By Holly G, Staff Writer
Black, queer, atheist. Country music fan.
It seems an unlikely combination, but I am here and I’m realizing more and more that I’m not alone. I have been in love with music for as long as I can remember and that’s always included country music. And for as long as I’ve loved country music, I can also remember feeling ashamed to do so. As I got older, it became clearer to me that the shame I was carrying was not because of the music, it was because I was looking for a place in a world that did not want me there – at best – and at worst did not want me to even exist.
My intention was to use this space to talk about my overall experience as a Black person who loves country music, but I think what best illustrates this is to focus on what is happening in this moment.
For the past three weeks or so I have listened to almost nothing but “7 Summers”, “Talkin’ Tennessee”, and “Chasing You.” I have been telling anybody that can hear me to go listen to Morgan Wallen. It’s been mostly what I listen to on the treadmill and all of what I listen to in the shower. Last night I rolled over and picked up my phone, saw him, trending and immediately got excited – only to just as quickly be disappointed. Now I am stuck with a voice in my head of a man who does not respect my human dignity enough to refrain from saying the N word.
But that is not where the disappointment ends.
It is not just Morgan hurling racial slurs that is disappointing, it’s all of the dust it kicks up that I’m then left to sift through. Now I must navigate the landmine of artists and fans reacting to the news. The reactions range from outright hatred to well meaning missteps. Surprisingly, the most frustrating is the latter. For the former: I have learned through many years of furiously banging on a keyboard that you are never going to get through to somebody who is hellbent on being hateful. Those responses are meant to be antagonistic and responding only gets my blood pressure up. So, I leave that alone.
No, what I’ve found most frustrating today is the eagerness to put this behind us. The insistence that this “isn’t Nashville” (I love you Kelsea, but it is.) The idea that this is just one bad apple, when the truth is that it is a spoiled orchard. Country music is rotten to the roots. The very first country music song ever recorded was “Little Log Cabin in the Lane”, recorded by Fiddlin’ John Carson in 1923. Carson also recorded hits such as “Run Nigger Run” and regularly attended KKK meetings. Hatred is an heirloom in country music that you can trace back to the very beginning. The problem is not a kid yelling the N word after a drunken night out (during a pandemic which adds a whole other list of problems -but I digress), the problem is that he is exactly who the industry is made for, and designed him to be. He is representative of an entire culture that is expertly designed to uplift cis, straight, white men and not anybody else. Pushing this to the side or pretending this is anything other than status quo serves no one except the white men who have allowed racist attitudes to thrive in the first place.
Not even a full day into coverage of Morgan, I began to see the narrative shift due to another bombshell out of Nashville. This time, quite a welcome one: T.J. Osborne of The Brother’s Osborne had come out as gay.
“We don’t need Morgan, we have TJ!” “Forget Morgan, let’s focus on TJ!” “This is what we should be talking about instead!” What Morgan did is not magically erased by TJ coming out, and TJ coming out deserves more respect than to use it as a palate cleanser for Morgan’s racism. To suggest that we can trade in one topic for another feels dismissive to me as a Black fan of country and disrespectful to him as a gay man. We can and should be having both conversations.
Seeing white people comment along the lines of, “oh well we just won’t talk about Morgan lets focus on something more pleasant ok???” is infuriating. White people need to be talking about it. Call your family, your neighbors, your hairdressers. Ask them how they feel about it – and make sure they understand that it is not okay. The work should be on white people to fix this, and sweeping it under the rug is not fixing it. Putting out a few tweets is not fixing this. Reading this article is not fixing it. Have the conversations. Do the work. Stop saying it is “not Nashville,” because it is, and if you want it not to be, then go do something about it.
Whether or not I ever hear another thing from Morgan Wallen, I do not care. He has proven (many times over) that he does not deserve a platform. I do, however, want to keep hearing about him. I do not want country music to just say “what a shame,” and move on. Keep having the conversation. Keep talking about how bad it was. Keep talking about why it was bad. Keep talking about why it happened. Keep talking about how the industry can do better. Keep talking about the consequences he faces and make sure they stick. This is not just about Morgan: it is about the millions of fans and many artists he represents that are counting on you mentioning this once and moving on so they can get away with the same behavior. Prove them wrong.