For all of our lip service, all of our posturing, all of our sanctimonious speeches, we are not a country that wants tolerance. Not really.
The latest target of the nation’s effort to remain biased is the Brad Paisley/LL Cool J duet “The Accidental Racist.” Part ballad and part rap, the song tells the story of a Southern man who walks into a New York coffee shop with his cowboy hat and a Lynard Skynard T-shirt depicting a Confederate flag to be served his coffee by a black man.
In the song, Paisley’s protagonist talks about how he understands how the barista might feel seeing someone like him walk into the coffee shop. His character admits “I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin, but it’s not like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin.”
For his part, LL Cool J acknowledges a little prejudice of his own with the lyrics “When I see that white cowboy hat, I’m thinking it’s not all good. I guess we’re both a little guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book.”
It’s a song of understanding, forgiveness and moving forward. Yet it has come under vitriolic criticism not only for its message, but for its lyrics, its melody — nothing is left unscathed. Political pundits have suddenly become music reviewers and no one is happy with the song.
Both Paisley and LL Cool J have been forced to explain themselves for a song that should be giving everyone warm, fuzzy feelings rather than making them angry.
So what is wrong with the song? It is about unconditional, unadulterated tolerance. And we just can’t have that.
What we really want to do is walk around with an unjustified chip on our shoulder and complain about how marginalized and mistreated we are. Any breakthrough that might lead to a resolution is over-analyzed until we find something to use against it to abolish any progress that might be made.
The scream for equality is nearly deafening. At the same time, though, everyone wants to make sure they have their own little pigeonhole in the name of diversity. And, as typical human beings, we all feel that our pigeonhole is more fair, more justified and more marginalized than anyone else’s. We will fight to be part-time activists and God forbid some dumb hick country singer should team up with a New York City rapper and offer us a peaceable solution.
We have come to a point where our ire at injustice defines us and we are afraid to let go of it. Americans are not passive. We are not people who take our hurts, real or perceived, sitting down.
So we will go on, the Christians hating the gays hating the Republicans hating the immigrants hating the fill-in-the-blank. We hold onto these little battles because we don’t know how to live without them. They are the vehicles of our self-worth and are fueled by the hate we claim we don’t have.
We are afraid of tolerance. We are afraid of equality. We don’t really want them.
If we don’t have those to fight for, then we have lost what defines us.
And that scares the hell out of us.