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Friday, August 1, 2008

That's what HuffPo blogger Max Blumenthal asserts, based on a verse in the country megastar's 2002 song Beer For My Horses, which is the inspiration for Keith's forthcoming film vehicle of the same name:
Grandpappy told my pappy back in my day, son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he'd done
Take all the rope in Texas
Find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys
Hang them high in the street
For all the people to see

Blumenthal writes:
During the days when Toby Keith's "Grandpappy" stalked the Jim Crow South, lynching was an institutional method of terror employed against blacks to maintain white supremacy. According to the Tuskegee Institute, between the years 1882 and 1951, 3,437 African-Americans were lynched in the United States, mostly in the heart of Dixie. Felonious assault and rape (read: corrupting "the flower of white womanhood") were the two most frequent justifications for lynch mob actions.

I'm with you, Max.

But here's the thing.

The song's not racist.

In the song, Keith sings a duet with Willie Nelson. It's Nelson, not Keith, that sings the verse in the song that offends Blumenthal so much.

Having been born in 1933, Willie's "grandpappy" could've very well been born shortly after the Civil War. And one can infer from the rest of the song's lyrics that Keith and Nelson are singing about outlaws. I know "boy" is one of the last things a White person should call a Black man, but I'm willing to give Keith the benefit of the doubt that that was not what he intended.

I think Blumenthal is overreacting here:
Those who doubt the presence of racist undertones in Keith's "Beer For My Horses" should see the song's video...

Cue ahead to 3:00 and watch as Keith intones, "We got too many gangsters doin' dirty deeds." The singer's words are not-so-subtly accompanied by the image of a swaggering black man sporting short dreads and baggy clothes. Thus the profile of Keith's ideal lynching candidate is revealed.

Granted, the image of a Black man urinating on the side of a building is distasteful, but I think associating that with Keith allegedly wanting to string the guy up is a bit much. Also, during the verse that pissed Blumenthal off so, Old West photos are shown of White criminals about to be hanged.

One could say, "Well, the film looks racist!" And it does, a little bit. (view it here). It features a Mexican gangster in prison that looks like Peoples Hernandez's dumb little brother, and a denouncement of rapper/prison chic. (OK, that last part I didn't mind so much.)

Look, I'm no fan of Toby Keith, even if he claims to be a Democrat. He wrote an embarrassing song after 9/11, endorsed Bush for re-election and dissed the Dixie Chicks for speaking out as they did. But this Blumenthal column missed the mark.


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