Did Country Music Just Kick Blacks to the Curb? Again?
The CMA Awards can afford to be forgiving. No one calls them the n-word.
Although it’s true that when I’m driving down the freeway, I’m blasting jazz loud enough to rattle the windows, I still have a great appreciation for most other genres of music. Including country music. I like its ability to tell stories about the emotional and economic struggles average people endure and the exuberant celebration of what’s worthwhile in life: family, friends, and community. The roots of country are firmly planted in regional folk music and the blues. Good music is good music and, as with any art, the best artists often overlap genres.
But I’ve never seen a musical category work as hard as country music to exclude Blacks. And having excluded them, insult them. On March 7, Morgan Wallen received the album of the year award from the Academy of Country Music. This happened one year after being removed from the Academy’s ballot for being shown on video drunkenly using the n-word.
I’m all for forgiveness. People make mistakes, they learn, they grow. But forgiveness should only be bestowed when the sinner admits the sin—and clearly understands why it is a sin. There isn’t much evidence of that here. Wallen half-heartedly went through the motions of publicist-dictated career damage-control. He went on TV and apologized, donated $500,000 to the National Museum of African American Music, and had a Black woman act as his beard by proclaiming he wasn’t a racist (though that would have been more convincing if she didn’t also have a deal with Wallen’s record label).
But a man who had really grown and understood the damage he’d done to all the Black children who’d heard a musical superstar disparage them so nastily, would have found the courage to discuss that growth during his acceptance speech. Not only would that have reflected well on him as a mature man and father, but on country music for acknowledging that such issues shouldn’t be quickly swept under the rug.
Instead, he thanked those who had shown him "grace along the way." Right, because this was all about his suffering, his inconvenience. One reason he didn’t mention it was because his fans don’t really care about his personal growth, especially in racial matters. Although he was initially banned from radio play for four months by major stations, when he returned his airplay increased 500 percent and his album went to number one.