Woke White Reporter Says Song Is Racist. Turns Out Abolitionists Were Ones Behind It


It’s not easy being woke.

Sure, you know that “Thomas the Tank Engine” is neo-colonialist and Katy Perry is a cultural appropriator. You not only know your liberal Naomis — Klein and Wolf — but you know which one is way too white privileged. (Wolf, obviously.) Even though the organizers of the Women’s March may have been mostly disgraced, you dearly hold onto your pink knit hat — even if you’re a 47-year-old man.

If you’re a journalist and there’s some sort of major event coming up, you also know there’s no better time to hop aboard the outrage train and point out the racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/colonialist or whatever element behind it. What better way to start the conversation about our sordid past than to talk about how <insert major cultural event here> reinforces <insert outrage here> through <insert tradition here>, and #TheResistance?

But therein lies the difficult part of wokeness: Do you actually know what you’re talking about?

Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier Journal should probably be happy that Sunday’s Kentucky Derby produced a controversial result in which the winning horse was disqualified. I say that only because we might otherwise remember the event for his shockingly stupid Op-Ed lamenting the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” before the Derby.

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“Welcome to Kentucky, where our state song is so damn depressing, we won’t sing the last two verses because, well, they’re about black people being sold down the river to work in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana,” Gerth wrote.

“My Old Kentucky Slave Quarters,” he continued. “That’s what Stephen Foster should have named the song that became Kentucky’s official state ditty back in 1928.

“I mean, who wouldn’t long for the Bluegrass State when the alternative was being sold to masters in the Deep South, away from family, where slave owners were believed to be exceptionally cruel.

“Our brand of slavery was soooo much better than the slavery practiced in Mississippi and Alabama. Yeah. Right. But we still sing the song every year just before the Kentucky Derby.

Do you think "My Old Kentucky Home" is racist?

“Thousands of drunk people smiling, swaying and mouthing lyrics about a poor mythical black man whose miserable life became more miserable 167 years ago,” he continued. “It’s time to stop.”

Except, as Erick Erickson argued at The Resurgent, this was “a piece of peak woke stupidity.”

“My Old Kentucky Home was penned by Stephen Foster. It was inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, an abolitionist novel. It became influential in the abolitionist movement in the run up to the Civil War,” he wrote.

He then quoted a San Francisco Chronicle article on the song:

“‘My Old Kentucky Home’ was different. It is a lament by a slave who has been sold by his master and, bound for the Deep South, must say goodbye to his beloved birthplace. It hints at the brutal mistreatment he faces: ‘The head must bow and the back will have to bend . . . In the field where the sugar-canes grow.’

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“In a 2010 interview with NPR, music critic Ken Emerson, who wrote a biography of Foster, said ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ was inspired by the anti-slavery novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’

“’Ironically,’ Emerson said, “here is a song that was inspired by a great abolitionist novel, and which no less a leader than Frederick Douglass himself singled out as a song that awakens the sympathies for the slave, in which anti-slavery principles take root and flourish. So, like all of Foster’s music, it’s thick with contradictions that, to this day, I think, are part of the American experience.”

But that’s the thing about wokeness: It cannot withstand contradictions. There is a thin sliver of correctness on the left and a whole lot of Not Appropriate everywhere else.

So, maybe by any other yardstick, Joseph Gerth’s take on “My Old Kentucky Home” is ridiculous. But by the standards of wokeness, it’s indeed smart.

The point of wokeness is that almost everything that’s come before this moment in America is very wrong. Frontier America, the building of our cities, military heroism, the Super Bowl, the Fourth of July, Johnny Cash, Eliot Ness, Thomas Jefferson, the Indianapolis 500 — wrong, wrong, wrong.

Erick Erickson may think that Gerth is an idiot who doesn’t get the meaning of the tune. I humbly disagree. He gets it, all right. Frederick Douglass‘ taste just isn’t woke enough for his standards.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture