Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, More on Misguided “Accountability” List

Needless to say, the world has been rocked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, and the music world has done its part to rise up and give a voice to the anger and frustration for not just what George Floyd suffered, but what scores of African Americans have suffered through over the years.

However this movement has not always been perfect. On Tuesday, June 2nd, the entire music industry was charged to observe “Blackout Tuesday,” where everyone—from artists, to labels, to media outlets and everyone else—were asked to be silent for the entire day to reflect on how everyone could do better when it comes to race in America.

The idea was well-intentioned. The implementation was somewhere between ineffective and detrimental. So many music artists and industry personalities posting black squares on social media properties gummed up the entire Black Lives Matter movement as people used BLM hashtags that was being utilized by protestors and organizers out in the field to disseminate information. Very soon, there was a backlash against the effort.

Major African American artists such as Lizzo, Chance The Rapper, Lil Nas X, Kehlani, Tatianna, and many more came out showing great concern to outright condemnation of Blackout Tuesday, both for how it was disrupting the actual Black Lives Matter movement, but also how the results felt so shallow, since it’s so easy to simply post a black square on Instagram. Many non-black artists and industry personalities showed concern as well, specifically for how the movement was almost immediately co-opted by major labels who’ve been taking advantage of black musicians for going on a century, and how they were using the day as a marketing and branding opportunity and ploy.

The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, The Guardian, The Verge, Variety, Vulture, Buzzfeed, Entertainment Tonight, LA Times (who said it “backfired spectacularly”), In Style, Telegram, Refinery 29, The Tennessean, Deadline, and many more, including Saving Country Music, also ran stories either showing concern or strongly criticizing the initiative, or covered the scores of artists that came out in opposition to it. And appreciate, many of these outlets define the left or far left of popular media coverage.

Something important to understand is that artists posting black squares on Instagram, Twitter, or other social media properties on Tuesday was not part of the original plan. The original idea put forward by Blackout Tuesday organizers Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang was for everyone to go completely silent on the day and post nothing, with the hope being that so many music entertainers and entities going silent would help everyone reflect on race in America, as well as raise awareness for the cause while the industry took time to reflect. The black squares emerged out of major labels posting branded statements on black backgrounds in the days leading up to Blackout Tuesday.

In other words, posting a black square or tweeting your solidarity with Black Lives Matter on Black Tuesday was against the original idea, and ended up being detrimental to the cause. Saving Country Music, for example, did not post a black square on social media. Saving Country Music did not post anything on Blackout Tuesday aside from an obituary for guitar player Jimmy Capps who died on the day, since this news was deemed essential. But major country music outlets like Taste of Country and The Boot posted articles in solidarity with Blackout Tuesday … and then proceeded to post six articles apiece on white artists showing support for Blackout Tuesday, which was completely against the idea of going silent. Major artists in the Americana realm such as Jason Isbell spent much of the day tweeting support for African American performers, which was admirable, but again, against the original purpose of remaining silent.

These performers and entities shouldn’t be blamed for their efforts, but it shows just how misguided and confusing Blackout Tuesday was. In fact, what many had been saying around the George Floyd killing and before is “Silence = Violence.” This has been posted on social media, and printed on protest signs. So by going silent on Blackout Tuesday, were you doing your part, or becoming part of the problem? All of a sudden, people who were trying to do right were being actively criticized for participating in Blackout Tuesday.

Actress Emma Watson was faced major backlash for participating in Blackout Tuesday. Morrisey participated in Blackout Tuesday by posting a black square, but was widely criticized since he’s supported right-leaning politics in Britain in the past. A bakery in Ottawa posted about Blackout Tuesday on Instagram, and then later posted on Instagram about their reopening after the Coronavirus lock down, resulting widespread public shaming of the business (strangely, that didn’t happen to Taste of Country). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was actively telling Instagram users to delete their Blackout Tuesday posts due to the hashtag issue, instructing them that just editing the post may not be enough due to caching on the social network, but the posts needed to come down entirely, and reposted if necessary.

And remember, all of this is for activity on social media, not anything anyone is actually doing to fundamentally address racism in America. And with so much conflicting information and misunderstanding about what Blackout Tuesday was supposed to be, some decided to not participate at all, whether it was posting a black square or not, or attempting to elevate black voices. And those individuals can’t be blamed for their inaction due to the mine field Blackout Tuesday created. If you posted about it like Emma Watson or Morrisey, you might be admonished. Many artists in country music, for example, faced strong opposition from both racist fans, and black activists for not acting properly on the day.

Now this focus solely on social media posts as opposed to in the real world has taken a very dangerous step with one country music publicist and journalist name Lorie Liebig drafting a spreadsheet she’s calling the “Country Music Accountability Sheet,” where she’s actively logging who and who has not posted support for George Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement recently. It would be one thing to aggregate a list with the intent to praise who has spoken out. But the intent of this list is to admonish who hasn’t, even with the perilous nature surrounding Blackout Tuesday, and how to handle the current crisis on social media in general.

