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Is that "small town" song racist?

Published Wednesday, July 26, 2023 @ 11:33 AM EDT
Jul 26 2023

(From a Facebook post by Terra Vance)

I didn’t know why people kept mentioning “small towns,” but assumed it was a pop culture reference I was missing.

So, I googled it.

Jason Aldean, a country singer I've never heard of and will probably never think about again after people stop talking about him, recently released a song called, "Try That in a Small Town."

The song, if you've not heard it, threatens violence on people who do various things like car jacking, stomping on a flag, “cussing out” a cop, or robbing a liquor store at gun point.

A friend of mine pointed out that Aldean is from Macon, Georgia, with a population of over 150,000.

That’s… not a small town.

I’m from Logan, WV. Population is 1,400.

I came from Chauncey, WV, a coal camp in Logan. Population is 283. I am actually from “Chauncey Holler” (Hollow). Population is probably fewer than 100 people.

I’m from an actual small town.

I’m descended from the Hatfield/Vance clan of Hatfield and McCoy repute. I’m cut from the Shawnee resistance to the Indian Removal Act. My ancestors were freedmen. My ancestors mined the coal that kept the pacified middle class warm and cozy in their domesticated complacency.

And yes, if you come to an actual small town as an outsider and do things that seem threatening to insiders, they’ll handle it internally.

That much is true.

What Jason Aldean is talking about isn’t anything like what people from actual small towns would say. In fact, you won’t hear from them at all because it is not in the ethos of people from insular, isolated communities to try and posture with the outside world.

They don’t think people are actually going to come there and try to burn their crumbling infrastructure and rob their single-wide trailers and their dead grandma’s house they squat with duct tape and cut up trash bags for windows.

No city person is traveling to the middle of nowhere to steal your Aunt Gert’s Buick Skylark, Jason.

They don’t carry enough jugs of oil and coolant to pull over every few miles and top it off because they have not been waiting on that black lung settlement for over a decade to get their car fixed.

Noey (Noah) Mullens, the town mechanic, passes everyone’s car inspection because no one cares about regulations. The police would not ticket Aunt Gert, either, because when most everyone is that Poor, the police know better.

The police don’t “cross that line.”

No one is afraid of getting caught or being reported because no one is looking.

No one cares. No city folk care. No suburban country music singers care.

They’re invisible.

Police do not have much of a role in small towns. People do handle things on their own. No one is spitting in a cop’s face in a small town because Officer Joe Sias and his brother Don aren’t patrolling.

They probably never fired their weapons on the job at anything other than a rabid raccoon or coyote, and they’re considerably less armed than the average citizen. No one calls the police to report crimes.

But in a small town, you are very likely to be robbed by your neighbor’s adult kid with a meth or oxycontin addiction. They’ll steal your grandparents’ cancer and hospice meds and your tube TV.

And no one riots in a small town because they can’t afford to reach the power structures that left them so poor.

At nights, people steal the flood grates around small towns for scrap metal. They loot abandoned houses and businesses for copper wire and metal pipes to scrap. No one is ever going to revitalize those structures, so people just look the other way. By day they pick up beer and soda cans on the side of the road— for scrap.

Anything to avoid the mines.

Aldean’s video shows b-roll of protests, property destruction, violence, and generally unrelated incidents in big cities.

Nobody in those videos cares about what’s happening in somebody’s small town. This is the suburbanite white dude fantasy version of Scarface. It’s the product of having no sense of personal identity and appropriating some ill-imagined mixture of actual generational Poverty culture (which is not a white phenomenon) and a wholly American mythos of having a closed culture that worships assimilation.

They often don’t think they’re racist because they often do genuinely like their Black and Brown neighbors who fish and hunt with them and go to their churches and whose kids are on their kids’ little league team.

They have a vision of living in community that they can’t bring to reality because things have changed since the boomer generation's good hand. They have dreams of being financially successful if they just work hard enough, but those dreams are not coming to fruition because they’re an American myth.

They’re trying to hold on to a sense of grandiosity characterized by surviving struggles they never experienced and by having values they don’t understand or have no connection to.

They are angry at anyone defying the order because they cope with the loss of hope for a mythical future by trying to blame people being crushed by the systems that are also eroding the white working class (at a slower rate).

The rate has been so slow, they don’t realize their sentimentality about how great this nation is came from lies they were told and an identity that is as empty and illusory as the history they learned in school.

It’s the equivalent of trying to be the proverbial “golden child” to an abusive parent, maintaining the illusion that the truth-telling “scapegoat” is actually the problem.

That’s the “great again” that people like that bank on. The proverbial “New Jerusalem.”

Is the song racist?

That’s the wrong question, because it’s oversimplified.

Is the song a mediocre by-product of a mass delusion that white settlers have agreed to maintain because they too had their identities stolen by colonialism, so that they are also defined by Uncle Sam’s toxic legacy as the golden child who is too cowardly to ask questions, hear the truth, accept accountability, or fight back?


This peacock of a song is a blatant and pitiable attempt at being unable to accept that they only get a pass from Uncle Sam when they assimilate into a fictional character that upholds the colonial ego of Big Daddy Nationalism and Mama Manifest Destiny.

Unpacking that everything you’ve ever been told is a lie is hard work, and they’re not cut out for that because they’re not actually workers.

They aren’t the cheap labor they benefit from. Their “small town” fantasy is as sincere as their “honest worker” fantasy.

They need to consult their ancestors, and not just the ones who got free [stolen] land.

My “small town” ancestors shot the sheriffs and the deputies, they burned whole towns to the ground, and they led the most violent uprisings in the history of Uncle Sam’s invasion because they did not see the people upholding the status quo as “their own.”

Jason Aldean has no idea who “his people” are. They’re not “small town” people. They’re the middle mass, the embodied entitlement that one inherits when they come from a legacy of settler colonialism, slave trading, and evangelical purity culture that justified genocide.

They’ve been convincing themselves they’re fighting for something noble for so long, they see the loss of that illusion as a threat to the only identity colonialism left them with— generic whiteness.

What he can’t handle is that he’s not a “good ol’ boy,” he’s just a bully doing the business of an abusive parent to preserve the illusion of the “pillar of community.”

If he knew how to be in community, he would not be building a cult following on nationalistic propaganda.

Categories: Jason Aldean, Racism, Terra Vance, Try That in a Small Town


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