Sunday, July 23, 2023

Suburban Desperados


Columbia Maryland is not a small town, even if it sometimes seems so to me. I have never lived in a small town. Have you?

Country singer Jason Aldean is bringing a song about small towns to Merriweather Post Pavilion this Thursday as a part of the Highway Desperado Tour.

Promotional material for Highway Desperado Tour

The song, “Try That in a Small Town”, is a pro-gun, pro-vigilante justice anthem for ‘good old boys’ who want you to know how tough they are. It’s an invitation to use violence against people who make you angry. It sets up shadowy demons and encourages the listener to give them what (he thinks) they deserve.

That, by itself, is bad enough. 

The video for the song takes it into a kind of violently racist, pro-lynching hellscape. 

“Try That In A Small Town” debuted in May without unusual fanfare, but the video attracted much more attention with its imagery: Aldean and his band perform in front of what appears to be a government building at night, lit by streetlamps, an American flag hung vertically on its front. It didn’t take long for the building to be identified and its painful history recounted: The backdrop is the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, site of a 1946 race riot and the 1927 mob lynching of an 18-year-old Black man named Henry Choate.

Jason Aldean’s video has been pulled and criticized. Now he’s headed to Howard County. - - Hugo Kugiya, Baltimore Banner

CMT pulled the video from airplay. Aldean denies that racism plays any role in the song and video but his own earlier post on TikTok clearly belies his claims. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action,   shared the link to Aldean’s TikTok with these words:

Jason Aldean’s original video for “Try That in A Small Town” included a newspaper clip about a publisher who was run out of a small Mississippi town after he used satire to mock racists in the 1950s. - - Shannon Watts

Aldean knows very well what the song is. 

Filming a video for a song that promotes vigilantism at the site of a lynching and then denying any knowledge or responsibility is a whole new brand of weaponized racism. It says, “Yeah, I want Black people to be scared. But don’t you dare call me on it.”

In my mind Aldean is issuing an open invitation to the sort of behavior that gave us the Georgia murder of Ahmaud Arbery, whose audacity to be out jogging while Black was enough to spell his death sentence to the good old boys who hunted him down, shot him, and filmed it.

In an essay for the Washington Post, columnist Karen Attiah writes:

There’s a reason that Black people still talk about “sundown towns” in the South and the Midwest, places that are not safe for us to be in after dark — it’s precisely because of the kind of glorification of small-town tribal violence that’s in Aldean’s song and video.

And, later on in her piece:

More than outrage, I feel sadness when some men find pleasure, community and bonding through violence and domination. 

This isn’t the first time Aldean has done something racist. And it isn’t the first time he’s performed at Merriweather, either. 

I wonder why Merriweather keeps booking him.

It’s easy to be outraged by something like Aldean’s song and video. And we absolutely should reject it loudly and visibly. Do you feel moved to protest his local performance? Do you think Merriweather should be giving him a platform? Those are good questions.

I feel a visceral revulsion to Aldean’s slick brand of anti-Black violence being marketed and lapped up anywhere. Is it worse because it’s Columbia? I don’t know. There are so many opportunities that we have right here at home to stand up for our Black friends and neighbors and to stand against systemic racism and we don’t. 

All the everyday racism, the baked-in racism, the “I-didn’t-know-it-was-racism.” Nice people racism. I’m sure you misunderstood racism. It’s not that she’s Black she’s just so angry racism. 

Columbia made a powerful showing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and was inordinately proud of itself. The next day? Week? Month? Year? Not so much.

That’s life in Columbia, Maryland. Show up for the big protests. Look the other way afterwards.

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