This Broad’s View: Is Country Music Racist?

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Brooke Dilling | @brookefrances

I’m a fan of country music (and mostly not ashamed of it). I probably just lost half of you, but try to stay with me for a moment, because shit is about to get real (uncomfortable).

Country music reminds me of my roots and growing up in a small Midwestern town. However, there is one song currently playing and I get a negative  visceral reaction every time I hear it.

Country heartthrob Sam Hunt wrote “I Fell in Love in the Back of a Cop Car” but the song was made famous by country superstar Keith Urban, who sings it.  In this broad’s view, this song is teeming with white privilege.  You can find the entirety of the song lyrics here; the chorus of the song is below:

But there was somethin' bout the way
The blue lights were shinin'
Bringing out the freedom in your eyes
I was too busy watching you
Going wild child
To be worried about going to jail
You were thinking that
Running for it
Would make a good story
I was thinking you were crazy as hell
And you were so innocent
But you were stealing my heart
I fell in love in the back of a cop car

Why is this song even on the radio? It’s like country music only wants a white audience for fans. Because only a white kid would find getting arrested by the police romantic. Only a white kid would think this would “make a good story.” Only a white kid isn’t freaking out about going to jail, or being deported.

Meanwhile, the black and brown people of our country are not only worried about jail, they’re worried they might not make it out of an encounter with the police alive.  And conversations about encounters with the police might look a little more like this Proctor and Gamble ad.

In the Netflix documentary 13th about the 13th amendment to our Constitution, which legalizes slavery through criminalization, filmmaker Ava Duvernay discusses the disparities between our prison system and black and white men. One in 17 white males in the US are expected to go to prison in their lifetime. This number alone feels staggering. But one in three black males are expected to go to prison. One. In. Three. Black men make up 6.5% of the US population, but are 40.2% of our prison population.

This isn’t just a national problem happening “somewhere else.”  A recent report covered by the Denver Post reveals the same pattern locally;  locally black men and women are arrested and imprisoned at higher rates than white people.

Is country music racist? Maybe. Based on song’s like Hunt’s “Cop Car,” I can see why country music fans (and artists) tend to be predominantly white.  

I love how country radio reminds me of my small-town roots. But it also makes me consider reality: my small town was very white and homogenous.  I’m embarrassed and angry country music is glorifying date night in the back of a cop car. A white guy wrote this song. Another white guy sings this song. And country music radio plays this song.

Am I saying don’t listen to it? Actually, yeah, I am. I am also asking all of us to be mindful of how our privilege plays out in our popular culture, and to express indignation and frustration with cultural forms reifying stereotypes and harmful patterns.

LifestyleVirginia McCarver