This completely inappropriate, unconscionable, and arguably libelous exercise is not only extremely shortsighted not just in its methodology and approach, but from the timeline it is working from. It doesn’t take into account anything artists have done beyond the current crisis, and also curiously excludes statements that might have been made on Facebook, on websites, during live stream events, interviews (some which may not be published yet) or public appearances. It’s solely the myopic focus of Twitter and Instagram.

Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson are on the list as not having made any public statements. Would anyone question where the heart of either of these country legends is when it comes to the killing of George Floyd, or race in America? Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton are two of the greatest humanitarians ever, not just in country music, but of our time. One of the reasons they have not made any statements is because they don’t need to. Everyone knows where they stand. This is also the reason many others have not said anything.

Eric Church is on the list as “no statements of support made.” However Eric Church famously does not use social media. He’s actively renounces it. Furthermore, you can make the case that nobody has done more to elevate black voices in country music in the last 10 years than Eric Church. At the 2013 ACM Awards, Church brought black country artist Valerie June out with him to sing an intimate, acoustic duet with him on the song “Like Jesus Does.” The moment is given credit for helping to spark Valerie June’s career. When Saving Country Music interviewed her the next day, Valerie said of Eric Church, “I sing what I feel. It’s so nice when you are with superstars that do the same. He was so kind and just a true gentleman to share the stage with.”

Many in the media love to tout Rhiannon Giddens whenever race and country music become part of the news cycle, but few have given Rhiannon a leg up like Eric Church. Not only did she duet with Church on the anti-racism song “Kill A Word,” it result in Giddens’ highest charting performance of her career, hitting #6 on the country charts. Church also performed the song with Rhiannon on the 50th Annual CMA Awards, and the performance was nominated for the CMA Musical Event of the Year the next year.

Garth Brooks is another example of someone that doesn’t deserve to be on any list that would ever imply complacency or inaction when it comes to racism. In 1993, Garth Brooks was supposed to perform the National Anthem at the Super Bowl—a topical subject since the NFL has been so embroiled in the current race discussion. Wanting to first run a video he had compiled for his anti-racism song “We Shall Be Free” in the wake of the beating of Rodney King by police officers in 1992, Garth Brooks refused to perform the National Anthem until the video was played, even walking out of the stadium. The standoff became so problematic, the NFL started looking for someone to fill in, and eventually had to move back the kickoff time to facilitate the airing of the video—the only time in history that’s been done.

Eric Church’s actions for African American women in country speak way louder than all the black squares posted on Twitter and Instagram combined. Garth Brooks on many occasions has stood up for social justice in very substantial ways. But they’re not receiving any credit on this irresponsible spreadsheet that reminds one of Hollywood blacklists and Gestapo papers.

Why exactly did a journalist draft a list such as this in the first place? As we have commonly seen from the Nashville-based media culture that has become very insular, politically-driven, strident in its ideology, and myopically obsessed with social capital on Twitter, this spreadsheet will likely be used to determine who receives coverage by certain media members, and how favorable that coverage is. This list is an act of bias, that is arguably libelous to some of the artists included.

Lorie Liebig has attempted to clarify, saying “There’s no shaming here, it’s literally information compiled in one place.” But the title of the list is the “Accountability List.” She later said on Twitter, “If the implication is that it’s a problem that they haven’t said anything, then I’m fine with that being taken away from the document. You have your opinion, but I think it IS problematic if they are choosing to not say anything.” In other words, while feigning simple information gathering, she’s let her true intent be known.

Lorie Liebig is actively trying to hold artists accountable for not posting on social media about this matter—regardless of what they they have done, are doing, or will do in the real world, solely based on what they post on two social media networks most people don’t even use, while curiously excluding Facebook. Meanwhile, many of the artists who have received an all clear from the list simply are getting a pass for posting a black box on Instagram during Blackout Tuesday, which arguably hurt the cause of Black Live Matter as opposed to helped. Miranda Lambert is being criticized, even though as the list says, her Pink Pistol stores did do a post. So what is enough to satisfy the list?

And yes, the list is having a negative effect on the artists being chided for not participating. “Garth and Church surprise me in a negative way :/,” a blue checkmarked journalist named Ben DuBose said in rely to this list. A fan named Lindsey Graves said, “Oof, didn’t think I’d have to cancel Clint Black, but here we are I guess.”

Many blue checkmarks have promoted the list, including performer Amanda Shires. At the time of this post, the list had been retweeted over 106 times. Compiling the list also smacks of a version of white heroism, where a white person champions a cause to elevate themselves as opposed to doing something substantial for African Americans.

As Chance The Rapper, Lil Nas X, Lizzo, and others said, simply posting something on social media is pointless. In fact, when it came to Blackout Tuesday, it was detrimental. Action is what is important and needed, and many of the performers on the Lorie Liebig accountability list, their actions speak louder than any pointless, virtual signaling Instagram post.

Just like all the black squares that co-opted the Black Lives Matters hashtags and sowed chaos on Tuesday, the “Country Music Accountability Sheet” should be taken down because it is directly detrimental to the cause, nonfactual at times, dangerously misleading, and destructive to the careers of artists who’ve actively worked to raise minority voices.

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