An Open Letter to Brad “Accidental Racist” Paisley.

Dear Brad (Can I call you “Brad,” Brad?):

You don’t know me, but I know plenty about you. Few of us at John Marshall High School during the early noughties could take a class with Mrs. Brinkman without her gushing about “Brad,” no last name necessary. I know plenty of people who think of you like a Glen Dale version of Elvis in a cowboy hat. Your folksy, po’ Southern boy style is representative of many people from the area, and I won’t pretend differently even though we’re from above the Mason-Dixon line and our state separated from Virginia to remain part of the Union during the Civil War.

But man, you’ve made us all look like idiots with your song “Accidental Racist.”

On the surface of things, I can respect your intentions. You set out to show that your “Southern pride” is not meant to be oppressive to African-Americans, so when you wear the Confederate flag, you are not making a statement about the Civil War. You even have a Yankee rapper on the track to back you up! You hash things out! You can’t be racist because you have at least one token black friend. You can see how this is getting complicated already.

I don’t think that it escaped your attention growing up that our school was extremely white. Being “Southern” and waving that ridiculous flag meant you were anti-establishment and proud of being a redneck, not part of the Navy that briefly used said design for a couple of years during the Civil War. In an insular white community, maybe that makes sense in some distorted fashion. But you draw an international audience now. Maybe you could like “The South” on Facebook or take any other stance besides defending and reclaiming a flag so loaded with negative connotations. That flag doesn’t stand for being a redneck, four-wheeling, hunting, fishing, and having cheap beers with your buddies at the mud bogs. It was used by people engaging in open treason against their country, and the richest were the ones with the most to gain or lose. That “most” includes slaves, people as property. You must realize that symbols hold the meaning ascribed to them by people. For instance, the swastika is a type of cross, but no one would dare defend that as a symbol of peace today. The views on good and evil from the Civil War are not so clear, it would seem, but that flag has a blood-soaked legacy.

But you don’t need a history lesson. Even though you’re a millionaire living the dream, I will pretend that you are defending the “redneck” way of life with pride. You’re “proud of where [you’re] from but not everything we’ve done” (even though West Virginia was in the Union, la la la). The major problem with this song, surprisingly, is when you let LL Cool J enter the discussion. I think everyone can agree that people of all backgrounds can harbor racist tendencies, and we all make unfair shortcuts based on what we see because we can’t be bothered to get to know everyone’s inner secrets. Mr. Cool James defends his right to wear gold chains, saggy pants, and a do-rag without being thought of as a thug, but then he reaches an epiphany that he too is judging you for your white cowboy hat and ridiculous flag t-shirt. “I guess we’re both guilty of judgin’ the cover not the book,” he says. This is absurdly stupid.

Chains, low-slung jeans, and do-rags are not symbols. A cowboy hat is not a symbol. If you look at someone in a cowboy hat and think he’s a racist because of that item of clothing, you’re being a lazy asshole. If you look at someone who wears a do-rag and assume he’s a criminal, then yes, you are a goddamn racist. You don’t get to pick and choose which aspects of Southern history you’re representing with the so-called rebel flag because even though the region is rich with so much culture worth celebrating, you aren’t saying you’re proud of Southerners like Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks. Racism has extended far past the abolition of slavery, and that continued prejudice is hardly just paranoia over white dudes just wanting to watch NASCAR and give ‘er dun. Brad, your lyrics indicate that you’re proud of the region, not its role in the Civil War. Why then must LL Cool J, a “black Yankee” of his own admission, actually say the words “RIP Robert E. Lee”? LL forgives you for wearing your shirt, you never meant any harm, and everyone walks away happy. Who wins here?

Between you and me, Brad, here’s a hint: the problem isn’t a grudge we Yankees hold from the Civil War. I appreciate that you want to open a dialogue and help mend fences, but the problem goes much deeper than you being shocked anyone was offended by your clothing. If you want to distance yourself from racist connotations, I’d be more than happy to buy you a new t-shirt.

