Raiders' Mark Davis only owner to vote against NFL's plan to cover seats near field: 'Not ready to give up yet'

Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis may think a “bubble” is necessary for the NFL season to happen but he isn’t backing the league’s decision to cover the seats closest to the field in advertising. 
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As rowdy tourists flout coronavirus laws, residents in some Spanish resorts fear new surge in cases
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Congress is running out of time to extend expanded unemployment insurance
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a press conference following the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on June 30, 2020, in Washington, DC. | Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images Lawmakers have a tight deadline for working out a compromise that could affect as many as 33 million workers. As of June, a staggering 33 million people have received unemployment benefits in recent weeks. It’s a huge figure — and one that isn’t likely to change as industries continue to navigate business closures and financial losses that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, lawmakers temporarily provided recipients of unemployment with an additional $600 per week as part of the CARES Act. That expanded unemployment insurance (UI) is set to end after July 31, but it’s become increasingly evident that the need for such support hasn’t gone away. What’s unclear, though, is whether Congress can agree on a plan to address the program’s fast-approaching expiration. The $600 boost in UI is in addition to the weekly payment an unemployed individual gets from their state, which averages out to $370 per person (but varies by state). That’s a notable increase and one that’s been vital for those who have been furloughed or laid off during the pandemic. On average, unemployment insurance has historically only been enough to make up 40 percent of a worker’s previous pay. Due to the timeline set by the original bill, the expansion in unemployment insurance isn’t slated to continue after the end of July — and thus far, lawmakers have yet to take any action to make sure that changes. This inertia is the result of an ongoing impasse between Democrats and Republicans on the subject. In their $3 trillion Heroes Act, which the House passed more than seven weeks ago, Democrats sought to extend the federal UI until the end of January 2021. Senate Republicans, however, have said repeatedly that they’re averse to supporting such a measure because they fear it could deter people from returning to work. As economists and recipients of UI have noted, however, the Republican argument misses a key point of the benefit: In part, these funds were intended to help workers stay at home — and not return to work — because staying home is safer and contributes to reducing the spread of the coronavirus. “I think there is a misplaced worry that unemployment benefits will slow the return of workers to work,” University of Chicago public policy professor Damon Jones told Vox. “In fact, it is much more likely that what will keep people from work is a lack of safety and the risk of infection of Covid-19.” Relatedly, many unemployed people don’t have jobs to go back to at the moment and need the UI support in order to cover basic living costs like food and rent as the pandemic continues. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute that was published at the end of June, 11.9 million workers are now unemployed with no likelihood of returning to their previous jobs. “My industry is just shuttered at this point,” rugby trainer Katherine Henry told Yahoo News. “I’d have no trouble working at our local Starbucks, but they aren’t hiring. Republicans say it’s an excuse not to go back to work, but there isn’t any work.” For now, the House and Senate have yet to determine whether they’ll do away with the UI expansion altogether or find some compromise that could reduce the amount people receive. Lawmakers will return to work on July 20 and will have a few weeks to hammer out a proposal before they’re expected to leave again for recess on August 10. But this down-to-the-wire timing leaves millions of workers mired in uncertainty about what comes next. Nick Parisi, 28, an IT worker who is currently relying on UI to cover rent after getting laid off earlier this spring, told Vox, “The idea of having to worry day by day if an extension will be provided to us citizens is the absolute worst feeling that anyone could experience.” A few potential compromises have been floated, with negotiations to start in earnest next week As coronavirus cases have surged in several states, forcing them to reverse business reopenings, pressure has increased on lawmakers to figure out an extension for the expanded unemployment insurance. Recently, there have been signs Republicans and Democrats could find a bipartisan solution to the problem. “We have to find a compromise because we must extend it,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union this weekend. In a departure from his past opposition to more UI, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, too, has acknowledged the need to include unemployment insurance in the next stimulus package. “I think you could anticipate this coming to a head sometime within the next three weeks, beginning next week,” McConnell said at a press appearance in Kentucky on Monday. McConnell, however, has offered few details on what a Republican extension plan would look like. Publicly, members of the Trump administration have floated a few ideas that indicate how Republicans could lean. