Dissecting Dolly Parton’s Reported Support of ‘Black Lives Matter’

This story has been updated.

So you’re meaning to tell me that you profess yourself to be a country music fan, or even a Dolly Parton fan, and would cast away her entire Hall of Fame legacy—the 25 No. 1 songs, the 44 Top 10 albums, the thousands of songs written, her irreplaceable legacy in the genre, not to mention all of her tireless work with charity and the local community in east Tennessee, “Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors,” all of it—just because a reporter put her on the spot, and she said what anyone of a right mind would say that yes, of course the lives of black individuals matter?

Get off it.

Dolly Parton did not come out for defunding the police. Dolly Parton did not come out for pushing Marxist ideals. Dolly Parton did not come out for the dissolving of the nuclear family, or any other controversial topic that has been tied to the Black Lives Matter movement, legitimately, tangentially, or unfairly. All she said was, and I quote, “I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen. And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”

And she’s right. And I’m sorry, but I don’t even see where Dolly Parton said that she supports the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Notice how I capitalized BLM to denote the specific political-oriented organization? Notice how the quote pulled from the Billboard cover story on Dolly Parton has “lives matter” in lowercase? Notice how she referenced the color of people’s asses, not a specific cause? Now maybe she did voice her support of Black Lives Matter privately to the author, but that’s not what her quote says. It’s Billboard that adds the addendum that she is “unequivocal in her support” of “the Black Lives Matter movement.” Here’s a screenshot of the entire portion:

Dolly Parton’s supposed statement of vehement support for an expressly political movement was in truth a rather pedestrian comment made in passing, literally 25 paragraphs into a much more wide-encompassing 33-paragraph Billboard cover story. It also cuts Dolly Parton’s actual quote off. In the full statement she made to Billboard (see video), Parton concludes the quote with “Everybody matters.”

The Billboard article isn’t even what made the statement go viral. It was Consequences of Sound who pull quoted Dolly Parton, and published it under the title, “Dolly Parton Backs Black Lives Matter.” That is what sent the story into hyperspace. Soon dozens of outlets were parroting this same take, even though it may not even be correct. Or, maybe it is correct. But it’s at least deserving of clarification and context.

That’s not in any way to impinge on the importance of what Dolly Parton did say, or meant. Her words have power, and it was an important point to underscore. The only thing embarrassing about this situation is that Dolly Parton would even need to make such a blatantly obvious statement. With her record of public service and standing up for the rights of people of color and the LGBT community, it’s well-established that Dolly Parton is against inequality. It’s only due to this moment in public life where you have to jump through performative hoops to be cleared of wrongdoing that she actually has to come out and say it, and that it would go so viral, and become such a point of controversy for some.

What happened here was a brilliant political and media psyop, which is the same psyop that has conscripted the Black Lives Matter movement itself. There’s two things here, right? There is saying the phrase “Black lives matter” to emphasize that due to the historical and systemic oppression black individuals have faced in America, we need to expressly stand for the importance of their lives. Then there is the Black Lives Matter #BLM political movement that like so much in politics, has been co-opted by certain special interests, and in some cases, subversive agendas, using the idea that it’s just an anti-racism movement as a cover. Conflating the two is the common misconception that is occurring as individuals look to avoid being considered racist by pledging their support to the movement, while some behind the movement use it to push certain extremist agenda items.

So all of a sudden what they can do is take some very innocent words from Dolly Parton, and use it to imply certain things that are politically expedient for them. They want you to believe that Dolly Parton is a Marxist. They want you believe she hates the police, and is for defunding local police departments. That is why they presented her words as they did. But your ire should not be directed towards Dolly Parton. Like so many things in today’s incensed society, this is a media issue, and a social media issue just as much as anything.

But even if Dolly Parton did come out in full-throated support for the political movement Black Lives Matter (in caps), including all the issues it purports to be in favor of, it’s still something that should not be held against her incredible contributions to country music over half a century, or her contributions to the American culture in general. It would simply be a political stance she has chosen, which is her right, and her freedom as an American.