Yours in Monarch Pride,
Casey Hicks, salutatorian, Class of ’04
(All opinions are my own, and I have no connection to the school beyond my diploma)

P.S. – The flag you celebrate was banned at John Marshall at one point in time. I’m not sure if the policy still stands, but when singing about where you’re from, that’s a valuable bit of information.
P.P.S. – You should listen to more rap/rock. Even Limp Bizkit could balance singing and rapping better than your tune does, and that’s just sad.

Marriage equality: why you should be for it.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing oral arguments on California banning gay marriage. Tomorrow, they will consider the Defense of Marriage Act. I’m a big supporter of gay rights, or what I like to think of as common sense. Why? Because people are people, and love is love. If you consider yourself too “traditional” to support gay marriage, you should look over these ten handy reasons why you should reconsider your stance. If you’re still not convinced, well, then I feel genuinely sorry for you.

1. No one will force you to get gay married. The really awesome thing about gay marriage is that if you’re not gay, it won’t affect you. Nobody will suddenly assume you’re gay. Nobody will propose to you and pressure you into an unsuitable gay marriage. It takes absolutely nothing away from you except maybe availability at your marriage venue of choice.

2. You can’t justify your stance through the Bible. Right, that whole not lying with man as with woman thing? It’s bullshit. Sorry for referring to your sacred text that way, but if you’re going to enforce this bit, you have to go with the whole thing. So you can’t eat certain foods (ham is out, but locusts are in!), get tattoos, shave your beard, gossip, have pre-marital sex, or curse (oops, guilty already). Sure, you can get stoned for a great many things, but one is being a disrespectful child. And don’t even get me started on the laws involved when ladies have that time of the month. Oh, and don’t forget the salt in your sacrifice to God. God really hates it when you forget the salt.

3. It’s not contagious. Why is this so difficult to comprehend? People act like this is opening the way to bestiality. No, animals cannot consent. Likewise, it is not opening the door to pedophilia. Children cannot consent. There are laws on both counts. Why won’t it lead to child brides and grooms? Well, let’s look at our legal system. We have juvenile courts for juvenile offenders, whose  minds may not yet be fully developed. Yes, sometimes they’re tried as adults; some children get married with parental consent. If you’re really so scared for the kids, maybe parent them rather than grown adults who are in love. Also, I live with two lesbians (engaged, by the way) and a gay man, and I am a-okay with that. So are they.

4. It doesn’t “hurt children” or “destroy families.” If you’re a parent, chances are your children will see non-straight people at some time in their lives. This is not a traumatic experience. If they ask you how that couple will get a baby, your life is not over. I’ll admit that I come from a very rural, white area, and when I first saw an African-American man as a child, I was stunned (or so my mom tells me). He was very kind about it, and you know what? I love diversity. He was born that way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a human, just like me. Which brings me to my next point.

5. Sexuality is probably not a choice, and even if it were, why would it be the wrong choice? Personally, I’m of the opinion that sexuality mostly comes from how you’re wired, but the truth is that it really doesn’t matter if it is a choice. For many, it’s about dating, falling in love, having a family. If I met a woman and fell in love with her, I really wouldn’t give a damn what other people thought about that (unless she were a bitch, in which case I’d hope my friends would tell me just as much as they’d judge a really bad dude).

6. Heterosexuals have done a damn fine job destroying the so-called sanctity of marriage on their own. We’re at the point that most marriages end in divorce anyway. How is this the “defense of marriage” by making it about one man and one woman? Because they can biologically have kids? Then the Defense of Marriage Act should ban divorce, separation, and you know what else? Death. It’s very selfish when parents go and die. It should be illegal. It keeps the children from growing up with two parents. That’s not okay.

7. More marriages will boost the economy. Because ridiculous laws and rules often ban same-sex couples from adopting, getting married, or just having equal rights no matter how long they’ve been together, same-sex couples tend to have disposable income that their heterosexual counterparts do not. I’ve read research in the past (sorry, no link) that says this is particularly true of gay men since there’s no glass ceiling in the way. Regardless, these people want to get married. They want you to take their money. TAKE THEIR MONEY.