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is currently in talks with McConnell, has said he’s interested in a UI expansion that does not surpass what employees would have made at the jobs they had. And White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow has indicated backing for vague “unemployment reforms,” as well as payments for workers who return to their jobs. As the Washington Post has reported, some congressional aides have also discussed a reduced expansion of UI that would provide between $200 to $400 per week instead of the current $600. That proposal could be coupled with another stimulus check, like the $1,200 one-time payments Congress approved this past spring, the Post adds. “When my members come back next week, we’ll start socializing it with them,” McConnell said this past Monday of Republican plans on UI. Congress has a narrow window to get things done when it returns from recess Much like the way it has handled major legislation in the past, Congress’s efforts on UI are taking place very close to a key deadline. Since the current expansion is poised to expire on July 31, lawmakers have less than two weeks to approve an extension or alternative plan when they return to DC on July 20. That timing is not stressful only for UI recipients. It also affects states, which will have to recalibrate their UI programs to account for any potential changes. According to one economist, lawmakers’ delay in getting something done could mean that disbursement of new UI benefits could suffer as well. “[This] will cause administrative chaos if state UI agencies don’t know whether they will or won’t be continuing these payments past the end of the month,” UC Berkeley economics professor Jesse Rothstein told Vox. “If Congress does wind up introducing some new benefit level in late July, many states will not be able to get it [to unemployed people] until September.” The fallout from reductions in UI support could also be devastating. Experts emphasize that ending the expanded benefit would make more people food insecure and leave many struggling to cover housing costs. They note that consumer spending could well take a hit, too, and further depress the economy. “Once that $600 a week ends, all of those people have mortgages, all of those people have rent, they are going to have a hard time making ends meet on a regular basis,” University of Kansas economics professor Donna Ginther told Vox. Weighing the overwhelming need for more UI support will be among the central issues Congress will consider when it returns from recess next week. And until lawmakers reach a resolution, millions of people across the country remain in a holding pattern. “An extension of benefits will continue to help me pay rent, provide for my family, and put food on the table,” said Parisi. “Most importantly, it will provide assurance that I may continue to survive during these troubling times.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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Students are using Instagram to discuss racism on campus
Students participated in a “March for Change” protest at Clemson University on June 13, in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images “Black At” Instagram accounts, like Black at Harvard Law, provide space for students to anonymously share racist experiences, and mobilize for systemic change. On the Black at Harvard Law Instagram page, the breadth of anonymously-submitted stories is tangible proof that, according to the page’s bio, “no amount of success or credentialing will insulate Black people from racism, even at Harvard Law School.” In one testimony, a student described how a criminal law professor, who once spent a class discussing how minorities have the lowest percentage of passing the bar exam, told the student they “would never pass the bar exam,” after they emailed him asking how to better prepare for his final exam next semester. Another student described how their First Amendment professor, when discussing fighting words in class, asked them, “If I called you the n-word right now, would you fight me?” These testimonies detail the daily microaggressions and explicitly racist sentiments that Black students face from faculty and their fellow peers at one of the nation’s most esteemed law schools. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Black at Harvard Law (@blackatharvardlaw) on Jun 28, 2020 at 5:37pm PDT For decades, educational institutions — from elite universities to public schools to child care centers — have proudly declared themselves champions of “diversity and inclusion.” Yet, students and faculty of color have attested that institutional commitment to so-called “diversity work” tends to ebb and flow over the years. Energized by the momentum of the Movement for Black Lives, high school and college students are demanding that schools acknowledge and account for the systemic racism that permeates their institutions, even ones that proclaim to hold diverse and liberal values. Nationwide, the bulk of students’ online activism and coordinated mobilization is dedicated toward institutional change, rather than individual accountability. In recent weeks and months, there’s been a greater focus on a slightly different kind of online activity — anonymously-run vigilante social media accounts or crowdsourced Google Docs that attempt to “expose” people for their racist actions and statements, often run by students at the high school level. These efforts, which try to weed out individuals, appear to be much less coordinated than the campaigns directed toward institutions. Plus, these accounts don’t tend to last very long online, given how they open the doors to harassment and doxxing. At the private Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey, for example, three students had their college admissions revoked after two viral videos, reposted from Snapchat and TikTok, showed them using the n-word and making references to George Floyd. These events prompted the creation of a Black at MBS Instagram account, according to, and led the school to hire a consultant on cultural competency, as well as survey Black students and alumni for recommendations on possible improvements. But on a much larger scale, students are collectively organizing to signal how change is necessary, even if there isn’t a headline-grabbing incident to highlight the school’s flaws. Many are crafting petitions, planning peaceful marches, and establishing spaces to amplify the voices of Black and minority students. At Clemson University, students have successfully petitioned for a rename of the Calhoun Honors College, which was named after former US Vice President John C. Calhoun, an ardent defender of slavery in the South. In many cases, schools are called on to move beyond words of solidarity, especially when confronted with hundreds of anecdotes of racist behaviors, some spanning decades, from former and current students. “We need more than attentive listening,” reads one petition from Whitney High School alumni and current students in California. “We need active listening.” Across Instagram, many “Black At” accounts — created in the same spirit as Black at Harvard Law — aim to serve a more restorative role for students (and in some cases, faculty and staff) to anonymously share and reflect upon their grievances. These online testimonies, students say, should compel administrators to enact meaningful change. Already, these publicly-shared testimonies have pushed some selective private schools and public school districts to reexamine current systems in place for reporting bias incidents, teacher diversity, and American history and literature curriculum, the Wall Street Journal reported. “The school has to commit to doing this type of daily continuous work,” said McKenzie Carter, one of three 2016 graduates who run the page Black at Hathaway Brown, an all-girls private school in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “We all want the best for the school and its future students, but this page exists to show that these changes — simply having more cultural competency and awareness — should’ve happened a long time ago.” “The school has to commit to doing this type of daily continuous work” Some pages are crowdsourcing a list of student demands to present to administrators, while others are setting up virtual events to encourage more direct participation. Those at Hathaway Brown set up a Zoom town hall that was livestreamed on Facebook for administrators to watch, but not actively participate or steer the conversation away from student voices. “We’ve been really diligent in taking this step to involve the school, since in order to make that change, we need to have those uncomfortable conversations with the powers that be,” said Cartier Pitts, who co-runs the Black at Hathaway Brown account. The student moderators of these accounts, like Pitts and Carter, have told me they’ve thought deeply about the mission of their unique “Black At” pages, with some explicitly refusing to publish names or details that could compromise the identity of the person who submitted the testimony. “I felt that if there was a name attached to the story, the reader would only think of the person and possibly react with anger. That could take away from the essence of these testimonies and how, at the end of the day, we need to change certain parts of our culture,” said Dylan Wimberly, a senior at West Orange High School in New Jersey who runs his school’s page, Black at West Orange. Wimberly, who decided to exclude all names of staff and students, told me that while his school is composed of majority Black students, the surrounding town, school board, and teachers are still predominantly white, which makes their situation unique. “There are still plenty of cases where students feel like they’ve been singled out, targeted, treated badly, or had their intelligence questioned simply because of their race,” he added. “I really want the school district, specifically the superintendent and diversity board, to realize these are real