No matter who's playlist you go through, you're bound to find a song that has social and political substance. Songs are more than chords and words- they're stories and ways to interpret the world around you. Music, in general, is a portal into other time periods, dimensions, and states of mind.
As a late Fathers' Day gift, my family and I went to a Toby Keith concert at Jones Beach. I had been to a few of his shows with my dad in my youth, but because I'm now more politically aware, this time was different. There is such a stigma around country music of it being for "rednecks" and misogynists... all valid points depending on the song or artist you listen to. Then again, like any other music you hear on the radio, all genres have beautiful, deeper messages if you dig a little more into the heart of them.
This is by all means not an anti-country music article the same way someone talking about the repercussions of the current president on the citizens of the United States should not be anti-America. In the same way, many supporters of Trump react in a similar or more extreme way than he does to social issues, the majority of the supporters of country music react to their political surroundings based off of the lyrics/message the artist they listen to puts out.
For example, someone who enjoys a song such as "I'll Name the Dogs" by Blake Shelton won't necessarily be the best advocate for women taking on roles of power. Here's the chorus of that song, just for reference:
"You find the spot and I'll find the money
You be the pretty and I'll be the funny
You plant the flowers, I'll plant the kisses
Baby, let's get right down to business
I'll hang the pictures, you hang the stars
You pick the paint, I'll pick a guitar
Sing you a song out there with the crickets and the frogs
You name the babies and I'll name the dogs, yeah."
Personally, I'd like to name my kids and my dogs. This nuclear song straight out of the 1950s definitely does not reflect 2019 ideals of women and men being equal. Sure, this song does not reflect the whole genre, but it definitely doesn't make them look good either.
Before the Toby Keith concert began, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. For those who don't know, people usually do a thing called "tailgating," which is like a little party based out of the back of your car/truck before concerts and sporting events even begin. When we pulled into the lot, all you could see was a sea of pick up trucks and American flags. Walking around the lot with my step-sisters after we parked, different country songs blasted off of speakers from the various vehicles. Cops stopped by different cars to share a laugh and talk with groups about how many times they had seen Keith in concert before, where they lived, etc. People in their 20s and 30s were playing corn-hole, dancing to music and strutting down the pavement in cowboy boots and camouflage shirts and shorts.
The crowd was predominantly white, some in Trump shirts or flying Trump 2020 flags with their American flags. As my step-sisters and I passed, we exchanged smiles with those around us but definitely felt out of place coming from an urban-ish liberal area of New Jersey. Some people said hello to us, light southern accents slipping off their tongues which was weird considering we were in New York, about an hour or so from Coney Island.
Okay, let's get personal. As someone who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community and a Democrat, I was very uncomfortable. I tried to make the best of the situation since I knew my dad was having a good time, but I couldn't help but gravitate back towards the car and away from everyone else in the lot. Being white, I probably should have just blended in, but I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
The concert began with a two-minute long video of Keith visiting troops deployed overseas, giving them a free concert to thank them for all they do to protect us and keep our country safe. He performed only 20 or so songs, but it felt like it dragged on forever. It picked up some speed after the halfway mark once I recognized some of the songs as his older hits that my dad raised me on. From there on, I actually had a good time and enjoyed the energy of the crowd. Someone had given Keith an American flag that survived 9/11 before the show which he had hung over the venue and often referenced during his performance, and every time a spotlight hit it the crowd went wild.
Leaving the venue was when I was the most anxious. Not only were we surrounded by drunk people, but the drunk people were chanting:
"Donald Trump! Donald Trump! Donald Trump!"
"Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!"
"Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!"
Now, don't get me wrong. I believe that what makes our country great is that things like this can be said, chanted, screamed with no repercussions from law enforcement or the government. The same way I could go on Twitter right now and curse out Trump, these people spoke their mind in their safest place to do just that. This doesn't make their beliefs "right" to me, but then again what is right versus wrong when our world is just a culmination of opinions?
The human condition tends to take something like being patriotic and turn it into ignorance. There is nothing wrong with the image of an American flag flying off the back of a pickup truck before a country concert, but at the same time, there's so much wrong. The fact that I saw the flag for the country I was born and raised in and got immediately anxious and uncomfortable is enough an indication that something is awry in our home.
Truth being said, that anxiety is only a small token to what minorities and other intersectional groups feel. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality" twenty-eight years ago as a way to help explain the oppression of African-American women, stating that being a woman brings enough oppression from what we see in the Blake Shelton song, but also that the added disadvantage in our society of being African-American makes her perilous day-to-day struggles all that much worse.
For our commute home, I had ample time to think. How could people be so proud of a country that wants to erase transgender people? How could they all so proudly demand four more years of a man who proudly disrespects women, who disregards the treatment of children currently being held in detention camps at the border? How could they fly flags for Blue Lives Matter when at the end of the day, being a police officer is a job and being black isn't something you can choose? That's not to disrespect police officers, but there is a difference between the repercussions of what we choose versus the repercussions of what we cannot control.
And then I realized: it's ignorance. Whether chosen or not, they are ignoring what does not affect them.
They see the children who are being starved and separated from their parents, and then turn off the news and eat dinner with their family.
They see black teenagers being shot, stabbed, and killed for, "looking threatening," when they're only listening to music, and then close Twitter and put in their headphones to listen to the hottest hits on Z100.
They see Boston getting approved to have a Straight Pride Parade and think, "Everyone should be celebrated," without realizing that people who are born "normal" have nothing to celebrate because they celebrate every time they kiss their significant other in public or hold hands with them strolling down the street. Pride is meant to be a safe space much like your country concert where we can express ourselves without repercussions, to celebrate those black trans women who came before us like Marsha P. Johnson who threw the first bricks at Stonewall back in 1969 — not very long ago at all.
The idea that All Lives Matter and that everyone should be celebrated is true. My dad and I talk about things like this all the time on car rides. However, when it comes to helping our fellow man when they are being treated poorly, why is our instinct to turn away from them? To fend for ourselves, not realizing that it's easier to live when you have less assigned-at-birth baggage.
In a perfect world, we can, "imagine all the people living life in peace," but right now when our world is anything but peaceful, it's hard for me to just sit by. If that means sharing a GoFundMe for someone who needs top surgery, tweeting about someone being shot mercilessly because an assault rifle fell into the wrong hands, or calling on my local senator or a public figure to make a change in legislation, so be it. Taking time out to ensure the safety and prosperity of not only my future but for the future of my children and their children is so much more appealing than turning a blind eye to my siblings across the world who are in pain.
Does this mean I hate country music and its fans as a whole? No. Country music was one of the foundations of my childhood, and there are a few fans in my life who are people I would not trade for anything. However, do I wish nothing but progressive ideals on the music to not have repeats of the Blake Shelton song and to ensure that people who have the power to make changes are aware of what needs to be done? Absolutely.
To continue to villainize country music and its supporters as a whole is not a healthy way of making change. If the majority is bad, that does not mean everything is bad. It means that there will be parts that you do not like and some special gems that are better than you could have ever dreamed of. To find that middle ground of being good enough as we work our way to the gems is where we collectively need to be, and change begins with us.