controversies, music, politics, racism, social media

People “trying that in a small town”…

The featured photo is a screenshot of a map of the area where I grew up, from 1980-90. It’s gotten bigger in terms of population, but the mindset remains frighteningly much the same as it was 40 years ago…

It’s a cool, rainy morning here in Germany, and we’re on day two of Bill’s latest TDY trip. Yesterday, I booked the first three nights of our next trip together. It’s our biannual trip to the dentist in Stuttgart, which I’ve started turning into an opportunity to visit other places within driving distance. I already explained in my travel blog how we came to decide on the Czech Republic for our next journey, but before we head there, we have to get our teeth cleaned. So, for the first three nights, we’ll stay in the charming town of T√ľbingen, a place we already know well and love.

As I sit here thinking about how I want to arrange the rest of our trip, I can’t help but reflect more on Jason Aldean’s current hit song, “Try That in a Small Town”. I wrote a blog post about it a couple of days ago. It was mainly based on my initial reactions to the song and its video, which came across as belligerent and obnoxious to me. Unlike some people, I didn’t initially see the song as blatantly racist. There truly aren’t any lyrics within the song itself that are obviously aimed at people of color.

The video, on the other hand, seems very much geared to spin up the MAGA extremists. Parts of the video were shot at a Tennessee courthouse where a Black teenager was lynched in 1927. Those who defend the video point out that the same courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee has been featured in Disney films and other productions. That point, to me, seems irrelevant, though, when you consider that “Try That in a Small Town” is a song about small town folks kicking ass and taking names against anyone who dares to step out of line (in their view). It seems to me that in a country as large as the United States is, another courthouse location could have been used… or, perhaps a different type of place, altogether. They could have used bucolic landscapes, instead of a courthouse.

@destineenstark I may be petty, but my THOROUGH and petty! ūüėā Here is my dissertation debunking Jason Aldean‚Äôs claims about his ūüé∂ūüé• propaganda. #jasonaldean #countrymusic #debunked #debunktok #factsoverfeelings #propganda #americanpropaganda ‚ô¨ original sound – Destinee Stark

There are many very quick clips of violent uprisings and riots shown in the video. However, TikToker Destinee Stark was among the first people to determine that a lot of the clips that were used weren’t actually from events that occurred in the United States. More worrying is that Ms. Stark is now reportedly receiving racist and violent hate mail from fans of the song. It seems to me that if this song is so innocent, people wouldn’t feel the need to harass Destinee Stark for simply having and sharing her opinions, as well as real evidence that the video is a crock of shit. Stark discovered that one clip used in the video came from an event in Berlin. Another clip was stock footage easily found online. Other clips were also questionable as to whether or not they originated in the United States. Of course, no footage from January 6th was used at all.

According to the linked article on NBC News:

“I just think that people have a right to know,” Stark said. “Things like this, they inform politics and it informs how we vote, how we see the world and who we interact with. And I just think that if we’re consuming content that’s not even accurate, that it’s just propaganda. And it’s just fueling people, you know, to commit more violence.”

As I mentioned in my first post about this song, I don’t think Aldean should be censored or canceled. I do wish, however, that instead of racing to defend this song and its message, people would take a few moments to consider the other side what is being communicated. A lot of people are claiming that this song is just about standing up for small town values and people “protecting their own”. As someone who grew up in a small town and both witnessed and experienced the negative side of that upbringing, I can truthfully state that the message in “Try That in a Small Town” is a bit distorted. It IS true that if you were born and raised in a small town, and people there consider you to be “okay”, you probably will get help from your neighbors when you need it. But if you’re different somehow, you will probably face harassment and suspicion. And people can be very slow to change their opinions in small towns.

Take for instance, a news item that came up in my memories a few days ago. Three years ago, some people of Mathews, Virginia– a county adjacent to Gloucester County, which is where I grew up– were very upset because there was talk about renaming an elementary school. The school in question, then named Lee-Jackson Elementary School, was named after Confederate war heroes Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I see that today, the school is called Mathews Elementary School. If you click this link, you can see who showed up to demand that the name didn’t change. It’s a whole lot of older White guys carrying Confederate Battle flags.

