I'm Destinee and this is where I share my life, my work, and my heart. As an activist and multi-passionate creative, you'll find a little bit of everything I love here. I may not be for everyone, but I hope that you'll feel welcomed, encouraged, and inspired from this online space.
The last two weeks have been wild, to say the least! My video calling out the racist dog whistles in Jason Aldean’s new song “Try That In A Small Town,” as well as the music video, went viral practically overnight. I was petty and curious, and I started a conversation that caught the internet by storm….a tsunami, if you will. My social media following more than doubled in the last week. I’ve received dozens of messages and emails from folks all around the country thanking me for the work I’m doing because it helped them have a better understanding of the covert ways racism can manifest. I have also been mentioned in numerous articles and interviewed by several major news networks like Insider, NBC, The Washington Post, and most recently was featured in a short segment on prime time television for Entertainment Tonight. All of those are great things and I truly feel blessed to have had the opportunities to use my platform to call attention to this issue, but I have also been inundated with threats against my life and some of the most vile messages I’ve ever read. I debated posting these, but I don’t know where else to share them other than here because if I post them on social media platforms, they quickly get taken down because of how violent the messages are. This is one of the only places I can post these screen shots without getting banned so here are just a few of the violent messages I’ve received because I spoke out against racism. *****Massive trigger warning as I will not be censoring the racist language, fatphobic insults, death threats, or the calls for me to end my own life. I also will not be censoring out names of the people who sent these messages, although I am sure that most of them are not real names to begin with.
While those messages were clearly full of overtly racist insults, much of the “day-to-day” racism will be more subtle and casual. If you don’t know what a “dog whistle” is, that’s okay! I’m going to briefly explain it to you. “Dog whistling” is a tactic widely used by politicians as coded language with implied meaning. “Dog whistles” aren’t just used to discreetly convey racism. They can be used for any form of bigotry. There can be “dog whistles” for language that is racist, misogynistic, homophobic/transphobic, etc. A few common dog whistles you may have heard are buzz words like “liberal, woke, or inner city.” Terms like “liberal and woke” are often used by conservatives to describe anyone who dares to give a shit about other human beings. Terms like “inner city” was used widely in the 1990s and 2000s to describe poor, communities of color.
To have an understanding of the many different genres of dog whistles and how they are problematic, one should understand that coded language is fluid. What was once considered “socially acceptable” language to describe certain people, places, or things, may no longer be accepted socially. At one point in history, it was “socially acceptable” for white people to use the n-word to describe Black people, and today in 2023, a good portion of the American population recognizes that is no longer acceptable. So, language is fluid. Please keep that in mind. What is acceptable today, might not be acceptable five or ten years from now.
Considering that coded language is constantly evolving as affected populations define what is and is not acceptable terms to be described by, it should be understood that dog whistles are dog whistles for a reason. People use dog whistles to subtly signal like-minded people to communicate with them about topics that are historically controversial. For example, a conservative person in a new social setting may try and get a feel for who they would be “safe” to discuss their beliefs with, might say something like, “Yeah, well you know, the woke media always has to be ‘politically correct.'” Their use of coded language here might imply that the media is controlled by the left and “woke” has become a euphamism to describe people who are more politically progressive, often active in the social and racial justice scene. Notice how they made that statement without directly disparaging any one group of people. They didn’t mention race, or gender, or even a specific political party. The word “woke” has become socially aligned with left-leaning politics and is often used as an insult from more politically conservative folks. Now that you hopefully understand what a dog whistle is, and how those can manifest, let’s get back to talking about the video.
I posted that original video at nearly midnight on a Saturday night and it was sparking controversy by morning. The fact that the post gained such traction overnight honestly shocked me because a Saturday night that close to midnight is the absolute worst time for me to post. Videos that I typically post that late at night, especially on the weekends, never do great engagement-wise. That video was also not “planned content.” It was a late night rant I made after hearing the song for the first time on the radio earlier that day. If I knew that my starting of a conversation that would eventually lead to CMT removing the music video from their network, I certainly would’ve made a more planned out video and scripted exactly what I wanted to say in advance. I will likely always cringe thinking about how candid and casual I made my points on this very important topic, because again, I never thought people would actually see that video; but I do not regret starting the conversation.
The title of the song alone is arguably a dog whistle in and of itself. “Try That in a Small Town” is an indirect threat essentially saying, “fuck around and find out,” to anyone supporters of the song feel “deserves” to be “handled” via vigilantism. In addition to the coded messaging of the song title, most of the music video shows Aldean “performing” the song with his band in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee. This courthouse has been the center of racial tensions for many years, but it’s also the site of the horrific kidnapping, murder, and lynching of a Black teenager named Henry Choate less than a hundred years ago, in 1927. While that may sound like it was a long time ago, to put it into perspective, my grandmother was born just a few years later and there are people who are still very much alive that were born in 1927. I did a several part series on TikTok talking about what occurred at the Maury County Courthouse and why it was a completely inappropriate place to shoot a music video like this, especially considering the focal point of most of the music video was an American flag that hung on the courthouse’s second floor, right where Henry Choate was lynched. The Courthouse was also the center of a violent race riot in 1946 where the police raided the Black neigborhood in Columbia, referred to as Mink Slide. They destroyed businesses and homes, arrested Black people in mass, and confiscated hundreds of weapons without warrants or probable cause to do so.
In addition to the atrocities that occurred around the Maury County Courthouse, I would also like to point out that the entirety of the courthouse “performance” by Aldean and his band takes place at night while it’s dark. In the last 10-15 seconds of the song, the music video’s ending cinematic shot is an aerial view of Columbia during sundown. Columbia is less than 40 minutes away from Pulaski, Tennessee, which was the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, so while Columbia may not have been a sundown town, there were surely other nearby cities that were…so relevance is plenty. Also, considering that the “performance” by Aldean and his band only took place after dark, the insertion of the aerial view at sundown just isn’t relevant outside the context of hinting at Sundown Towns. What surprised me the most after posting these videos, was just how many people had never even heard of a Sundown Town. Prevalent in the South, they were cities, towns, and sometimes entire counties that barred access to Black citizens or visitors after dark. Historically, these mostly white towns were dangerous for Black citizens to move about in during the day, but especially after dark as they would be harassed, beat, and many times, lynched, just for existing in places white citizens didn’t want them in. This violence was carried out by white vigilantes who often said things like, “Don’t try that here in my town.” So if you can gain an understanding of the significance of the historical data we have on sundown towns, and what Black citizens were and were not allowed to do, having a song of this context end on a view of the town at sundown….it’s screaming how inappropriate that is. When I heard the lyrics and saw the image of the sundown, all I could think of was this scene from HBO’s Lovecraft Country. While Lovecraft Country is a fictional show for television, many of the scenes are based on real events.
The song starts out talking about people who commit crimes like car-jackings and robbing liquor stores–both of which are crimes stereotypically “assigned” to Black men, especially. As this article from the Department of Justice states, “African-Americans do account for a disproportionate amount of crime arrests and are disproportionately convicted and incarcerated. However, public estimates of African-American criminality surpass reality. The media perpetuate ideas linking race with criminality, which have been reinforced by political agendas. All of these phenomena have served to solidfy the stereotype of the young African-American man as a criminal threat among the public in contemporary American society, thereby fueling the practice of racial profiling by criminal justice officials.”
Not only is it fact that Black Americans are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated; but Black Americans are also seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. So from the jump, the lyrics of Jason Aldean’s song that talk about people who commit crimes such as car-jackings and robbing liquor stores are already feeding into a stereotype that is disproportionately assigned to Black Americans. These stereotypes exist regardless of whether race was mentioned in the lyrics or not. The writers could’ve mentioned a plethora of other crimes that were not stereotypically assigned to Black Americans, like perpatrators of child abuse for example, but they didn’t. According to Statista, perpetrators of child abuse are more than two times as likely to be white than they are Black. Considering #ProtectTheChildren is all over the place on conservative media these days, and Jason Aldean and his former mistress turned wife, Brittany, have taken a strict stance on the protection of children, why not mention people that commit child abuse in his song since that’s such an important issue to them? Oh right…that wouldn’t fuel the narrative they’ve aligned themselves with.