stories. You look at us and think, nothing that bad can happen, but racism doesn’t just occur at predominantly white schools.” View this post on Instagram A post shared by Black At West Orange (@blackatwestorange) on Jun 24, 2020 at 7:40am PDT Avery LaVergne, a recent graduate of Montclair High School in New Jersey, expressed how it’s frustrating that it took a public Instagram page for the school, which she said prides itself on being “open-minded, diverse, and pretty liberal,” to condemn the racism students have experienced. The 18-year-old decided to publish testimonies that included some names of teachers or specifics about the classes they taught, but not the names of students. “This account doesn’t aim to put a target on anyone’s back,” LaVergne told me. “The school can’t investigate these exact incidents because a person anonymously came forward. But in the future, I want the school board to begin holding teachers accountable with how they treat students.” She acknowledged that there’s a downside to anonymous submissions, especially when it comes to describing specific perpetrators. As a page moderator, LaVergne admitted that she can’t “prove or disprove” a situation, but noted that in the comments of her posts, “it’s quite clear you’ve seen people have similar issues with certain teachers, or noticed patterns of behavior within a department.” For many “Black At” moderators, the goal is not to create what’s akin to a file for their school’s human resources department. The specifics of a student’s story aren’t as important, they say, as bringing to light the trauma and toxicity that students of color face on campus. And while most students have received mainly positive responses from their campus and administrators, some have received pushback on the page from random trolls, community members, or teachers, particularly when it comes to outlining specific incidents. Sol, the account creator of Black at USC, which has over 11,000 Instagram followers, told me she received a tip that some conservative student groups intended to submit false stories in an effort to discredit the page. (I graduated from USC in 2019.) “I had received around 700 submissions when I got a tip-off about their plan, so I had to switch from an anonymous Google form to directly messaging people,” said Sol, a senior who asked to be referred to by the pseudonym out of fear of retaliation. There is a downside to only featuring anonymous submissions, she admitted, but the breadth of responses the account has received only reinforced its message and “legitimized the complaints.” And while USC has outlined a new plan to combat racism, which includes conducting surveys and hosting public forums, Sol doesn’t “think that was an appropriate response at all.” She’s planning to leverage her social media following to present the administration with a list of demands submitted and supported by students, which include changes to how the USC’s public safety department polices students, offering clearer pathways to promotion or tenure for staff and faculty of color, and requiring all campus members to take implicit bias courses. View this post on Instagram A post shared by @black_at_usc on Jul 9, 2020 at 11:03am PDT With the rise of social media activism among young people in recent years, there have been growing concerns about “cancel culture” — a nebulous, often polarizing term to describe how certain people, usually a celebrity or public figure, can be blocked from having a prominent platform or career due to ideological views or past actions that have garnered public backlash. The young people I spoke to for this story, though, recognize the power of social media platforms and are, more often than not, critical of outright “canceling” their peers. “There was a submission about a girl in a sorority at USC, who was named,” Sol said. “But instead I put enough descriptors so that people in her social circle would know who she is and hopefully talk to her, but I didn’t want it to be a place where commenters would start tagging her, her employer, or anything like that. That’s not very productive at all.” Higher education institutions, however, aren’t only facing internal pressure from students, who are calling for more concrete anti-racist plans. Many are struggling with what to do with admitted students who are revealed to have a history of racist, xenophobic, or offensive behaviors, usually on social media. According to the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a pro-free speech organization, there’s been “a tremendous number of cases of students who’ve had their admissions rescinded or are being disciplined by their colleges,” said Samantha Harris, an attorney and senior fellow at FIRE. “Some random person will dig up old social media posts by a student who’s enrolled at a particular school, and usually there will be demands on the university to punish or rescind admissions.” The number of cases and frequency, however, appear to have “reached a zenith in recent weeks,” she told me. The response from an institution can vary, depending on whether a student is at a public or private university, but Harris believes that, now more than ever, colleges need to set forth clearer policies and guidelines on what to do for these situations. “When a university is reactive or responds to something ad hoc, it can be difficult to remain firm in their position because they don’t have a clear policy,” she said. Students have acknowledged that when administrators make symbolic acts, such as publicly rescinding an admission or renaming a building, they feel like they’ve “done enough” — instead of addressing the many institutional problems that continue to exist on campus. “It is easy and in fashion right now to be publicly anti-racist,” Sol said. “It’s much harder to commit to the actual work to do so.