I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that a lot of those folks aren’t that interested in education in the first place. Most educated people would not show up to a public event in the United States carrying flags and signs that are deemed overtly racist. Even if someone privately sympathizes with the “good ol’ boys”, smart people don’t go around broadcasting what a lot of people would associate with naked racism. It’s not good for business.

Things haven’t changed in over 40 years…

Looking at the photo from July 2020, I am transported back about 4o years, when my parents first moved us to Gloucester. In those days, Gloucester was a VERY rural place, and Mathews was even more rural. It was not uncommon to see the “stars and bars” displayed everywhere. I well remember being bullied when I arrived in Gloucester, because I was “different”. Every day, I would come from school in tears because people in my class and on my bus harassed me. But, at least I was straight and White, and in spite of being a little eccentric, I really wasn’t that different than other people were. I did eventually fit in somewhat, even though it took about a year or two (to a child, that is an eternity).

Other people weren’t so lucky. I remember a lot of race based fighting when I was in high school, mostly between Black people and folks from an area of the county called “Guinea”. It was well known among my classmates that Guinea was a place you didn’t want to go to after dark, unless you were from there. I know there are good people in Guinea, but it did not have a good reputation, at least when I lived in Gloucester.

Years later, Gloucester was in the news because of a transgender student named Gavin Grimm, who took his case to the Supreme Court in order to be able to use the boys’ bathroom. I had long left Gloucester by the time Gavin Grimm was in the news, but I do recall reading some pretty horrifying hate-filled letters to the editor from our local newspaper, which I still follow. In August 2021, the Gloucester County School Board was ordered to pay Grimm $1.3 million to resolve the lawsuit.

I was inspired to write today’s post, in part, because of an op-ed I read in the Washington Post. It was written by Brian Broome, a gay Black writer who grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. His piece, titled “Jason Aldean? Please spare me the small-town nostalgia.”, is a shout out to those of us who were deemed different somehow, yet stuck growing up in a small town, where people refused to accept our differences. Broome no doubt had it much worse than I ever could have. But, instead of his community embracing and protecting him, as Aldean’s song suggests, Broome experienced racism and homophobia. And instead of being encouraged to speak out against the discrimination, Broome was encouraged to “shut up and color”. He was not free to be himself, and he couldn’t wait to leave that stifling small town, where too many people thought too small, and had no time for differing opinions or new experiences.

I was further inspired today when I noticed the most recent crime log from Gloucester, Virginia. It looks like it covers the last month. The list of reported crimes include things like DWI, assault & battery, grand larceny, breaking & entering, strangulation, and a host of other offenses. Granted, Gloucester has grown a lot in population since I was coming of age there, but it’s still a very conservative place, and it’s still sort of a “small town”. I wouldn’t say that the sentiment of Aldean’s song is ringing true there. People are still misbehaving, with no blowback from the locals. Not that I’d necessarily want the locals to engage in vigilantism, as Aldean’s song suggests. I guess it just goes to show that the sentiment in the song is a bit mythical, and it’s designed to inflame right wingers, who don’t embrace people who aren’t like them. And that doesn’t necessarily just mean people of color, either.

Here’s a gallery of screenshots from the local paper, Glo Quips, referencing people “trying that in a small town” over the past month… Eleven whole pages!

If Aldean and his songwriters really believe in their lyrics, maybe they should focus more on being tolerant and decent to other people, rather than promoting vigilantism and suspicion. “Try That in a Small Town” just sounds to me like a bunch of scared people rattling their sabers, threatening those who don’t subscribe to the typical small town mindset. I suspect that the song is intended to rile up the right, as another election cycle gets into full swing. Lots of people are terrified of the idea that people other than conservative Christian white males might be on top, for a change. So, instead of being positive and peaceful, they spin up more divisiveness with threatening, belligerent anthems that aren’t even based on actual events in the United States. And the less curious among us are lapping it up with gusto, believing the narrative without a second thought as they holler about how “non-racist” the song is.