While of course I recognize people of all races commit car-jackings and liquor store robberies, I also recognize that those crimes in particular are often stereotypically assigned to Black people as the perpetrators because of the reasons I’ve listed here. One of the main criticisms I received after posting that first video was that because *I* was the one to make the association of crime and race, that makes *me* the racist. To those people I say this: There is a difference between having an understanding of socially constructed racist stereotypes and actually believing them to be true. As a college student double majoring in Criminal Justice and African American Studies, it is literally part of my study to be aware of the intersectionality of racial stereotypes and crime. That doesn’t make me “racist.” That makes me educated in my field of study.
Without ever mentioning race, the lyrics are already set up from the beginning to push a certain narrative while the writers and Jason Aldean are shielded under the protection of plausible deniability. They can pretend that they weren’t playing right into these racial stereotypes to support their narrative, but folks who are well-versed in identifying these subtle micro-aggressions (who are also likely to be those affected by them) could spot them a mile away.
Then the lyrics go on to talk about people who cuss at and spit on police officers, as well as stomping on the American flag. This was the most obvious dog whistle to me because as someone who is active in the Black Lives Matter activism space, I am fully aware of the narrative that conservatives peddle about us. The writers of this song, Kurt Allison, Kelley Lovelace, Neil Thrasher and Tully Kennedy appear to have taken a few pages from the propaganda manual over at Fox News to write this song because let’s be real here…there is no other mass movement in modern day American history that’s had more of a stereotyped reputation applied to them for “hating cops” and “burning cities down” than the Black Lives Matter protesters of 2020 and beyond. After reading through my comment section, it’s obvious that having the social awareness to read between the lines and understand the biased narrative they’re peddling is apparently a skill that not everyone is equipped with. I would also like to point out that cussing at police officers and stomping on any flag, really, are protected activities under the First Amendment…yet Jason Aldean’s song dares you to “Try That in a Small Town.” If I could ask the writers and Jason Aldean some questions about this song, I’d have a lot but I would definitely want to ask them this: So you expect community vigilantes to “do something” about people who are fully within their constitutional rights to participate in lawful activities like stomping on the American flag or cussing at cops? That’s a big shift in the goal post if it went from doing something about criminals that rob liquor stores and carjack people at redlights to cussing at a cop and stomping on a piece of fabric….but I digress.
So, if one has an understanding of these social constructs and stereotypes, even without seeing the music video, it should be clear as day to know who they are referring to…but then to see the violent protest footage they used in the music video to convey their message and still claim they’re not playing into racist stereotypes is wild. Like I mentioned, there is no other mass movement in modern American history that’s had the stereotype of “burning cities down” assigned to them by conservatives more than the Black Lives Matter protesters of 2020. So seeing the imagery of violent protests where people are assaulting police officers and setting fire to anything and everything, it would understandably put any conservative into a fear tailspin. That was the entire point….using images of propaganda to instill fear in already riled up American “patriots.” If those who disagree with my commentary on this Jason Aldean shit can articulate another mass protest movement in modern history in the United States that they could be referring to here other than the Black Lives Matter movement, I’d be open to listening but I know they can’t do that. There truly is no larger movement in the recent years of this country than that for racial justice and equality.
This brings me to my next point. Much of the protest footage in the music video is 10+ years old and from protests that took place in other global cities such as Berlin, Germany; Montreal, Quebec; Toronto, Ontario; and Kyiv, Ukraine. It is quite literally conservative propaganda.