8. If you don’t like people making a big deal about being gay, shut up about your straight life. Stop putting the “sex” in sexuality. Straight people are so obsessed with their romantic lives that it’s not surprising if maybe people with other orientations want to be open too. I’m perpetually single, and let me tell you, people in relationships? You never shut up about it. Ever. Maybe once they have the same rights as you, LGBQT people will realize how obnoxious you’ve been all along. But they deserve to be obnoxious too.

9. If you think gays are “gross,” turn on some reality television. I’ve had friends say that they like gay people but don’t like to imagine them having sex. That’s fine, as long as you acknowledge that you don’t want to see some straight people having sex too. Two dudes or two ladies going at it may not be your thing, but likewise, Honey Boo Boo’s mom has had plenty of kids, which means she’s had plenty of sex. Bless her for enjoying it and having found someone who loves her the way she is, and I’m all for her confidence, but I’d rather be waterboarded than watch a sex tape of her. See, it goes two ways. Also, straight people can have sex in as many weird and potentially fucked up ways as same-sex couples. Fifty Shades of Grey shows that “the straights” can have very gross sex as well, so your taste is really a moot point.

10. You sound like a fucking idiot if you oppose it. Go on. Come up with one good reason to oppose gay marriage that doesn’t make you sound like a crazy foaming at the mouth. I bet you can’t. “Civil unions!” Create second-class citizens, I retort. “It’s not natural!” Tell that to my flamingly gay dog Turk, I say. “They don’t HAVE to get married!” Neither do you, but you have that right.
People are people. Adults deserve the right to marry someone they love. We have no business separating our citizens into what’s “normal” and what’s “other.” Support equality and love. You know, or else you look like an asshole.

In Defense of Taylor Swift

Disclaimer: If the only thing you enjoy more than mocking Taylor Swift is being right, do not read this post. It will only compel you to a) attempt to correct me, b) go into a homicidal rage, or c) have a medical condition flare up to such severe results that were you to survive, you would sue the shit out of me. If you are one of these people, I genuinely do not give a fuck about your opinions other than the fact that you are giving me repetitive motion injury from rolling my eyes at your holier than thou attitude.

At last, it has come to this. I have had this idea kicking around in my head for weeks, talking myself down from blogging because I do not want to be That Person. But I’ve done some soul searching. I’ve chewed my nails over it. I’ve visited Tumblr for some distraction only to see the same tedious shit reblogged again and again, and I’ve discovered that yes, I am That Person. So here we are. This is my Chris Crocker moment. LEAVE TAYLOR SWIFT ALONE.

There are a lot of reasons to dislike female celebrities. In the case of someone like Ms. Swift for instance, you might argue that hearing her over the speaker at Duane Reade/Walgreens and running into an aisle of her merchandise when you really just need to get some tampons like right now is the pinnacle of overexposure. (To this, I merely whisper, “Beyonce,” drop my microphone, and vanish from the Internet.) Maybe you don’t like her music because you’re just not into that countryish/young girl/pop kind of thing. That’s totally valid, unless you hate all female singers because it’s just how you are, in which case what you are is an asshole. Maybe you don’t know who she is, but you can’t check her out now because she’s already exposed, so the hipster in you just has to rebel against what is popular. (If this is the case, just get your kumbacha and leave.) But this is the point I am trying to make: if you dislike a celebrity, 99% of the time, it should be due to that person’s WORK, not their personal life. Here are the most popular reasons I have seen for disliking Taylor Swift, followed by my rebuttals.

All she ever does is write about her love life!

Wow, that’s incredible! No other musician has ever thought about writing about the trials and tribulations of love ever, and no wonder since it’s obnoxious! Except, oh wait, pretty much everyone does it. You don’t really hear this argument about male musicians, so it is a bit sexist. My favorite band is Snow Patrol, and I’ll be the first to admit that a solid 90% of their songs are about Gary Lightbody’s former relationships. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, a quick Google tells me that The Beatles, arguably the biggest band of all time, used the word “love” 613 times in their music. Next?

But she writes about her relationships! And she has so many of them! It’s slutty but her image isn’t slutty so she’s just really, really fake!

