thank you for your post!

  2. I also agree that separation from selves and cultures is no easy task. As a big fan of country music, this article caught my eye. I had heard this song long ago but listened to it again upon reading this article. Being raised in a small town in western PA with essentially no diversity, I could identify with the naivete demonstrated in this song. I, like Brad Paisley, would’ve never considered wearing a Skynyrd shirt could be offensive to someone and taking this and into consideration in the future is important. Where each person is from absolutely contributes to how they see themselves, the world and other people. Awareness of these subtleties throughout culture is key and could greatly help in the reduction of offensive behaviors that occur.

    • Reading the article and the hearing the song takes me back a little bit. To be brutally honest I can relate to the song and understand the context behind it. No this country is built on the struggles and blood shed of slaves, people who worked hard to make this country what it is today. I’m not saying that Caucasians did not have a part in building this country too, but years of suffering have brought us to a time were we can pretend to like each other and as long as we don’t openly talk about it, it’s fine. African-American are judged because of the clothing they wear and the durags on their heads. I personally find nothing wrong with this song, I think people have become very sensitive and they are quick to play the racist card for everything. Race and culture do tie in together, and if one is to look at race they are also looking at the culture and the makeup of that person. Culture and race are the 2 foundations of what makes a person who they are, and it also plays a role in their behavior .

  3. Well now hold on, I do understand what is being said, that the two (culture and individual) cannot be separated, but I think the larger picture is being missed. The two artists are attempting to start a conversation, to bring the elephant in the room out and spoken about.
    As it was stated, “Both artists are naïve to think that other people should look past their cultural accoutrements — the do-rags and red flags — to ‘get to know me.’” Really? Is it so much to ask intelligent human beings to look past cultural accoutrements that might be seen as racist or a reason to fight one another so that the bigger picture of peace and understanding might be seen? I think not. All that is being suggested here in this song is for people to stop judging one another and start talking to the person in front of you rather than the person you think you see.
    Honestly, I think that the artists knew that they would not heal racism in one song but it was an attempt to “drive out the hate with love.”

  4. I too agree with you all, culture and selves can’t be cleaned seperately! A line that LL Cool J said that struck me was “I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book” Things, are not always as they appear. People, are not always as they appear. Its the inside that counts, not the cover! Unconciously or consciously culture and selves tend to collide. With that, you have sterotypes for different cultures but each individual is unique and different. For example, growing up I was the only Indian in the neighborhood and people automatically assumed I was a Hindu (judgin’ the cover”), until they actually got to know me (they read the book). It is vital that people are informed of other cultures.

  5. I too agree with you all, culture and selves can’t be cleaned seperately! A line that LL Cool J said that struck me was “I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book” Things, are not always as they appear. People, are not always as they appear. It’s the inside that counts, not the cover! Unconsciously or consciously culture and selves tend to collide. With that, you have stereotypes for different cultures but each individual is unique and different. For example, growing up I was the only Indian in the neighborhood and people automatically assumed I was a Hindu (judgin’ the cover”), until they actually got to know me (they read the book). It is vital that people are informed of other cultures.

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