Given the context of the song being about American values in Small Town, USA and the narrative that the song is pushing, which I think is adequately summed up in the title of the song, the imagery used to express that context and narrative should be authentic to the issues implied. I think that transparency is really important. Not only is it a personal value of mine, but I think that anyone with a platform to influence, especially politics, should be transparent. They shouldn’t weaponize their platform to manipulate the public or to instill fear, which is what I believe this song and music video are doing. When dealing with controversial political issues like what protesting looks like in America, I think it’s really important to make sure that we are consuming truthful, accurate information, because the alternative is consuming misinformation which has the ability to instill fear and paranoia that leads to situations where young people are going to protests in towns they don’t live in, armed with rifles they’re too young to own, to protect property they have no relation to; and that fear can push people to do impulsive, irrational, and dangerous things. And if it doesn’t push them to act impulsively, at the very least, the mere presence of them being there looking as if they’re prepared for war, has the ability to heighten tensions and cause more conflict.
So many people think about this as a surface level issue, like, “Oh it’s not that deep. It’s just a song.” But the reality is that consuming propagandized media like this has a very dangerous and real trickle down effect. One that can manipulate the public into being so afraid of people that are different from them, that they shoot them just for knocking on their front door by mistake. People have a right to know if the media that’s informing their perspective on life, their voting decisions, and who they should or should not fear, is being manipulated by the spread of misinformation and propaganda.
In a public statement on social media, Jason Aldean claimed that, “there isn’t a single video clip that isn’t real news footage.” Not only did that turn out to be completely false in some areas, but it was a manipulation of the truth in others. The video footage of violent protests flash across the screen so quickly, our brains don’t even have enough time to fully process what we are seeing. Quick glimpses of violent uprisings leaves blanks that our brains fill in to make a story make sense. The people viewing his music video for the first time, likely believed that what they were seeing was real footage from the Black Lives Matter protests here in the United States in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd. That’s not even remotely close to what they were actually seeing and I believe that people have a right to know if the information that’s informing how they vote and navigate the world, is propaganda. So I watched the music video on 0.25x speed and picked apart as many of the protest video clips as I could and I’m sharing my findings with you.
Since the media certainly has a major influence to inform important decisions for voters nationwide, I think that people have a right to know if the alleged “real news footage” in this music video is authentic to the country we live, work, and vote in. Jason Aldean and his creative team had a moral obligation to the public to be transparent about the footage they included in his music video, and unfortunately they were not. Let’s take a look at where some of the footage from his music video originated.
This clip of a person with a baseball bat and fire in the background was not real news footage from any protest. It was stock footage created for the sole purpose of being sold as stock footage commercially. This stock footage is credited to an account titled “utaem2022” on Shutterstock and according to their account page, is located in Kazakhstan but on their Pond 5 account which I’ll mention later, their location is listed as Russia…either way…not in the U.S.
This clip of a person lighting a molotov cocktail is also not real news footage from any protest. It is stock footage created during what appears to be a controlled commercial video shoot for the sole purpose of being sold as stock footage commercially. This stock footage was filmed by a company named CleverArts, who according to their instagram is based in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
This clip is from a Labor Day event in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany on May 1, 2017. While there are protests in support of worker’s rights that occur on their annual Labor Day, this specific clip appears to be from a festival considering everyone in the background appears to be socializing, not protesting. This was one of the first clips that I identified as not being authentic to the U.S. In this video, I detail how I used the German writing on this person’s bag and the orange building in the background to identify this event as taking place in front of a mexican restrautant in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany called “Que Pasa.”
This clip is from the Hrushevskoho Street Riots in Kyiv, Ukraine on January 20, 2014. This footage is from a protest that was in response to new anti-protest laws that Ukraine had set forth after a series of riots that began in November 2013, demanding for the resignation of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union. Obviously, these protests have nothing to do with American politics or the Black Lives Matter movement.