Okay, since when does someone’s musical talent hinge upon the number of notches in their belt? It’s gotten to the point where she can just make eye contact with a man and supposedly be head over heels in love with them according to the press. She’s had a lot of public romances, but that happens when you get famous young and are constantly stalked by the press. These things also flame out quickly for who knows what reasons (said stalking, busy schedules, the relationship fizzling out because God knows why). She’s been under the glaring eye of public scrutiny since she was a teenager, and she’s still very young now. How would she have much else to write about? Also, it’s not like she names names most of the time (and if you take issue with “Dear John” calling out the human slime that is John Mayer, we have a problem, friend). I’ve seen the same newspaper (hint: it rhymes with Daily Fail) claim “I Knew You Were Trouble” is about John Mayer and then Harry Styles, no question, just fact. Duh. Plus are we seriously slut-shaming someone for dating?

Also, she has pretty bad taste. Stop applauding Harry Styles for being classy about their breakup and read up on how he broke up a marriage. No offense to the guy, he has a sense of humor about himself, but being younger doesn’t mean he’s squeaky clean.

Whatever. When you come to your senses, she’ll write a song dissing you too. But she’s still really fake.

I really don’t get this “fake” argument that we unleash on things we don’t like. There’s a huge layer of artifice involved when a celebrity tries to present his or her life for an audience. You become your own brand. I’m going to try to comprehend this though. She’s fake because she acts surprised to win awards? Because she keeps her image pretty tame? Because she talks about hunting for antiques rather than getting stoned? Okay. Pretty much everyone pretends to be surprised to win an award. I’d rather read about antiques than see another pop star getting her tits out, and how the hell does Rihanna not get arrested when there is so much evidence that she’s smoking pot pretty much all the time? We live in a weird society now where it seems we can only like one sort of female pop star, and we have to tear the rest down. Most of the people I know who insult Taylor Swift as “fake” are huge fans of Beyonce. I could explain the irony here, but I’ll just let it stand for itself. At least Taylor Swift doesn’t make up the majority of her writing credits.

I don’t like her face. She’s squinty.

Oh my God, shut up.

I could go on, but I’ve exhausted my brain trying to think of where the hate comes from. You know who’s talking about Taylor Swift all the time? You ,the people who hate her. So get over it and hate on Syria or something, because you’re petty as hell.

Dear commuter, you are an asshole.

Hey, you. Yeah, you. You with your hideous trash bag resting on the seat next to you. (But it’s Marc by Marc Jacobs! you argue shrilly.) You leaning your entire body against the doors. You having a party on the platform because it’s Friday night, bitches!!!!!! Yeah, you’re an asshole.

I’ve never traveled abroad, so I’m not sure how other subway systems around the world compare. However, I can say without question that the New York City harbors an intense concentration of assholes. Perhaps they are oblivious, or maybe they just feel entitled. Regardless of the cause, residents and tourists alike seem to revel in making the uncomfortable experience of taking the subway even more intense. So, without further adieu, and because I get to look forward to taking the subway to work tomorrow morning, here are my top ten unsolicited tips on how to ride the subway in such a manner that you might actually be polite. Nobody will return the favor, but at least I get to vent.

1. Do not cross your legs during rush hour. When you’re packed to the gills on the subway, someone having his or her legs crossed means their legs jut out into open floor space. People can either straddle your legs and give you a free lap dance, or they can twist around you and get kicked in the shins but your thoughtlessness for the next hour. Just don’t do it.

2. Your balls are not that big. Every. Single. Day. I see a guy who has his legs spread apart like his knees both contain magnets that repel one another. Of course you’re the biggest man to ever man, but there’s no reason to deny another person a chance to sit down for the airy comfort of your nether regions. Likewise, if you have a bag between your feet, you don’t have to give it a foot of space on either side so your shins serve as bumpers.

3. Hold the pole with your hand, not your buttocks. Seriously? Yes, seriously. I have all too often seen people decide that the pole is the perfect size to wedge deftly into a certain bodily crevice. It’s not right. It’s probably not sanitary. And if you’re that comfortable with things going up your ass, maybe you should practice that hobby elsewhere. Additionally, do not hug the pole. You’re depriving other people a chance to hold on, and they really don’t want to hug you. Unless you ask, and then it’s okay.

