Pitchfork Falsely Attacks Biracial Nate Barnes for His Whiteness

photo: Justin Mayotte

In the aftermath of the whole Morgan Wallen N-word incident from early February, the inevitable parade of think pieces commenced from the same crop of uniquely unqualified individuals decidedly outside of the country music fold who are echo chambered by an insular and elitist Twitter clique addled with the same baseline of misinformation, and whose primary motivation as political operatives parading as entertainment journalists is to take ground in the culture war as opposed to instructing or informing the public.

Though attempting to answer these think pieces individually can be nauseating and tiresome—and is also a waste of time since so many of them cheat off each other and include the same lock step opinions and are generally ineffectual for bringing about any actual cultural change—there was one such article that was so especially irresponsible and damaging with verifiably false information, it’s imperative to highlight. Though most certainly everyone has a right to an opinion, printing false information to forward that opinion—and in this case, misidentifying an artist’s race while making a racial attack on them—would have been a fireable offense in previous eras of professional media. Today, it’s solely your apparent altruistic intent that is considered, and lauded.

Written by Natalie Weiner who occasionally takes time from her primary beat of sports commentary to lambast country fans as Luddites while unabashedly professing her Standom for Sam Hunt, the Pitchfork article titled Country Music Is Changing, In Spite of Itself conveyed so many falsehoods, the only fair thing to do would be to strike the piece from publication. Yet it still remains live despite the numerous corrections and retractions, which still don’t set this aggressively irresponsible piece of reprehensible journalism straight.

First, the article falsely claimed that Spotify had released the “Bonus” version of Morgan Wallen’s album Dangerous with three additional tracks after the N-word incident occurred in order to characterize Spotify as sympathetic to Wallen. But the “Bonus” version was actually released on January 29th, while the N-word incident occurred on February 3rd. Natalie Weiner also falsely reported that Spotify reinstated a Morgan Wallen track on their Country Coffeehouse playlist after the incident, when it truth it had never been removed in the first place.

Though messy, these were rather innocent offenses, and eventually corrected in the article. One that wasn’t corrected was a link to the false claim that the 2020 CMA Awards attempted to stifle the speech of performers, presenters, and award recipients originally made by freelance writer Marissa R. Moss on Twitter, and based off the false characterization of a CMA social media meme, which has since been debunked.

However, the most egregious error came when Natalie Weiner decided to go after Quartz Hill-signed up-and-coming country artist Nate Barnes in a very personal manner. Along with diminutively characterizing Barnes as just “another young-ish white man,” Wiener went after the biography and back story of Barnes, saying he reinforced “the mythology of a white, male, ‘real’ country music [performer] whose legitimacy relies wholly on exclusion.”

In other words, what Natalie Weiner asserted was that the only reason Nate Barnes had a career in country was due “wholly” to him being white, and at the exclusion of artists of color—not his personal abilities as a songwriterer or performer. However, there’s one problem to Natalie Weiner’s down-looking and irresponsible characterization of a fledgling country artist: Nate Barnes is biracial.

In an Instagram post showing a photo of himself next to his black grandfather along with other black members of his family, Nate Barnes responded to Natalie Weiner’s characterization with, “I was disappointed to see that myself, my family and my label were misrepresented in the article. I felt it was important to set the record straight. I, myself, am biracial. This is my family that I love with all my heart. My maternal granddad – WILLIE BARNES – is the reason why I became a songwriter and a performer.”
Nate Barnes continued, “I grew up in a racially diverse family – in a home where I didn’t have to put a color on anybody’s face. My Granddad WILLIE always taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin but by their heart and their character. That’s what my song, ‘You Ain’t Pretty,’ is all about. It’s about not looking at people’s surfaces, but looking at the beauty that’s within. It’s about lifting people up. My family taught me to do just that and to love everybody.” 

Granted, the characterization of Nate Barnes as a white artist likely was accidental, just like all the other mistakes strewn throughout the article. However, it underscores just how irresponsible it is for large and influential periodicals such as Pitchfork, The New York Times, and others that publish articles about country music written by completely unqualified individuals can result in cataclysmic errors that can adversely affect public sentiment of country music, along with the careers of artists such as Nate Barnes. If these large, legacy media brands want to cover country music, they should be encouraged. But the writers must be qualified and knowledgeable of the genre and the subjects they broach to do so, or at the least, editors should check the facts before publication.

Furthermore, why go after a brand new artist in Nate Barnes as opposed to a more established country music performer? And why not certify the race of an artist before you choose to go after them in a race-based attack, and make it one of the centerpieces of your argument?

But much deeper than that, the underlying theme of Natalie Weiner’s Pitchfork article is that “there’s at least a century’s worth of evidence that the [country] genre was built by overt racism and discrimination,” and that “[Morgan] Wallen’s racism IS country.” But in the article, it was Natalie Weiner that was solely judging an artist based off of the color of their skin. It was Natalie Weiner that used race as an attack vector. It is Natalie Weiner who in fact made the racist statement. And when it specifically comes to Nate Barnes, she happened to be completely wrong about his race as well.

Of course race is a continuing concern in country music as the genre works to square with some of the offenses of the past, along with making sure it’s an equitable place for everyone to succeed in the future.

But Nate Barnes is not an example of how country music is a genre “whose legitimacy relies wholly on exclusion” as Natalie Weiner asserted. Nate Barnes is the perfect and latest of many examples of the strides country music has made, while white intellectuals often from affluent backgrounds and urban epicenters continue to attempt to use the domain of race as a cudgel against the poor, rural whites who make up much of the demographic of country music from the basis of negative stereotypes as opposed to a broad, accurate, and nuanced picture of the issues.

Many of the think pieces from Pitchfork and others published on the Morgan Wallen situation did not help to erode Wallen’s support or broaden the conversation, they entrenched and emboldened the opposition to his cancellation, often due to the hyperbolic overreaction and opportunistic stance they took to the incident, and the outright falsehoods many of them asserted.

As black country artist Jimmy Allen said recently, “Where I saw white people tweeting ‘I’m so offended. The extra stuff… I feel like people just want to be seen. I feel like sometimes people just want to be in the spotlight, you know what I mean? With the extra hurt. A lot of times it’s just nonsense to where people want to look cool on social media.”

Another adverse symptom to much of this media activity is the erasure of black artists and black contributions to country music in an attempt to paint the genre as racist. As we have seen on numerous occasions—from the erasing of the Charley Pride legacy surrounding Lil Nas X, to the mischaracterization of Mickey Guyton being the first black woman to ever play the ACMs in 2020, to Wu-Tang Clan being falsely credited for being the first black or hip-hop performers to play the Ryman in 2019, and numerous other instances—in the media’s haste to paint country music and its institutions as racist, they directly erase the previous achievements and contributions of artist of color in the process. This misidentification of Nate Barnes is just the latest example.

Though a pointed tweet or aggressive think piece might raise someone’s social clout among a segment of elitist intellectuals, it’s often ultimately hurting the effort to eliminate race as a factor in the success or failure in not just country music, but in life in general. As well-intentioned as these efforts may be, as can be verified by Morgan Wallen’s sales numbers and other metrics, they do more harm than good. Meanwhile the efforts to falsely portray country music as being littered with “overt racism and discrimination” often come at the expense of featuring artists such as Nate Barnes who can fulfill the type of diversity these media think pieces call for.

Only when we stop judging artists by their race at all will we strike the blow against racism we all yearn for. Turning the racism back on poor whites will only entrench ideologies, and push others further towards extreme viewpoints, especially when these efforts are polluted with easily-identifiable falsehoods.

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