It’s embarrassing that we live in a moment when someone’s actions speak quieter than the words, and performative symbolism is much more important than real world deeds, like the millions of books Dolly Parton has donated to underprivileged and minority children all around the world. This wrong-minded approach to combating racism isn’t furthering the cause, it’s cratering it. You can be a corporation or politician continuing to enact policies that put black lives at a disadvantage. But as long as you pledge allegiance to Black Lives Matter, you’re applauded. If you don’t, you’re labeled racist. Remember, Dolly Parton’s name appeared on a ridiculous and irresponsible “accountability spreadsheet” a couple of months ago. She was already being targeted for not speaking out.

In this current political landscape where if you’re a public person and you don’t come out and address the Black Lives Matter movement specifically, you could be boycotted, hounded down, even cancelled or have your career and accomplishments smeared, we shouldn’t blame anyone for doing whatever they have to do to keep the wolves at bay, and move forward with business as usual.

Dolly Parton isn’t just a performer, she’s a franchise. Dollywood itself employs 4,000 people. If public sentiment on Dolly Parton goes south—whether on the left from not saying the right things, or on the right for saying the wrong things—those Dolly Parton employees could be out of work. Put yourself in Dolly Parton’s shoes for a second. The name of the Billboard cover story where the Dolly Parton quote came from was titled, “Dolly Parton Steers Her Empire Through The Pandemic.” She is doing the best she can in these difficult, and contentious times.

But still, none of this has stopped some from smearing Dolly Parton, including other artists. Stuart Baker, who performs as Unknown Hinson, a.k.a the “Kang of Country and Western Troubadours,” and voices Early in the Adult Swim show The Squidbillies said via Facebook on August 13th, “So, now this freak tittied, old Southern bimbo is a BLM lover? Remember, slut, Rednecks made you a Millionaire!” This has caused a major backlash against Baker, who has since deleted his posts, and his social media presence.

As some have pointed out, both Stuart Baker’s Early Cuyler and Unknown Hinson characters include being a reactionary closed-minded redneck as part of their comedic persona, making some wonder if he’s just being sarcastic. Though as others have pointed out, pointed and controversial statements from Stuart Baker have been common recently. The truth is, we may not know where the truth and fiction of Stuart Baker begins and ends. And at this point, neither may Stuart Baker.

Reverend Guitars, which had a signature guitar model from Unknown Hinson, has now dropped the model and removed him from their website, while numerous people are calling for Adult Swim to drop Stuart Baker, and/or The Squidbillies in their entirety. So Dolly Parton’s comments have not only resulted in the attempted cancellation of Dolly Parton (just as her silence on Black Lives Matter did before), they’ve probably resulted in the very real cancellation of Stuart Baker.

And by the way, the article Stuart Baker was referencing when he left is controversial statement? Yeah, it was the Consequences of Sound article that states Dolly Parton backs the Black Lives Matter movement (all caps), which again, we can’t confirm. Not to excuse Baker’s comments whatsoever, but it speaks to how the media is stirring much of this dissent.

Dolly Parton is a national treasure, and just like the few other precious institutions in American culture that can cut through the polarization, build consensus, bridge differences, and bring people together, her words, her legacy, her both quiet and outspoken wisdom and the role model she has presented for generations should be protected and preserved not just for this lifetime, but for all time. We are going to need people like Dolly Parton to get through the next few months when the very fabric of American society might be tested even further heading into an already messy Presidential election.

Bent out of shape that Dolly Parton actually had the audacity to say that the lives of black people are just as important as your “white ass?” Then that’s an issue that you need to resolve personally, deep down in your soul where the kernels of racism reside in many of us, that must be brought out in the light and addressed. But don’t blame Dolly Parton for the latest politically-driven media psyop. Understand that just like all of us, she’s trying her best to navigate the choppy waters of this very difficult moment. And the whole reason Dolly Parton’s words resonate so deeply is because she navigates these moments with more wisdom, love, and understanding than most.

Dolly Parton’s words were not were not wrong, controversial, or out-of-place. Taking what she actually said, and considering the contentious nature of the subject, they were absolutely perfect.

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