Country music is having a racism reckoning.
It began with Morgan Wallen, currently the #1 country artist, getting caught on video casually using the N-word. A slew of professional consequences followed for Wallen as an individual, but the incident also opened a wider conversation about ongoing racism in the genre as a whole. This includes everything from how non-white artists get played far less on country radio to the use of actively racist symbols, like the Confederate flag.
Around the same time Wallen’s scandal broke, Luke Combs released a new track, The Great Divide, with lyrics about political division in the US. Over on Twitter, the announcement was met with heavy criticism for Luke’s own history with the Confederate flag, including from fellow country singer Margo Price (below).
to the folks telling me to fuck off and calling me a cunt, I simply shared some photos. here’s another for y’all pic.twitter.com/QWAidGbweL
— Margo Price (@MissMargoPrice) February 2, 2021
(The photos Margo posted includes a still from Combs’ 2020 performance on Saturday Night Live, where he flashed the “OK” symbol. This gesture in recent years has been co-opted by white supremacists. Some argued that the artist was explicitly making a white power symbol, but the gesture did coincide with the lyrics “three chords and the truth,” so it may have simply meant the number three.)
On Wednesday, the controversial Better Together singer joined Maren Morris in a conversation about racism in country music for the annual Country Radio Seminar. During the talk, he acknowledged the backlash to The Great Divide, saying:
“When I released the song, there were some images that resurfaced of me, and it’s not the first time that those images have surfaced and have been used against me. And obviously those are images that I can’t take back. …. Obviously in the age of the internet, those things live forever. And there is no excuse for those images.”
He went on:
“It’s not okay. As a younger man, that was an image that I associated to mean something else. And as I’ve grown in my time as an artist, and as the world has changed drastically in the last five to seven years, I am now aware how painful that image can be to someone else. … At the time that those images existed, I wasn’t aware what that was portraying to the world and to African-American artists in Nashville that were saying, ‘Man, I really want to come in and get a deal and do this thing, but how can I be around with these images being promoted?’ And I apologize for being associated with that. … I would never want to be associated with something that brings so much hurt to someone else.”
Maren and Luke both spoke about lack of education in the south about what the Confederate flag truly means. The latter even admitted that he “never considered … up until seven or eight years ago” that it was a hateful symbol for Black Americans. Yet he participated in a music video less than six years ago for his song Can I Get An Outlaw (a song about returning to “real” country music) that was loaded with Confederate imagery as well as clips of men loading guns, the combination of which reads like a pretty explicit threat against anyone non-white in the genre, at least in our opinion.
You could argue that the video stands for the exact opposite of what the North Carolina native discussed with The Middle singer. Yet as it turns out, it was his idea to make racism the topic of their seminar. The 30-year-old shared:
“I just want everyone out there to be able to come into our community and be accepted and not feel excluded or pushed out. … I want those people to have the same opportunities that I had to feel that incredible feeling of having their dreams come true in the amazing genre that we have.”
Okay, well maybe don’t refer to the Black community as “those people.”
“People can be changed. I mean, I think I’m a living, mouth-breathing example of it right here.”
We agree that people can change, and his apology was absolutely necessary, but it seems like Luke should have to answer specifically for a video like Can I Get An Outlaw. We also hesitate to endorse the idea, which both artists expressed, that most Southerners simply don’t know what they’re doing when they fly the Confederate flag. It’s 2021, and that excuse falls really flat when we all have access to the internet and Black Americans have been speaking up about this issue for decades.
But what do U think, Perezcious readers? Should Luke’s apology be accepted? Or does he need to dig deeper for accountability on this issue? Let us know your thoughts in the comments (below).
[Image via Judy Eddy/WENN]