This very short clip of a person throwing a molotov cocktail is also not real news footage. It flashes across the screen as an overlayed image so quickly, it’s very easy to miss it in the music video. The clip is from a controlled video shoot created for the sole purpose of being sold as commercial stock footage. The creator of this stock footage goes by Viatkins and their account page states that they are located in Germany.
This clip was taken from a protest on Bankova Street in Kyiv, Ukraine that took place on December 1, 2013. This protest became a series of protests turned riots that began in November 2013 demanding for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to resign after he rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union. Again, not at all relevant to American politics and this clip should’ve been a dead giveaway that it wasn’t footage from an American protest because I assure you American police would NEVER stand there and let people throw objects like bricks at them without at least trying to open fire on a crowd of people.
This clip depicting a group of protesters walking under a bridge with flares (or torches?) is again, you guessed it….commercial stock footage. When I first began investigating the origin of this particular clip, the first evidence I found that it was stock footage is that it was used in a music video for Tom Morello’s “Raising Hell” featuring Ben Harper. The irony of Jason Aldean using the same clip as Tom Morello, a known political activist and musician, who was on the front lines of social justice protests for most of his adult life, is not lost on me.
Here is the first clip I was able to positively identify as having been taken in the U.S., but it’s from the 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the third meeting of the G20 heads of state/government, to discuss the global financial system and the world economy. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the fact that this footage is almost 14 years old and not at all relevant to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and beyond.
This clip is taken from a protest in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on February 26, 2013. The premise of this protest? It was mostly students who were protesting the rise in college tuition costs. So….it’s from 10 years ago and not at all relevant to American politics or the Black Lives Matter movement.
This clip was taken from the Catalonia Independence protests at Carrer Roger de Flor in Barcelona Spain on October 16, 2019. Obviously having nothing to do with American politics or issues, what’s even more ironic is this clip was previously used as propaganda at the Republican National Convention in August 2020 to illustrate what “Biden’s America” would look like. The lack of creativity on the part of conservatives will never cease to amaze me. Using recycled propaganda footage that is so easily searchable on the internet is wildly on brand for them.
This is another clip taken from the protest on Bankova Street in Kyiv, Ukraine that took place on December 1, 2013 that I mentioned earlier. As a reminder, this protest became a series of protests turned riots that began in November 2013 demanding for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to resign after he rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union.
This is another clip taken from the student protests in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on February 26, 2013 that I mentioned earlier. As a reminder, they were protesting a rise in tuition costs.
This clip is from one of the many Euromaidan Revolution protests in Kyiv, Ukraine in January 2014. As a reminder, these were a series of protests in response to new anti-protest laws that Ukraine had set forth after a series of riots that began in November 2013, demanding for the resignation of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union.
This is another commercial stock footage clip. This one is from the creator I mentioned earlier with the account name of “utaem2022” and their location on Pond 5 is listed as Russia. As I mentioned earlier, their location is listed as Kazakhstan on Shutterstock. I don’t think I need to elaborate on why using footage of things that didn’t actually happen to illustrate things you’re implying were regular occurrences during American protests, is problematic. Right?
This clip was taken from the March 16, 2014 riot in Kyiv, Ukraine. As mentioned previously, there were a series of protests that occurred beginning in November 2013 demanding for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union and in January 2014, protests aligning with that cause and fighting against anti-protest laws led to some of these protests.
Yet another clip taken from the February 26, 2013 Protest in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where students were protesting the rise in tuition costs.
I couldn’t find an exact date for this clip, but I was able to find that it was from protests that occurred in Kyiv, Ukraine. My best guess is that this may have been from the protests I’ve mentioned in this post from 2013-2014.
