A Morgan Wallen Apology Isn’t Enough to Fix Country Music’s Race Problem

Wallen appeared on "Good Morning America" on Friday to apologize again for the video of him using a racial slur. But has he done the work?

Morgan Wallen
Morgan Wallen accepts and award onstage during the The 54th Annual CMA Awards at Nashville’s Music City Center on Wednesday, November 11, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for CMA)
Getty Images for CMA

It’s been almost six months since footage of country singer Morgan Wallen using the n-word was released by TMZ on Feb. 2, but for some reason, we’re just now getting a lengthy TV interview in which he attempts to explain himself. Wallen was interviewed by host Michael Strahan on Friday’s episode of Good Morning America, where he revisited the video and provided an update on the work he’s done in the months since its release to maintain his sobriety and reach out to the Black community.

Wallen revealed that the video was filmed while he was on “hour 72 of a 72-hour bender” and mentioned that he checked himself into a rehab facility in San Diego for 30 days in the wake of the scandal to try and figure out “why am I acting this way? Do I have an alcohol problem? Do I have a deeper issue?”

Still, it doesn’t sound like he was able to come up with a very satisfactory answer to those questions. The musician told Strahan that he’s “not sure” why he felt entitled to use such an awful racial slur and ultimately attributed it to his lack of knowledge. “I think I was just ignorant about it,” he said. “I don’t think I sat down and was, like, ‘Hey, is this right or is this wrong?’”

Wallen also stammered a bit when Strahan asked him if he understands now why the n-word “makes Black people so upset.” “I don’t know how to put myself in their shoes because I’m not,” he said, “But I do understand, especially when I say I’m using it playfully or whatever, ignorantly, I understand that that must sound, you know, like, ‘He doesn’t — he doesn’t understand.’”

It’s true that he’ll never truly be able to put himself in the shoes of Black people, but that answer still leaves much to be desired. Anyone with a vague understanding of American history should understand why that word is so ugly; it’s not just a matter of “he doesn’t understand.” Still, Wallen does seem remorseful, and he outlined the way he sought to offset the spike in his album sales due to racist fans attempting to “support” him after the video by donating to BIPOC-focused charities.

“Before this incident my album was already doing well,” he explained. “It was already being well-received by critics and by fans. Me and my team noticed that whenever this whole incident happened that there was a spike in my sales. So we tried to calculate what the number of — how much it actually spiked from this incident. We got to a number somewhere around $500,000, and we decided to donate that money to some organizations — BMAC [the Black Music Action Coalition] being the first one.”

That’s a great first step, but it sounds as though Wallen needs to do a little more introspection. When asked whether the country music industry has a race problem, he responded, “It would seem that way, yeah,” but he followed that up with, “I haven’t really sat and thought about that.”

Why not? It’s not enough to simply acknowledge a problem; Wallen and other white country artists have an obligation to work toward solutions. He did a lot right: apologizing, working on himself in rehab, refusing to allow his fans to support his use of the slur and reaching out to Black leaders — Wallen also claimed he spoke with record executive Kevin Liles, chief people and inclusion officer at Universal Music Group Eric Hutcherson, and gospel singer BeBe Winans — were all appropriate moves. But if he wants to be a true ally, he needs to spend more time educating himself about the systemic racism present in his field so he can begin doing the work to help combat it.

There’s still a long way to go before country music is able to fix its race problem, and Wallen is far from the only person in the industry who could use a couple lessons in critical race theory. But if he’s genuinely interested in making amends, he has a unique opportunity to lead by example. And that starts with looking in the mirror and digging a little deeper into his own prejudices, whether they’re born of ignorance or not.

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