I wish some of those people would stop for a moment and consider that real freedom should be for everyone… and maybe it’s time to think of the whole country as a “small town”, where people look out for each other. Or hell, maybe we can consider that the whole world is full of good people— people who, when it comes down to it, have blood just as red as yours is.

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memories, nostalgia

Repost: My brush with the rich and famous in rural Gloucester, Virginia…

I’ve been a little bit homesick, lately. It’s been years since I was last “home”. So, as I think about what fresh content I want to write today, here’s a repost from 2018. The featured photo is of me, running in my first race in April 1982. I won first place for my age and sex– which, at that time, was nine. It was a four mile race. My, how times have changed. Now, I feel great when I manage to walk a mile.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia in the 1980s.  We moved there in June 1980, the day after I turned eight.  I remember very clearly that in those days, Gloucester was very rural.  I seem to remember just a few stoplights in the entire county and maybe a McDonald’s and a Pizza Hut. 

Decades later, I see that it’s a lot more cosmopolitan than it was in my day.  Areas that used to be nothing but trees are now home to big box stores and chain restaurants.  Both the Pizza Hut and the McDonald’s that were there in 1980 have been torn down and moved.  And there are now many stoplights in Gloucester and there have been for probably thirty years or more.

I didn’t appreciate Gloucester when I was young.  In fact, I hated living there for most of my youth.  When we first moved there, I was mercilessly bullied by a group of my classmates– the smart, “preppie” kids whose families had lived in Gloucester forever.  Many of those kids rode the same bus I did and made my life a living hell.  I didn’t get along with most of the kids who lived on my dirt road, either.  They were a different group of kids.  They weren’t necessarily smart.  What most of them were was very “redneck”.  We didn’t mesh.  They probably thought I was too highfalutin’ and snobby.  There’s no telling.   

The one thing that saved me from succumbing to despair was my love for horses.  I wasn’t especially horsey when we lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which was where we spent the first two years after my dad retired from the Air Force our of Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  My sister had taken riding lessons in England, but I wasn’t necessarily into horses myself…  but then we moved to rural, country Gloucester, where many people owned horses.  My neighbor, mother to one of the hoodlums who used to harass me, used to let me ride her horse every once in awhile.  I will never forget the intoxicating aroma of the horses and the thrill of sitting on one for the first time.  I fell deeply in love.

Within a couple of years after we moved to Gloucester, I started taking formal riding lessons.  I continued riding throughout high school, finally giving it up in 1990, the year I graduated.  Although Gloucester was, and probably still is, a rather provincial place, there were actually some interesting people living there.  In fact, there’s a lot of old money in Gloucester and many historic plantations are located there.  You could spend all day driving around the county looking at them if you wanted to.

Little me on Rusty, the pony who got me through high school still innocent.  I think I was about twelve in this photo.  The year was 1984.

In the 80s, the Sadovic family from France owned a big fancy plantation called Eagle Point.  I don’t know what their business was, but they were very French and apparently very wealthy.  Their son, Greg, was about my age.  He showed horses.  I believe he and the rest of his family now live in Palm Beach, Florida and he now shows horses professionally.  In the 80s, he was involved in 4H, like I was, and he sometimes rode in the small shows, like I did.  But his family owned beautiful horses and were very serious about the sport. 

For several years in the 1980s, the Sadovics employed an expert French horseman named Francois Lemaire de Ruffieu.  Francois was a bit of a “rock star” in the horse world.  He first trained and graduated from the Cadre Noir, one of the oldest and most prestigious riding academies in Europe.  During his six years in the cavalry at Saumur and Fontainebleau, he studied and showed extensively in dressage, stadium jumping, three-day eventing and steeplechase.  He was awarded the title of Master Instructor of the American Riding Instructor Certification program in 1996.  Given that he was born in 1944, Francois has been in the horse business for many years.  But I knew him during his prime.  In fact, I distinctly remember falling off my horse, Rusty, right in front of him back in the 80s.

In those days, Francois was in his 40s and he lived in Gloucester.  He’d give riding clinics at Eagle Point.  I know I attended at least one or two of them.  In those days, Eagle Point had a number of events that we’d attend– horse shows, competitive trail rides, and fox hunts.  It wasn’t located far from where I took lessons.  My riding coach took lessons from Francois and passed on some of his techniques to us when she taught us.  I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was actually really cool that she was able to do that, especially in a place like Gloucester.