This footage is from the riots that took place on June 26-27, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada during the G20 Summit, which was the fourth meeting of the G20 heads of state/government, to discuss the global financial system and the world economy. The 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, was the predecessor of this event. Also, an interesting sidenote is that Toronto Police were ordered to pay out $16.5 million in a class action lawsuit because about 1,100 protesters were wrongfully detained during this event. That’s not to excuse the behavior seen in these clips, but I think it’s important context considering the premise of “Try That in a Small Town” is insinuating that it’s wrong to protest against the police, as if the police are never in the wrong. I just think it’s ironic that Jason Aldean’s song is meant to support police or paint them in a positive light, yet they used footage from a protest where the police wrongfully detained over one thousand people and had to pay out millions of dollars in damages because of it.
Yet another clip from the February 26, 2013 protests in Montreal, Quebec, Canada over rising tuition costs.
Another clip taken from the January 20, 2014 Hrushevskoho Street Riots at Dynamo Stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine over new anti-protesting laws and Euromaidan protests.
More footage from the December 1, 2013 protest on Bankova Street in Kyiv, Ukraine calling for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych after he rejected a deal for greater integration with the European Union.
The context of this song gives off the vibe of being pro-America and pro-police, while criticizing the the largest American social justice movement in modern history, Black Lives Matter. The use of these extreme images of violent protests and riots feeds the false narrative that consservatives have been pushing for years that imply Black Lives Matter protests are violent riots and insinuates that they won’t put up with “that shit” in small towns. The song goes on to talk about taking up arms to protect their communities from what the implied “threat” is in this song. Even though an overwhelming majority of Black Lives Matter protests were completely peaceful and non-violent, we know that this is a “hot-button topic” that many politicians built their entire platforms on. These topics get people talking, and the more people that talk about this song and music video, the more money he and his label makes from this song. Unfortunately, fear mongering sparks outrage, and outrage sells. The use of propaganda in the realm of political conversation is an effective marketing tool. Using such extreme footage from other countries for this music video pushes the narrative that protestors are violent rioters whom small towns should fear and take up arms against. It’s a very dangerous message that is emboldening people all around the country to take part in vigilantism. Propaganda works to evoke a scarcity mindset that puts people in fight or flight, and this song is encouraging a fight response in my opinion by playing on the fears of already-riled up Americans. So no, I’m not just on the internet complaining about a song. I’m pointing to the very real harms these stereotypes and narratives fuel. Political propaganda like this literally influences how people vote and interact with others….I don’t understand how more people aren’t seeing this as a big deal.
At the end of the day, Jason Aldean is still going to be a rich and famous man who is cashing in on fueling the divide between “small town USA” and “the big bad Democrat run cities.” Even though Jason Aldean is from the fourth largest city in Georgia and currently owns not one, but two homes in Nashville, Tennessee, he thinks singing about small town America as if he can relate? Get the fuck out of here. He’s cashing in on a hot-button topic without regard to how his propaganda is fueling the flames of racism, hatred, and bigotry in this country.
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Back on July 21st, TikToker and Activist Danny Collins, posted a video calling out the 1950s newspaper clipping that was used in the promotional lyric video posted on Jason Aldean’s TikTok on May 19th, but has since been deleted. The clipping originated from a local newspaper in a Mississippi small town, referencing the violent consequences the author experienced as a result of standing up against racism and segregation. This article does a good job of explaining the details of that newspaper clipping in more depth. I did a “stitch” follow up video to Danny’s on July 22nd calling out this blatant display of intimidation under the guise of “community protection.”
Today on August 5th, I discovered that not only was the promotional lyric video deleted from Jason Aldean’s TikTok account as of August 5th (maybe before), but that the same video on his YouTube channel has been altered to conceal the 1950s newspaper clipping. I posted a video on TikTok detailing the manipulations that were made to conceal the newspaper clipping, including adding blur to the newspaper clippings and rearranging them to cover the specific clipping in question.
These alterations to the lyric video come after several video clips were removed from the official music video. It seems that as soon as specific parts of their production gets called out, they go in and quietly manipulate the videos to cover their tracks (essentially trying to gaslight those that call them out in the process). Unfortunately for them, they underestimate the information that internet sleuths can uncover and the thing about us, is we always come with receipts. Stay petty and stay curious, friends.