How Racist Do You Have to Be to Defend Someone Who Asked You to Stop Defending the Racist Slurs They Used?

Fans have put up billboards in support of Morgan Wallen, who was caught on tape using the n-word in February

morgan wallen
Morgan Wallen performs at The Cowan at Topgolf on June 03, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Getty Images for CMT

Ever since he was caught on tape saying the n-word back in February — and, in fact, before that, when he was booted from a Saturday Night Live performance after being caught on tape partying and ignoring COVID-19 social distancing requirements in Alabama — country singer Morgan Wallen’s fans have rushed to his defense. They’ve streamed and bought his album in droves to protect him from being “canceled,” making it the No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 charts for a whopping 10 consecutive weeks. But what can defending Wallen so fiercely actually mean, other than, “I think using horrific racial slurs is acceptable”?

The latest example of Wallen’s out-of-control fans’ going out of their way to defend the indefensible comes in the form of some digital billboards that have cropped out around Nashville. As Rolling Stone reports, the billboards — which read “His Fan’s [sic] Choice: Entertainer of the Year” and urge people to “Support That Boy From ‘East Tennessee!’” — did not initially disclose who paid for them, but they now include a line about being “Paid for by Darleen Ingram and 824 Loyal Fans.”

The “Entertainer of the Year” reference implies that the billboards are meant as a show of support leading up to this Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards in Nashville. In the wake of the n-word scandal, the Academy said it would “halt” Wallen’s “potential involvement and eligibility” for this year’s ceremony.

But what the fans responsible for the billboards have chosen to ignore is the face that Wallen himself has accepted the consequences of his actions and admitted there’s no excuse for what he did. In one of several apology videos, Wallen asked his fans not to defend him. “I have one favor to ask,” he said in the video. “I appreciate those who still see something in me and have defended me. But for today, please don’t. I was wrong. It’s on me to take ownership for this. And I fully accept any penalties I’m facing.”

If Wallen can accept those penalties, why can’t his fans? Public displays of support for him reek of racism, especially when he has specifically requested that they stop. If it was really simply about being a big Morgan Wallen fan, they’d respect his wishes and stand down. But, of course, there’s something more sinister at play when you throw all your unsolicited support behind someone who was caught using a despicable racial slur.

No one expects Wallen to be canceled forever. People are capable of growth and change, but in order to do so, we need to give them the time and space to learn from their mistakes. Forgiveness is possible once someone like Wallen can demonstrate their evolution with actions. Let’s see Wallen use his massive platform to speak out about racial injustice, champion Black country artists and maybe donate some of the many millions of dollars his album Dangerous has raked in to charities that promote diversity and equality. Then we can talk about a potential comeback. But to blindly absolve him of his sins from the get-go — against his own wishes — is nothing short of a tacit endorsement of racism.

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