In 1988, right after Rusty and I won first place in a huge Hunter Pleasure Pony class in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1984, Francois published his first book, Handbook of Riding Essentials.  It made quite a splash locally, but I believe it also sold well internationally.  I see that Francois is still in business, too, giving riding clinics in places like Vermont.  I see on an old Facebook page that someone who worked with Francois in the 80s mentions having known him in Virginia.  He evidently also worked at Beau Shane (which I think is now defunct), which was an amazing farm in next door Mathews County.  I knew it because the woman who used to run our 4H horse judging group was a horse trainer there, and we used to visit Beau Shane to study conformation.  They had gorgeous Swedish Warmbloods.  Mathews County was even more rural than Gloucester, but there were some really high caliber horses at Beau Shane.

This topic comes up because last night, I was noticing all the boat pictures and videos posted by some of my Gloucester friends and I felt a little bit homesick.  Gloucester is also home to several rivers and many people who live there own boats.  I joked that maybe it was time to move back to Gloucester.  My old riding coach mentioned that mosquitos are a thing there and maybe I’d forgotten that.  I was being a bit facetious.  I can’t see myself moving to Gloucester again.  It wouldn’t be the same as it was when I was growing up.  But another friend, a guy who lived there in the 70s, started talking about the plantations and mentioned Warner Hall…  He said it’s for sale.

Warner Hall is located right next to Eagle Point and, in the 80s, one could board their horses there. ¬†It is now a five star B&B, but in the 80s, we rode our horses through the property while participating in events put on by Eagle Point. ¬†I didn’t know it back in the 80s, but George Washington’s grandparents lived in Gloucester. ¬†Actually, Gloucester is a very historic place. ¬†It’s also¬†where Pocahontas was born. ¬†And Dr. Walter Reed,¬†a¬†U.S. Army physician who led the team that postulated and confirmed the theory that¬†yellow fever¬†is transmitted by a particular¬†mosquito¬†species, rather than by direct contact, was also born in Gloucester, Virginia. ¬†Gloucester was also used in a couple of films, notably¬†Zelly & Me¬†starring Isabella Rosselini, and¬†Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise. ¬†And¬†John Lennon once owned a plantation in neighboring Mathews County called Poplar Grove.

When I was about eleven, I also used to occasionally visit Lisburne, another plantation that was restored by the Peebles family.  Their daughter, Laurie, showed horses on the A rated circuit and a church friend, also wealthy, hooked me up with her.  I remember I used to visit this marvelous home in Ordinary and play with Laurie’s horses.  This was before my mom got me into lessons with the woman who taught me all through high school. 

I think about all the places I could have grown up… places not as interesting or historic as Gloucester County is.  When I was a child, I thought it was a boring place.  Now I realize that Gloucester is pretty fascinating.  I still don’t know that I want to move back there, but it was a cool place to grow up.  There’s an interesting mix of old money, old redneck, and military transients in that county.  I still have a lot of friends there, although my family has moved on.  If it weren’t for horses, I don’t know that I would have had so many opportunities to see some of these wonderful old homes. 

Of course, I also got to see a few of them thanks to being a Presbyterian.  I think in Gloucester, a lot of Presbyterians were somewhat well-heeled and connected to old money.  But I see now, even the church I grew up in has changed.  I remember when that sanctuary was built, back in 1980, 100 years after the church was founded.  And now, it’s no longer First Presbyterian Church.  Now it’s Grace Covenant Church, affiliated with the new ECO branch of Presbyterianism because apparently, the minister didn’t want to have to marry gay couples, and disagreed with some of the other changing views of the PCUSA branch.

Anyway… I just heard the chimes go off, signifying that it’s time to move the laundry to the dryer.  I guess I’ve rambled on long enough this morning.

Here’s a link to Francois’ book…  I see it’s significantly more expensive these days!  But it is very well-regarded… Maybe I should buy a copy for old time’s sake.

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