Despite video evidence to the contrary, and no evidence whatsoever in the affirmative, multiple media outlets continue to report that Dolly Parton pledged her support to the Black Lives Matter movement—meaning the political movement that advocates for specific political causes—as opposed to Dolly saying in a simple colloquial exchange that the lives of black individuals matter. In fact there is now further evidence of multiple media outlets knowingly altering Parton’s full comments in an effort to characterize that she supports the Black Lives Matter movement as opposed to presenting her words in full context.
The widely-circulated quote from Dolly Parton first published in a Billboard cover story on Dolly Parton reads, “…of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No.”
The same Billboard feature also states that Dolly Parton is “unequivocal in her support” of “the Black Lives Matter movement.” This particular stanza of a wider, 33-paragraph feature on Parton is what dozens of media outlets have used to say Dolly Parton is in full support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
However in video of the interview where the quote was taken from, not only is there no “unequivocal” pronouncement from Dolly Parton about Black Lives Matter, she finishes the thought by saying, “Everybody matters.” Adding on phrases such as “all lives matter” or “everybody matters” are discouraged and seen as counterproductive, if not problematic when it comes to Black Lives Matter movement since it’s meant to emphasize the importance of black lives specifically. It’s unlikely Dolly Parton meant anything callous by the addition, but it certainly underscores that she did not pledge her support to the movement.
Furthermore, multiple media outlets who used the video of Dolly Parton speaking on the subject in their coverage—including CNN and others, purposely silenced the “everybody matters” portion of Dolly Parton’s comments.
Due to the altering and mischaracterization of Dolly Parton’s original comments, many media outlets continue to falsely report that Dolly Parton is a Black Lives Matter supporter. This week a mural depicting Dolly Parton was finished on the side of The 5 Spot venue and bar in Nashville’s 5 Points area by local artist Kim Radford. Inspired by Dolly’s recent comments, she added “of course Black Lives Matter” to the top left corner of the mural. The artist herself did not claim that Dolly Parton was a Black Lives Matter supporter, but multiple outlets are using the mural to once again falsely claim Dolly Parton is in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
People Magazine posted a story August 18th titled “New Dolly Parton Mural in Nashville Honors the Singer’s Support of Black Lives Matter“. Both Taste of Country and The Boot simulcast the same article (as they love to do) “Dolly Parton’s Support of Black Lives Matter Celebrated with New East Nashville Mural.” And Billboard—who was the original outlet who purposely cut Dolly Parton’s comments short and mischaracterized them as “unequivocal”—also ran a story on the mural titled, “There’s Now a Dolly Parton Mural in Nashville Honoring Her Stance on Black Lives Matter.” Many other outlets have also run similar headlines.
Also on Thursday, August 20th, The Washington Post published an article claiming “Three Generations of Country Singers Challenge the Genre’s Conservative Stereotypes,” once again falsely portraying Dolly Parton’s Black Lives Matter support with her edited statement, along with highlighting Taylor Swift and the (Dixie) Chicks, neither of which self-identify as country in 2020.
Why is this so important?
First, purposely editing and mischaracterizing Dolly Parton’s comments is misleading to the public and unethical, regardless of the motivations or intentions of these media outlets.
Secondly, naming Dolly Parton specifically in connection with a political organization is strictly against her long-standing oath to her fans to not get political. As Parton said in an interview with The Guardian in 2019, “I’ve got as many Republican friends as I’ve got Democrat friends and I just don’t like voicing my opinion on things. I’ve seen things before, like the Dixie Chicks. You can ruin a career for speaking out. I respect my audience too much for that, I respect myself too much for that. Of course I have my own opinions, but that don’t mean I got to throw them out there because you’re going to piss off half the people.”
In fact in the new Washington Post article speaks to how Dolly Parton has avoided polarizing political subjects in the past, but how her support of Black Lives Matter is what makes this moment so exceptional. “The quotes immediately went viral, and some were shocked. Not because Parton supported a social justice movement—she has it made clear that she supports LGBTQ rights—but she is famously apolitical and almost never talks about current events,” The Washington Post says.
But moreover, falsely claiming that Dolly Parton supports the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t add weight to her words with the most important individuals who need to hear them—people who systemically devalue black lives—it hurts them. The gift and power of Dolly Parton has always been her ability to speak to all people universally, especially Southern whites who are more prone to hold racist views against black individuals. Falsely naming her as a Black Lives Matter supporter simply muddies her name by tying Dolly Parton to a political organization, and eroding the universal appeal and audience for her words.
Dolly Parton’s words were important. But it’s even more important that her words are accurately represented, not only to be fair to the country music and cultural icon, but for them to be helpful in effectively challenging racism, and for Dolly Parton to maintain her status any ability to speak to everyone, and be heard as a voice of reason.