There are beach people and city people and plains people and desert people and bottoms people and hill people. I can be most of those kinds of people for a little while but there is no denying that deep down inside, I am a hill person. The mountains simply speak to me. I like the air and the lakes and the uneven skylines and the strange people who populate towns carved out of the side of rocks.

Being a hill person might explain my penchant for country music. As my readers know, I stan Dolly Parton but that isn’t unique enough to count as street cred. Everyone stans Dolly Parton. If someone doesn’t stan Dolly Parton, they are a serial killer.

Book cover image of “Honky Tonk on the Left”, edited by Mark Allan Jackson (University of Massachusetts Press)

My real street cred is that I generally know more about the genre — its roots, its politics, its economics and especially its racial contours — than a Black woman is expected to know. I have published essays on why hip-hop and country music are natural bedfellows (hip-hop is youth culture and “country” geographies are also Black geographies). I have also judged essay competitions for country music collections and spent more than my fair share of time at live music venues where “good ol’ boys” roam free. Rednecks don’t scare me. Theirs is a matriarchal culture, as is mine. Everyone makes way for a robust Black woman when they are raised in a matriarchal culture. I’m safer there than I am Silicon Valley or private country clubs, places where they do not have mothers.

My deep knowledge about the genre has the added benefit of driving some white people stark raving mad.

There is no “Black gaze” similar to the powerful white gaze that imposes its ideologies unto everything it touches.

White people do not, by and large, understand being an object of study or a fascination. The defamiliarization of it all throws people into a tizzy.

That is just an added benefit. The real reason I talk about country music in public is because I enjoy doing it and because I do not cede the art form. The banjo is ours and good storytelling is universal. Both of those are central to country and roots music. Therefore, it is mine to enjoy.

I am just a casual voice in the project of turning the Black gaze onto country music. Rissi Palmer is a professional at it. Rissi has a new podcast on Apple Music called “Color Me Country”. The show “brings to the forefront the Black, Indigenous, and Latinx histories of country music”. It is a nice counterweight to Ken Burns’ very white and male-centric PBS country music documentary that aired earlier this year.

The podcast is finding its footing but it is already very good. Rissi is an excellent sonic docent with a killer playlist. She chooses songs with her guests that map a very different cultural geography of country music than the one usually told. Instead of a straight line from hill people to the Carter family, Hank Williams and Nashville, Rissi’s roadmap travels through enslaved Africans, Black sharecroppers, post-industrial Detroit, Motown, the Great Migration and Chocolate Cities.

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If you like storytelling, Rissi’s playlist is a great window into awesome storytellers.

Running for the hills is exactly what is called for this week. The fight to fill Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Supreme Court seat will be brutal. It is going to hurt. And, those of us who believe in justice are probably going to lose this one. If you have the energy left to do so, fight like hell. Call, email, join organizers putting pressure on down-ballot candidates who might eventually turn the tide on the Trump administration’s very successful court packing at every level. Or, if you are exhausted like me, donate some money and then run for the hills.

If you need a post-twang palate cleanser after all of the country music, check out culture writer Taylor Crumpton on WAP, Black women and hip-hop.

If you want to follow my thoughts on race, class, gender and coming home as the world burns, hit the follow button. I am headed back to whence my people come — Shannon, North Carolina — for a spell. I’m also following all of the new “diversity” narratives in the upcoming Hallmark Movie season. They seem to be leaning heavily into interracial relationships as the response to years of claims that the network is too whitopian. I’m fascinated by how these will go over with audiences.

And if you did not see or hear about or cry to this statement from traditional musician Tyler Childers this week, now is a good time.

Written by

Sociologist. Writer. Professor. MacArthur Fellow. Books, speaking, podcast: www.tressiemc.com

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