4. Be aware of your stuff. I’ve never seen someone robbed on the train because they were oblivious. I have, however, seen and experienced being beaten by oversized bags, backpacks, umbrellas, musical instruments, breakdancers…you name it. I’m fragile, and so is my Kindle. I know because I just broke one last week.

5. The subway is not your stage. I’m cool with buskers in the subways, on the streets, you name it, but it seems that only the least talented are the sort who move from car to car, begging for money from a captive audience. If I’ve just been at work for nine hours, I really don’t want to listen to dreary accordion music while your sad wife walks behind you, carrying your child on her chest while her freshly bleached hair indicates that maybe you’re not that desperate for cash. Once again, breakdancers, you’re totally talented for being able to do what you do, let alone in motion, but STOP KICKING NEAR MY FACE. Children, you probably aren’t selling candy to fundraise for your school in July, and I really don’t want any overpriced fruit chews, so stop.

6. You do know other people can smell you, right? Never is this a more prevalent problem than in summer, when sweaty commuters raise their arms high to hold on. I’m unfortunately armpit height for many a natural, devil may care hipster, but natural body odors are not the only issue. People of all ages decide that they’d like nothing more than to smell like a giant ball of cotton, a poisonous flower, or a dress that’s been in an attic long enough to collect five generations of moths.  The bad smells on the subway come naturally enough, so there’s no reason to add to it with your chemical intervention. Bonus round! Never ever ever paint your nails on the subway.

7. I am not your pillow. I don’t understand how people can fall asleep on the subway. Yes, I’ve nodded off a few times, but it’s always been very late while under the influence of alcohol. It has never gone well. If you’re that sleepy, then maybe try to get more rest before you leave for work. I understand that some people are working two jobs or going to school at the same time. Whatever. The justified few do not excuse everyone.

8. Do your makeup at home. I do admire the women who are able to line their eyes without looking while in motion since I can barely manage while I’m sitting still and holding my breath. Still, what they do is obnoxious. They become distracted and don’t care what angle their elbows have to accomplish because that cat’s eye flick has to be just so. Also, how do they know that they’ll get a seat so they can actually do their makeup? God knows how many bodies have been stuffed into trashcans for the luxury. No wonder the MTA wants to get rid of the trash in the stations.

9. Get your iPhone out of my face. Most stations do not have WiFi yet. This hasn’t stopped many young professionals (and old professionals, and general lazy people) from having their iPhones/Blackberries/whatevers out on the subway, writing emails. Your email will not send. Why is communicating with the outside world so urgent? Would you be writing emails in your car during your commute home? No wonder so many people get into car crashes. Also, I don’t need to hear what you’re listening to as much as you do. If I can make out every word, how can you? Every time someone flips one headphone so the rest of the train can hear their music, a unicorn is disemboweled in hell.

10. Just be kind. Is that so hard? Apparently. When the conductor asks you to move to the center of the car, they mean everyone. Just because you’re getting off the train in five stops doesn’t mean that you deserve to be by the door, blocking everyone’s path. Stop standing up when you’re getting off at the next stop. You will still be able to stand up and exit the train when it stops, promise, and then you won’t be engaging in frottage. If you see someone elderly, stop applying your mascara and offer your seat. Ditto if you see someone pregnant, struggling with crutches, or even with really small children. If there’s a delay, maybe roll your eyes and grumble with a neighbor. Do not prepare for the impending revolution to overthrow the MTA, those assholes, why is the L train always fucked, I won’t have time to get my latte, the world is ending, etc. Don’t throw people on the tracks or shoot or stab them. Why do I even have to say this? We’re just people trying to get from point A to point B as cheaply as possible. Stop throwing elbows. It’s not a competition.

I’m sure all of this sounds completely obvious, but you’d be surprised. Unless you’ve taken the train in New York, in which case you’re either nodding along or brandishing your weapon because getting to and fro is tough shit, man. Feel free to share your subway pet peeves!