Small towns are more diverse than Jason Aldean wants you to think they are

Jason Aldean’s hometown is majority Black. This isn’t what he implies, as he croons about life in a small town, though.

I want to give Aldean the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t mention race while using videos of righteous protests after another Black person was killed by police officers in the song’s music video.

He’s outraged at the suggestion that he could incite violence, particularly lynching, while recording the video in front of a courthouse widely known for the lynching of Harry Choate, in a town that is still dealing with the recent impact of KKK fliers posted on local Black churches. These vague threats and references to a racist history, are seemingly ambiguous enough to not be overt provocation. Except they are.

I want to agree with Aldean, that in small towns we take care of our neighbors, but the differences we’ve been taught to hold about each other can have violently disproportionate impacts on our lives, historically and today.

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Small towns teach residents about relationships

Let me describe what I know about small towns.

I was born in Chattanooga and raised in Summit — where my maternal grandparents raised their children, and my great-grandparents raised their children. Summit was an unincorporated rural community before urban sprawl, annexation, and development all but destroyed the small town that taught me everything I know about relationships, the land that provides for us, mutual aid, service, and what is expected of good people.

Jason Aldean celebrates Luke Bryan's 30 No. 1 country radio hits at Brooklyn Bowl, Sept. 12, 2023
Jason Aldean celebrates Luke Bryan's 30 No. 1 country radio hits at Brooklyn Bowl, Sept. 12, 2023

When describing a world that prioritizes people over profit, and where people share their gifts with the community, I see Summit–a Black-led, multi-racial, small town.

We must remember the all-Black towns that have been birthed and destroyed by white supremacist violence, and sustained by the resistance of resilient small town folk who refused to abandon their homes from the Blackbelt South to the rural lands of the Great Migration.

We cannot forget that the majority of Native American people live in rural and small-town areas, and live on or near their tribal homelands. Our small towns can be as diverse as cities, with Latinx folks representing the largest share of the rural minority population. There’s a growing number of Asian American farm owners who are younger, newer to farming, more likely to be female and to have farming as their primary occupation.

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Small towns don’t belong to one group of people

Aldean’s narrative that small towns are for good ol’ boys with guns who are conservatively nationalistic is incomplete and dangerous. So is the narrative that small towns aren’t safe for people of color. It’s unstrategic to concede small towns and rural communities to the right wing.

The uproar about Aldean’s song and music video pushes us to consider what the brilliant Norma Wong asks: Who are we, and who are we becoming?

Aldean’s song didn’t rise to No. 1 on country charts because of the “controversy” around the song. It rose because our critique was correct: folks who are looking for what is too overt to be correctly identified as a dog whistle to use violence to stop people from celebrating diversity, fighting back against white supremacy, and building democracy while blocking fascist authoritarianism, united with the song and video’s purposes. We should all be greatly concerned about that.

We should recommit to acknowledging the awesomeness of small town folks, amplifying their self-determined solutions to the social and economic issues faced where they live, and work in solidarity to stop white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal, classist violence once and for all.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, activist for the Movement for Black Lives and co-executive director of the Highlander Research & Education Center.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Jason Aldean song: Small towns are more diverse than you might think