Monday, August 3, 2015

How Country Music Gets Class Wrong

The true heir to the class-infused folk and protest music of Woody Guthrie and his contemporaries is not jingoistic and xenophobic - when not outright racist - modern Country, but rather Rap and Hip-Hop.

Erik Loomis on Anglaeena Presley:

Presley is also mostly wrong about what her father’s money funded. That tax money went to a military buildup, the nation’s oversized and racist prison system, servicing the nation’s debt, and replacing the high tax rates once paid by the rich. In 2012, the 1 percent became the richest in recorded history earning 19.3 percent of American income, surpassing the previous record of 18.7 percent, set in 1927, just before this income inequality contributed to the Great Depression. Between 1979 and 2007, the one percent captured 53.9 percent of the increase in U.S. income while average income for our elites grew by 200.5 percent versus just 18.9 percent for the bottom 99 percent. Between 1978 and 2011, CEO pay rose 726.5 percent versus 5.7 percent for workers.

This doesn’t mean the song is wrong or bad. Presley may well be presenting her and her father’s point of view, one typical of much of the white working class. Presley grew up in Beauty, Kentucky. That is in Martin County, on the West Virginia border, deep in Appalachia. Martin County is over 99 percent white. Thirty-seven percent of the county’s residents live below the poverty line. Despite this, Martin County gave Mitt Romney 83 percent of its vote in 2012, compared to 15 percent for Barack Obama. This was one of the highest votes for Romney in the state, with more than 89 percent of nearby Leslie County voting for Romney being his highest. If these people vote, it’s overwhelmingly for a political party with the open agenda of destroying the social safety net they benefit from at higher rates than most of the country. Even when some of the mine jobs were union, these were not middle class folks; coal mining was always dangerous and not well-paid. But the mythology of the middle class can exist when you see people who are below you in social class. In Martin County and evidently for Presley, that’s largely black people, people who do not live there, who are in Louisville, Cincinnati, New York City. These are the others taking money from the hard working taxpayers of Martin County, even as social services flow into that impoverished place.

This nation has a toxic relationship with class and race. The politics of middle class mythology reinforce the corporate powers that increasingly control our lives. If all whites are middle class–or all whites who include lifelong coal miners left with nothing–then politics that actually promote the interests of the poor are undermined. If the poor consider themselves “middle class,” how do we create institutions that effectively demand a more robust welfare state and worker power? I’m not sure we can until we disconnect popular ideas of class from race. And given the upsurge in racism over the past seven years, we are far from accomplishing that goal.

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