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A Semi-defense Of Toby Keith

Max Blumenthal has evidently made it his mission to brand the country music star Toby Keith as a pro-lynching racist. The evidence? These lyrics from Keith's ode to vigilantism "Beer for My Horses": 

Grand pappy 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 argues:

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.

I think Blumenthal is reading way too much into those lyrics; but even if he isn't, here's the thing: Blumenthal never mentions that Keith sings "Beer For My Horses" with Willie Nelson, and it's actually Nelson who sings the supposedly incriminating lyrics (as you can see at about the 1:43 mark of the music video).

Now Willie Nelson's been called a lot of things--a pot head, a tax cheat, etc--but I don't think anyone's ever called Willie Nelson (who just recorded an album with Wynton Marsalis) a racist. So if Blumenthal wants to argue that Keith is pro-lynching, he needs to argue that Nelson is, too--which is something he doesn't do.

Then, in another anti-Keith post, Blumenthal writes:

Keith's schlock rock is the soundtrack of the culturally deprived australopithicenes who populate the cyber-caves of freeperland and comprise the movement's most fervent activists. As a bellicose chickenhawk who has risen from the ranks of the rural working class to become "White Trash With Money," Keith has carefully calibrated his image to fit the sensibility of his fans.

I'm not sure what makes Keith a chickenhawk. Yeah, he never served in the military and he sang the bellicose post-9/11 anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue"; but Keith was actually opposed to the Iraq War. And although he supported Bush in 2004, he says he's a lifelong Democrat.

Finally, Blumenthal and others are making a big to-do about this interview Keith recently did with Glen Beck in which Keith said:

I think black people would say [Obama] don't talk after or carry himself as a black person. . . . Even though the black society would pull for him, I still think that they think in the back of their mind that the only reason that he is in is because he talks, acts, and carries himself as a caucasian.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates rightly points out, it's pretty odd for Keith and other white folks who "likely can't remember the last time they've had dinner with a black family [to be] holding forth on the intricacies and mores of black America." Then again, maybe Keith just puts too much stock in the opinion of Jesse Jackson. Either way, it was an ignorant thing for Keith to say, but ignorance isn't always the same thing as racism, and no one ever said Keith wasn't ignorant.

--Jason Zengerle