Mike Huckabee joined a country music board. He lasted one day.

You remember Mike Huckabee, right?

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Ran for president (twice)? Vehemently opposes basic rights for LGBTQ people? Once compared his losing weight to being in a concentration camp? That's him!


Huckabee was named the newest board member for the Country Music Association Foundation on Feb. 28.

The guitar-playing conservative firebrand has supported music education and pushed back against President Donald Trump's threats to defund the National Endowment for the Arts, so the job title might make sense on paper.

But news of Huckabee's new role went south. Fast.

The foundation — which focuses on promoting music education programs and generally stays out of politics — was quickly and sharply criticized for embracing the polarizing former governor from Arkansas.

"It was announced Wednesday that Mike Huckabee has been appointed/elected to the CMA Foundation Board. Yes, that Mike Huckabee," read a post on music industry website Hits Daily Double. "There’s great concern and protest over the appointment, and rightfully so. Many in Nashville are sharing feelings of embarrassment for our country and industry."

Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

The most vocal critic may have been country music powerhouse Jason Owen, whose management company, Sandbox, oversees performers like Faith Hill and Little Big Town.

In an open letter to CMA executives published on Hits Daily Double, Owen, who is openly gay, slammed the "grossly offensive decision" to give Huckabee such an influential role at the foundation.

Jason Owen (left) and Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern (middle) in 2017. Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images for Billboard Magazine.

"It is with a heavy heart that I must let you know moving forward, Sandbox and Monument will no longer support the CMA Foundation in any way (this includes everyone we represent collectively), considering the heartbreaking news shared today regarding Mike Huckabee appointee/elected to the CMA Foundation," Owen wrote.

The letter continued (emphasis added):

"As you may know, I have a child and two on the way. This man has made it clear that my family is not welcome in his America. And the CMA has opened their arms to him, making him feel welcome and relevant. Huckabee speaks of the sort of things that would suggest my family is morally beneath his and uses language that has a profoundly negative impact upon young people all across this country. Not to mention how harmful and damaging his deep involvement with the NRA is. What a shameful choice."

Shortly after Owen's letter went public, Huckabee resigned.

All in all, he lasted just about 24 hours in the role.

In a blog post shared on his website, Huckabee criticized the backlash: "The message here is 'hate wins,'" he wrote. "Bullies succeeded in making it untenable to have 'someone like me' involved."

In a tweet sharing the blog post, the former governor quipped that "Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci lasted longer than me [as White House Communications Director]."

Many supporters are standing in Huckabee's corner. "Excellent article, governor," one Twitter user wrote in response to Huckabee's blog. "I stand with you."

"This is such a shame, Mike, but I'm not surprised," another chimed in. "Country music is now filled with liberals who only want those who align with their views to be heard."

Huckabee's ousting, however, shows why no one should peg country music — or its fans — into one (homophobic) hole.

The genre has built a reputation for attracting a more conservative fan base throughout the years. But any kind of music is best when the bigotry's kept on mute. And country is no exception.

Most Shared

Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as someone refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

Democracy
Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

If you're a woman and you want to be a CEO, you should probably think about changing your name to "Jeffrey" or "Michael." Or possibly even "Michael Jeffreys" or "Jeffrey Michaels."

According to Fortune, last year, more men named Jeffrey and Michael became CEOs of America's top companies than women. A whopping total of one woman became a CEO, while two men named Jeffrey took the title, and two men named Michael moved into the C-suite as well.

The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

At Trump's 'Social Media Summit' on Thursday, he bizarrely claimed Arnold Schwarzenegger had 'died' and he had witnessed said death. Wait, what?!


He didn't mean it literally - thank God. You can't be too sure! After all, he seemed to think that Frederick Douglass was still alive in February. More recently, he described a world in which the 1770s included airports. His laissez-faire approach to chronology is confusing, to say the least.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy