Toby Keith

Toby To State: Read Y’All White Trash Okies

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Toby Keith Library Poster

Oklahoma’s library poster child Toby Keith has come out with a recent album, and its title is sure to make the “official” intellectual community here proud the musician claims the state as his home.

Library officials, in particular, will be extra proud they selected Keith for a recent poster campaign to promote reading in the state.

Copies of Keith’s “White Trash With Money” should be given out to all Oklahoma school children, many of whom have already encountered Keith in his pornographic pose in the “Read Y’All” library posters plastered throughout the state.

When teachers pass out the free cds maybe they can then begin a discussion on the term “white trash” and its use.

Here is how such a discussion might go:

Teacher: Would someone define “white trash”?

Student: It means an inhabitant of Oklahoma.

Teacher: Okay. Anyone else?

Student: Doesn’t the word “white” in the term “white trash” mean that people of other skin colors are automatically trashy people. Isn’t that racist?

Teacher: Yes, it is racist, but you know we can’t criticize Toby Keith.

Student: Why?

Teacher: Because he will put a boot in our . . .ahem . . . bottoms.

I want to put a too fine of a point on it here. The term “white trash” does make a linguistic claim that “white” is somehow special to someone trashy. In other words, the prevailing culture’s language has to qualify “trash” with “white” because it is somehow so unique that a white person could be trashy. I realize the term is commonly used to signify someone without culture, and some may argue the term is not racist. But there are trashy people with all types of skin colors. Why use “white” to modify “trash”?

Whatever your views on this issue, the use of the term “white trash” does conjure up a particular image that Oklahoma should try to avoid. Using “white trash” in the context of an album cover ultimately celebrates a group of uneducated, uncultured white people who tend to be more racist than other groups of people. These people will no doubt validate themselves by buying Keith’s album and celebrating their whiteness and trashiness. These same people would be more likely to listen to racist musicians as well.

What I find most absurd about it is how Keith has become such a big celebrity here in this state. His photograph on the “Read Y’All” posters was borderline obscene and the term deserved to be criticized for branding us with a hick image and vernacular.

And so now Oklahoma’s Ambassador of Intellectualism Toby Keith comes out with his white trash album after his jingoistic, nationalistic album. One song on the older album, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” claimed “And you’ll be sorry that you messed with/The U.S. of A./`Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass/It`s the American way.”

Now three years into a botched war under a lying president who believes in Keith’s brilliant foreign policy ideas, things seem a little different, don’t they?

But then a lot of people made millions of dollars and continue to make millions from the Iraq War. Toby Keith is no different. It's the American way under George Bush.

We'll Put A Boot In Your Vocabulary Y'All

Oklahoma iconography from the latter half of the twentieth-century to today has been carefully manipulated by the state’s corporate power structure for less than altruistic reasons. This has left the state with a weird, iconic cabal of ultra-conservative cowboy-singer types, from Reba McIntire to Brooks & Dunn to Toby Keith.

Our icons serve as models for Oklahomans, and they tell the world how to view our state.

Toby Keith Libary Poster

So it is extremely unfortunate for all of us that the state’s power structure does not broaden its definition of what makes an Okie a famous icon.

I think of this issue after considering how the mainstream media recently conducted printed and visual worship services for Toby Keith, the state’s warmongering country singer. On top of the list, of course, is The Daily Oklahoman, which devoted a chunk of its new “publication,” Look@OKC, to the opening of Keith’s new Bricktown restaurant.

So this is what we are supposed to worship; here are some lyrics from Keith’s song, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
You’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
'Cause we'll PUT a boot in your ass
It's the American way

And, of course, we have to ponder Toby Keith on posters paid for by the Great Oklahoma Library Association. There is Keith, lying down, with the vernacular expression “Read Y’ALL” next to him. There is much wrong with this poster, which is part of the fight against illiteracy in the state. First, there is Keith himself, certainly not a model of reading or academia. Then there is the expression, “y’all,” which contradicts any sense that this illiteracy effort is based on sound reading and writing principles.

So here is Keith serving as both the icon of American military might and empire and Oklahoma reading and intelligence. It is tragic. I think the Iraq war has proven it is wrong to base our foreign policy on “we’ll PUT a boot in your ass/It’s the American way.” And there are plenty of wonderful people in the world of Oklahoma academia who could serve as intellectual and "reader" models besides Keith.

Meanwhile Oklahoma has plenty of true heroes, from Woody Guthrie to Will Rogers to Ralph Ellison to Scott Momaday. There are also the current performers, Kristin Chenowith, who is apparently on one of the library posters, and Megan Mullally. Mullally stars on the television show "Will and Grace." (This show, of course, contains sympathetic depictions of gay people.) Or what about the legendary Frosty Troy, the tireless editor of the progressive journal, The Oklahoma Observer? He should absolutely be on a state library poster, not Keith.

Photograph of Megan Mullally

But the relentless, self-serving Oklahoma power structure, made up of filthy-rich corporate owners and executives, choose the state icons carefully with their greedy interests in mind. They do not care if people can read; in fact, they would prefer you to remain stupid so they can steal your money.

Fortunately, some people in the state are starting to recognize this manipulation has left the state with shallow, fleeting icons who represent hollow ideology and commercial interests. The site, Oklahomans For Global Solutions, recently published articles related to Oklahoma’s true heroes, virtually all of whom are progressive. I have also tried to deal with this problem in how we intrepret Oklahoma history and the state's icons with my “ Okie Rebels With A Cause” series. (Just click on the category on the right side of the blog.) In addition, the Oklahoma Independent Media Center offers an alternative view to the local corporate, mainstream media.

It is simply immoral that the right-wing corporate media ignores the state’s true, progressive history. Moral, Oklahoma progressives helped to win all of us retirement, the concept of the five-day work week, and health insurance. Woody Guthrie and Will Rogers once worked to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, but the local, corporate, right-wing media distort their legacies.

Here are some Woody Guthrie song lyrics, written during The Great Depression, which will live on forever. These lyrics are from “This Land Is Your Land.”

One Sunday morning
In the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office
I seen my people
As they stood hungry
I stood there whistling this:
This land was made for you and me.

Guthrie’s legacy lives on and will continue to live on for centuries. Keith is just a part of the prevailing corporate interests.

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