Toby Keith likes to brag, “This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage.” But when my reporting on the pro-lynching lyrics in his song, “Beer For My Horses,” began to complicate the promo tour for his forthcoming “Southern comedy” movie of the same title, tough-talking Toby whined to the media. “The song was a hit and the words ‘lynch’ and ‘racism’ has [sic] never come up until this moron wrote this blog,” he fumed to Contact Music.
When Fox News picked up Keith’s comments, Big Dog Daddy’s loyal fans bombarded my in-box with a deluge of indignant rants. While insisting to me that “Beer For My Horses” contained not even a hint of coded racial animus, Keith’s fans simultaneously revealed their simmering resentment of Jews, blacks, and “faggy liberals.”
Their hate-laden letters comprised the script for my latest video:
Toby Keith Nation Fights Back, a creative take on my hate mail
Keith claimed that “Beer For My Horses” was simply an anodyne ditty intended to evoke nostalgia for the Old West, where “bad guys” met justice at the end of a rope. “It’s about the old West and horses and sheriffs … and going and getting the bad guys. It’s not a racist thing or about lynching,” he said.
Why then did Keith sing so despairingly of car thieves, “corruption in the street,” and terrorists who blow up buildings? Why did he invoke the swarthy boogeymen of the modern right-wing imagination right before launching into a verse about the good old days when his “grandpappy” would “take all the rope in Texas…find a tall oak tree,” and “hang them high in the street, for all the people to see?” Maybe “Beer For My Horses” isn’t about the Old West after all.
But since Keith has invoked that golden era of “horses and sheriffs…and going and getting the bad guys,” it is fair to ask if he knows anything about the real history of lynching in Texas. Does he know that according to the Handbook of Texas, the Lone Star stood third among the states — just behind Mississippi and Georgia — in its total of lynching victims? Does Keith know that of the 468 people lynched in Texas, a whopping 339 were African-American (a partial list of black Texan lynching victims is here)?
Lynching was not, as Keith disingenuously claimed, a practice exclusive to gallant Hollywood cowboys played by Gene Autry (who couldn’t even ride a horse) and Ronald Reagan. It was a mode of organized terror employed by groups like the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction to restore white supremacy in Texas and throughout the region.
Keith should immediately apologize for his musical monstrosity. Then I suggest he perform a cover of “Strange Fruit,” the Billie Holiday anthem inspired by the anti-lynching poetry of Jewish school teacher Abel Meeropol. Holiday often cried (watch her here) as she performed her haunting dirge. On at least one occasion, she was so overcome with emotion she could not finish. With Toby Keith exploiting the South’s most barbaric tradition for big bucks, Holiday’s tears burn like salt on an unhealed wound.