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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America’s Health Crisis Is Becoming a Housing Crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is a historical accelerant. It has compressed 10 years of online-shopping growth into a few months, bankrupted chains that were in steady decline, hastened Democratic gains in the Sun Belt, sped up an urban exodus from America’s most expensive cities, and persuaded my grandmother to finally use Instacart. All of this was bound to happen eventually. The coronavirus just mashed its big fat thumb on the fast-forward button.And now a housing problem years in the making is dangerously close to spiraling out of control.Before the pandemic, half of U.S renters spent 30 percent of their income on housing. The poorest quintile of Americans spent more than half their income on rent, on average. Even in a healthy economy, housing costs were eating workers’ wages.Then the plague hit, and low-income workers were hit hardest. With the face-to-face economy shut down, the retail and leisure industries shed tens of millions of jobs in a matter of weeks. An analysis by the NYU Furman Center found that in New York City, the households most likely to face an “economic disruption”—including losing a job, or having hours cut back—spent the highest share of their income on housing.[Annie Lowrey: Cancel rent]Without intervention, the COVID-19-induced economic crisis is in danger of becoming a housing crisis. Data on rent payments are hard to come by, but one survey has found that a third of Americans say they failed to make a full housing payment in June. By September, more than 20 million renters will be at risk of eviction, especially as eviction moratoriums come to an end. Without income, renters can't pay rent and utilities. Without monthly payments, landlords and other companies can’t make mortgages and bond payments.Perhaps this is all starting to sound like a redux of the mid-2000s housing crisis. It’s not. The Great Recession was driven in large part by declining standards in mortgage underwriting. When the bubble burst, foreclosures soared, homes stood empty, housing prices fell, homeownership rates fell, and more people rented in dense cities.The 2020 housing market is the opposite, in almost every way. Demand for downtown apartments is deteriorating. Sales of newly built homes rose faster in June than any month since 2005. Watchdogs perceive no trouble in underwriting. Rather than too many houses, the hot market is defined by a historic undersupply of single-family and multifamily houses, thanks to a decade of insufficient building and, now, the shutdown of new construction in much of the country.Still, one thing unites the crises of 2020 and 2008: the urgent need for intervention by the U.S government. The current housing crisis could get messy quickly, but fixing it shouldn’t be complicated. It will just take something that, unlike public-health competence, the federal government has in nearly infinite supply: money.In March, Congress passed the CARES Act, which distributed a onetime stimulus check to tens of millions of households, expanded unemployment benefits by $600 a week (and made them available to self-employed and gig workers), and authorized the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars to companies to keep them from laying off their workers. Meanwhile, dozens of cities and states passed moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures. Hurried and patchy as these programs might seem, they’ve largely worked to keep people in their homes. They need to be extended imminently, or a terrible economy will get far worse.[Read: The pandemic will cleave America in two]“There are two things we need to do right now,” says Bill McBride, an economic writer at the blog Calculated Risk. “First, we need to keep doing CARES Acts until this is over. If we run the debt up $10 trillion, it will be money saved. Second, we’ve got to get a grip on the pandemic, and that probably means shutting every indoor business down for a few months again and moving as much outdoors as we can.”Pandemics are complicated, but pandemic economics is simple. Get families cash, or people will go hungry and lose their home. Get companies cash, or firms will fire their workers and disappear from their communities. Stop the pandemic, or else suffering and devastation will continue no matter how much cash we spend. The United States has been terrible at following the third rule. But in the next few weeks, Congress has a chance to do what it does best—appropriate money. If it doesn’t, we will all accelerate into a world nobody wants to live in.
