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Mo Ivory: Can You Be An “Accidental” Racist?

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(Credit: Sonia Murray/CBS Local)

(Credit: Sonia Murray/CBS Local)

I fell in love with LL Cool J as a 12-year-old girl growing up in the Bronx, sitting on the wall with my friends listening to a boom box playing “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells.”

I used to say, “If he licks his lips one more time, I’m gonna…”

You get the point.

So, when he married his “Around The Way Girl” Simone, and started a beautiful black family, I was loving him into adulthood.

Then, when he became an actor and still stayed (sort of) true to the rap game, I was still hanging with him.

But today, with this new song “Accidental Racist,” I’m saying goodbye to my love affair with Ladies Love Cool James.

(I was never invested in the other artist on the song to feel any way about him. I don’t listen to Brad Paisley like that. I don’t own his albums and I don’t follow him on Twitter or Instagram).

No, my ire, my disappointment is directed at LL Cool J because this was an opportunity to say some really important things, fix some stereotypes, use his celebrity to correct some “white thinking” about black folks.

Instead, he teamed up with a Confederate-wearing country crooner and talked about do rags and chains – which by the way, are both seriously played out!

On my radio show on News/Talk 1380 WAOK, my listeners weighed in on the controversial song and some agreed with me.

Others felt it was done just for publicity. And some said LL Cool J has never been socially or politically conscious, so they would have never expected him to make any profound or even relevant statements.

Some liked the song; and felt it was honest for Brad to say that he was proud to be a Southerner but not proud of all that had been done. Others gave LL Cool J props for trying.

The best call I received, however, was from a white listener who grew up in Forsyth, GA (the setting of that famous episode of Oprah in the ’90s when she talked to the KKK members). He said he was in fact an “accidental racist.”

His name is Johnnie and he said he wanted to give me a “gift” of explanation from a white person who has lived this. (Not sure it was a gift per se because Forsyth is only 20 minutes away and I could have driven there and spoken to a bunch of “accidental racists”).

But anyway, I was grateful. Johnnie said when you grow up in a town that is closed off from the idea of integration and grow up only being exposed to one thing, one type of person, one ideal about culture and race (meaning all white) you never know anything else until you learn something else.

That makes sense. He said he wasn’t a racist by choice, by deliberate action to belittle, degrade or perpetuate stereotypes about blacks. And when he began to know better, he did better.

Now Johnnie says he doesn’t consider himself to be prejudice or have an ounce of racism in his blood.

I had to think about that for a minute, digest it and come back with a reasonable and authentic answer: I agreed.

Johnnie might have been raised to believe that black people were lesser, or that he being white was superior. Those messages were probably reinforced in his home, at school and in his town. He was a product of the environment he was cultivated in. When he finally did become exposed, he learned and opened his mind. Like he said, when he knew better, he did better.

But is it really possible to be an “accidental racist”? Can you stumble upon racism? Can you partake in racist activity by accident? I don’t think so.

Ignorance is a mindset. Racism is a choice.

Do most people derive their racist views from their upbringing, their lack of exposure to cultural differences, their ignorance? Do most people change when they become more exposed? Move to a big city? Work in a diverse environment?

Most people are NOT accidental racists as Brad and LL Cool J profess. Most people are deliberately and purposefully racist. They choose to be racist and perpetuate stereotypes they know, hear in the media or see on the streets.

Here are some you have surely heard (and may even believe):

All Black boys wearing their pants hanging low are thugs.

Most black people are on welfare.

More black men are in jail than in college.

Black women want to wear blonde weaves and date rich athletes.

Black women like to fight.

Black women are sexual freaks.

White people don’t care about black people at all.

All white people are rich.

Most whites are Republicans.

White people in the South are all rednecks.

President Obama is not really white.

President Obama is not really black.

Most whites that listen to country music wear cowboy hats and drive pickup trucks.

Are any of these true to you? And if so, do they have an impact on how you see or behave toward the subject of the stereotype? (It did for George Zimmerman; and sadly for Trayvon Martin).

There is no accidental racism. Oh believe me, there is no accident in racism! Let’s not coin the term and relieve ourselves of our responsibility to check ourselves and our racist ways.

Let’s not forget the recent election cycle of 2012 where one party stood for the top 1% – and then there was everybody else.

Oh believe me, there is no accident in racism!

In the end, there was some good publicity for the new song by Brad Paisley and LL Cool J on television and radio, but I think we can all agree this song does nothing to begin a real conversation on racism, doesn’t stop white-only proms in south Georgia and at a minimum, doesn’t even get you to the dance floor.

- Mo Ivory, CBS Local

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