While co-hosting the CMA Awards on Wednesday, Brad Paisley made a joke about the lack of diversity in country music and threw in a plug for a new ABC comedy. Obviously, it all became a controversy.
“Everybody, there’s usually a show on Wednesdays, a new show that I’ve fallen in love with, it is so funny. And so if any of you tuned into ABC tonight expecting to see the new show ‘black-ish’…yeah, this ain’t it,” Paisley said, pausing as the audience laughed. “In the meantime, I hope you’re all enjoying ‘white-ish,” he added, gesturing to the crowd.
Of course, this led to some people on Twitter firing off angry tweets about Paisley’s “racist” joke. (From “Brad Paisley just confirmed that country music is racist with that racist joke about ‘Black-ish'” to “That was kinda racist if you ask me, @BradPaisley.”)
Let’s clear this up. Paisley’s joke may have been ill-advised. But it wasn’t racist. Let’s break it down.
A) The joke was essentially a promo for ABC’s show “black-ish,” the new comedy starring Anthony Anderson as the dad to an upper-middle class black family who wants to maintain a sense of cultural identity.
B) There’s very little diversity in country music. (Just check out all these bros.)
C) Everyone in the room knew this to be true. It was a very pointedly self-aware, self-deprecating comment about Paisley’s own genre. It was not mocking anything except the country music industry’s own issues.
Still, here’s why it was a really dumb thing to say.
A) To many people, Paisley is known for his duet with LL Cool J called “Accidental Racist.” That song is centered around a white man who walks into Starbucks wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt and sees a black barista, which sparks a conversation about race. Any well-meaning intentions to sing about tough subjects were drowned out by the ensuing controversy…
B) Paisley is well-aware how much the song blew up in his face. “We were having a very personal discussion [within the song], and everyone said, ‘How dare you speak for us?’ ” Paisley told The Post’s Chris Richards earlier this year. “But I think two people sitting at Starbucks can reach a conclusion together. As a country, we can’t. But with that song, we were trying to say, ‘Hey, you can talk about these things.'”
C) That public reaction should have been a warning sign that people would take Wednesday’s joke the wrong way, even if Paisley thinks it’s important for country music fans to consider. As Richards wrote, “While the controversy over ‘Accidental Racist’ raged almost completely outside of the country music world, it’s worth remembering that Paisley was sending that message to country fans, a bloc that’s overwhelmingly white and completely unaccustomed to being confronted with songs about race. ‘I found incredible consolation in their reaction,’ Paisley says, ‘which was, ‘Huh, I never thought about that.'”
Now, if you really want to see an uncomfortable race joke at the CMAs, watch last year when Paisley and his co-host Carrie Underwood were assigning fake “feuds” to members of the audience. The feud that was given to Darius Rucker, currently the only black country singer on the charts? Julianne Hough, who had recently made headlines for dressing up with a blackface Halloween costume.