Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?
Lyrics from that 1980s song gave us a hopeful way to think about race in America with the voices of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder blending seamlessly.
About 30 years later, a new song has the country talking.
I’m just a white man, coming to ya from the South land.
Country star Brad Paisley thought the song Accidental Racist, on his album Wheelhouse, would be an unusual connection between country and rap music that would spark interesting conversations about race and prejudice. He didn’t expect his collaboration with LL Cool J would become a huge controversy.
The song has been analyzed and criticized all week.
I try to put myself in your shoes, and that’s a good place to begin. It ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin.
The two are friends, and they wrote the song together.
“Some people take exception to some of the lyrics. I respect that. I’m sensitive to that,” LL Cool J said in an interview with ABC News.
Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood what the world is really like when you’re livin in the hood. 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.
“I felt like what we had on tape was something that people needed to hear,” Paisley says.
When I see that white cowboy hat I’m thinkin it’s not all good. I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover not the book.
“This song is about walking into a Starbucks wearing a Lynyrd Skynyrd (Confederate flag) t-shirt, and it is about the unintentional consequences of that. The character in this Paisley song says ‘I’m trying to look at things from another point of view.’ Now that’s an important dialogue,” says Joe Levy.
Levy is editor of Billboard Magazine. He tells CBS This Morning, Paisley wanted to get people talking. That’s what artists do.
“People think this song is taking a complicated subject and treating it in an Afterschool Special kind of way and they have a point there, but this is an important dialogue that Brad Paisley means to open,” Levy says. “Race is not something people want to talk about in America and particularly not in country music. This is a challenge to his audience.”
As for LL Cool J’s controversial lyrics – If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains – he says he’s not literally asking people to forget about slavery.
“What I am saying is forget the slavery mentality,” he says. “Forget the bitterness.”
The song is based on the artists’ experiences with racism and thinking about race issues.
I grew up in a white community for miles and miles around. It was rural Iowa, where I didn’t even see a black person face-to-face until I was in seventh grade and we had a student teacher from a city about 50 miles away.
What must it have been like to be Mr. Wilson surrounded by all those white kids? I thought about that then. I also thought about wanting to be in a more diverse area. I knew I would leave the place I still call “home” and seek out a city with people from all over the world.
I like Paisley’s song because it’s forcing people to acknowledge something outside their comfort zones – the same way Mr. Wilson made me open my eyes and think about someone else’s world for a change.
What’s your experience with race and racism?
By LINDA THOMAS