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Country Musicians Can’t ‘Shut Up and Sing’ Anymore
The No. 1 song on country radio at the moment is about the joy of tequila, Jimmy Buffet, and crowds. “One Margarita,” by the 43-year-old Georgia-born superstar Luke Bryan, gives a detailed plan for losing one’s faculties to lime-flavored frozen cocktails guzzled with friends. In the music video, crowds wearing sombreros gather with beach balls on some nice sandy shore as Bryan presides in board shorts. Unavoidably, some viewers will be reminded of the infamous Lake of the Ozarks splashathon, or of kids who spent spring break in Florida when much of the country was hunkered down with sourdough starter.But “One Margarita,” released in March, is a pre-COVID-19 recording. And at this phase of our interminable crisis, images like the ones in Bryan’s video fill me with nostalgia rather than revulsion. Sipping a homemade marg on my couch for the 17th week in a row, I just want to be at that big cheesy beach party. I just want normal.Perhaps such cravings for the regular ol’ times explain why country music, replete with visions of barbecues and backwoods, has thrived during our stay-indoors spring and summer. Ever since America’s shutdown began, almost all styles of music have lost streaming listenership. Country’s popularity, on the other hand, has risen: The genre has averaged 11.1 percent more plays since mid-March. There are multiple theories for why this is, but what seems true in any case is that country’s love for a feeling of normalcy is alluring. As a slew of recent scandals and scuffles have demonstrated, however, not even Nashville can maintain the status quo anymore.While pop tends to envision one big night where you transcend your boring condition, and hip-hop often touts material success turning an ordinary life into an extraordinary one, country fetishizes the day-after-day realities of homes, highways, and beer halls. There are exceptions, but typically it’s a genre in which work and family and place all are held up as things that must be defended. You can hear the fierce attachment to the familiar, for example, in the new single “More Than My Hometown,” from the hitmaker Morgan Wallen. The Tennessee singer describes a storybook romance with some woman, but when she wants to move to the city, he bids her farewell, explaining, “I can't love you more than my hometown.”How does a genre in love with routine respond to a moment in which everyone’s lives have been disrupted? One way is by pretending everything is fine—with the psychological escape provided by a song like “One Margarita,” but also perhaps in more concrete ways. It feels telling that the rural-ish and red-voting areas like Georgia and Texas where country music thrives have in many cases been slow to implement shutdowns and quick to reopen. Even as infections have spiked in such places, control measures such as mask-wearing have proved especially controversial. The country-music industry, to be clear, has largely supported pandemic-containment measures, and most of its large events have been canceled. But the genre’s also been home to artists and fans insisting that, one way or another, the show should go on, shutdown be damned.In May, the singer Travis McCready played the nation’s first socially distanced concert at a theater in Arkansas in which fans sat spaced apart. The performance could be a model for concerts in the pandemic age, but as one TV reporter put it when surveying footage of fans in masks quietly watching McCready, “Boy, it sure looks like a library.” Two months later, more boisterous and controversial country concerts were held: The singers Chase Rice and Chris Janson each played to close-packed, predominantly maskless crowds in Tennessee and Idaho, respectively. Both men bragged about the shows on social media, and both had previously recorded songs criticizing pandemic-containment efforts. Rice’s lyrics on Instagram in March went like this: “Dear corona, you don’t know the heart of a country fan … We’re gonna show up, hold our drinks high, sing them songs about trucks and beer.” Janson had sung in April, “We weren’t made to stay inside / I can’t watch my country die.”Rice’s and Janson's social-distance-flouting concerts triggered widespread condemnation, including from many prominent country-music figures. “Imagine being selfish enough to put thousands of people’s health at risk, not to mention the potential ripple effect, and play a NORMAL country concert right now,” the star Kelsea Ballerini tweeted. But Rice and Janson had their prominent defenders too—or at least people who wanted to quiet down the backlash. “It’s amazing how many country artists, songwriters, and media outlets are quick to throw shade at our own people,” the singer Jake Owen said in a tweet. “Sad, really.”Owen is right, in a way, to be amazed that country stars would call out their peers. This is a genre that, famously, maintains its status quo through codes of silence and avoiding controversy. Dolly Parton, for all of her seemingly progressive and feminist lyrics, won’t say whom she’s voted for. Neither will Toby Keith, despite having played Donald Trump’s inauguration. And after the worst mass shooting in modern history took place at a Jason Aldean