By Dewayne Bingham, Asst. Photo Editor—
Tyler Childers is the latest country musician to utilize his platform as a means of speaking out on the injustice plaguing Black communities in the United States today.
Like other artists celebrated by working class Southerners such as Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson—who both recently voiced their support for the Black Lives Matter movement—Childers challenged his audience to exercise a greater degree of empathy in his new album Long Violent History, which was released on Friday, Sept. 18, along with a six minute commentary video on YouTube.
Childers assured his viewers that his intention was not to generalize or accuse all white, rural Americans of lacking self-examination. Rather, his aim was to confront the criticism, apathy and fear many have exhibited toward the growing movement for racial justice.
“From the outsider’s perspective, it’s hard to see where all this visceral anger is coming from,” Childers said in his commentary. “In the midst of our own daily struggles, it’s often hard to share an understanding for what another person might be going through.”
He continued by challenging his white listeners to put themselves in the shoes of Black Americans. He asked them to imagine how they’d react if their loved ones were murdered simply for non-compliance with law enforcement, for legally carrying a gun, or in their sleep for no reason at all, a reference to the late Breonna Taylor, who he called “a Kentuckian like [himself].”
Childers asked listeners to consider how much injustice it would take before they reacted destructively, how long would it take before, as he described in the song Long Violent History, they “come into town in stark, raving anger, looking for answers and armed to the teeth.”
He begged a profound question: how much heartbreak and suffering would rural America endure, how many names turned into hashtags, before undergoing the writing of a long, violent history of retaliation… and are Black Americans not facing just that—heartbreak and suffering?
“If we wouldn’t stand for it, why would we expect another group of Americans to stand for it,” he asked. “Why would we stand silent, or worse, get in the way of it being rectified?”
It’s unfair and damaging when people oppose the movement for Black lives, the movement for racial justice, because they don’t believe protests should garner uncomfortable conversation or that sentiments should edge too close to anger or violence.
It’s especially unfair to have those expectations when peaceful protests (which compose an overwhelming majority of demonstrations, despite what some politicians tout) are escalated by police with tear gas, rubber bullets and mace, and when the most quiet, peaceful forms of protest possible—kneeling before a sporting event or simply wearing a tee shirt that says “Black Lives Matter”—receive equal criticism to riots.
In order to settle the discord that’s arisen and improve our communities, to make them operate more equitably for people of all races and classes, we actually have to participate in the uncomfortable, sometimes hostile conversations. Without a collective effort by white Americans to empathize with the hardships people of color face in our country, that will never be achieved.