concert, Aldean has mostly stayed mum about his views on gun control. The saga of the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks, whose country career never recovered after an on-stage diss of then-President George W. Bush in 2003, is legendary. (Meanwhile, the titans of other popular genres thrive on the attention garnered from weighing in on tricky debates or feuding with other celebs.) But in 2020, polite quietude on the issues of the day—and on the behavior of one’s peers—has become harder for country stars to maintain.That’s not only been because of the coronavirus. The nationwide reckoning with systemic racism has also been sharply felt in a genre that, while of diverse roots, has a largely white listenership. Many country singers, including A-listers such as Maren Morris and Little Big Town, have loudly signaled support for protesters. But some stars have been silent—which is now, in itself, controversial. The country artist Mickey Guyton tweeted, “Why is it so hard for some people to publicly denounce racism?,” to which Morris replied, “They think it’s polarizing their fan base or is ‘political’ which it is 100% fucking not.” When the writer Lorie Liebig compiled a spreadsheet of which stars had said what about the recent Black Lives Matter protests, that tracking effort became a flash point, with one country blog comparing it to “Hollywood blacklists and Gestapo papers.”The most potent instances of speaking out have come from Black people in the country world. On Instagram, the singer Darius Rucker shared his anguish about George Floyd’s death; he later went on Today and discussed racism he’d faced from radio programmers. Jimmie Allen broke into tears on a country-music podcast before sharing a memory of when, right after one of his singles landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, a police officer acted aggressively toward him during a traffic stop. Black fans have been vocal too. When a woman named Rachel Berry wrote on Instagram about feeling uncomfortable at concerts and festivals because of visible Confederate flags and the possibility of racist harassment, her post went viral and a number of major country stars commented supportively on it.Perhaps the most dramatic sign of recent events challenging country-music complacency can be seen in the renamings that a pair of bands announced last month. The group once known as Lady Antebellum, a country fixture since 2006 that had a No. 1 country-radio single just this past January, said in June that it was changing its name to just Lady A. The band said it initially chose the word antebellum for the vague Southern nostalgia it evoked, but, according to band’s statement, the group “did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before The Civil War, which includes slavery.” A similar story played out with the Dixie Chicks, who became just “the Chicks” in June in order to disavow the racist baggage attached to the term dixie. Both bands’ name changes demonstrate the extent to which ideas of heritage, tradition, and pastoralism baked into country music are tied up with ugly parts of American history—history that’s ever harder to ignore.But for Lady A, the attempt to signal support of Black Lives Matter has become a case study in alleged white hypocrisy. It turned out that Anita White, a Black blues singer from Seattle, had been using the name Lady A for two decades. The country act initially professed ignorance of White’s existence, and then announced that a truce had been brokered, whereby both artists would keep the Lady A name and potentially collaborate. But last week, the platinum-selling band sued White, writing, “Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended.” The band says she’d asked for a $10 million payment, leading them to take legal action to ensure their right to use the name without paying her. White has said she’d indeed asked for $5 million for the right to use the name, plus a $5 million donation to charities of her choice. “If you want to be an advocate or an ally, you help those who you’re oppressing,” White told Vulture. “And that might require you to give up something because I am not going to be erased.”The Chicks, meanwhile, are about to release Gaslighter, their first batch of songs since 2006. Back then, country radio’s boycott—cancellation?—of the Chicks for criticizing the Iraq War did not succeed in getting the band to quiet down, and they remain outspoken on Gaslighter. Produced by the pop artist Jack Antonoff, the album is a lively and thumping stylistic pastiche with biting lyrics about personal matters and politics. On the single “March, March,” the Chicks speak out for abortion rights, for gun control, and to raise questions about Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. Its accompanying video is packed with images from the recent protests, culminating with a list of Black people killed by police. The song’s banjos and harmonies sound like country music, but the listener is left with a jolting, tense feeling far from the soothing haze offered by old Chicks songs like “Wide Open Spaces.” This is the sound of a band insisting that everything is not fine and normal—or maybe that normal was never all that fine.
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