So we're venting, huh? Let's start with a quote.
"Memphis has always been willfully ignorant of the transcendent artists walking its streets, willfully negligent of the African-American culture that produced them." — Robert Gordon
The "Party Like a Redneck" mug pictured on this page was the first thing I saw when I walked into the Beale Street Landing visitors center a couple of years ago. I was with my good friend Victoria, and we were checking out the location with hopes of possibly doing a large event in the area.
I saw it, laughed, walked away, and had to come back and take a picture of it. I couldn't believe that this was the first object people saw as they walked into the visitors center.
- Memphis — the home of the redneck?
I then looked around the room, to see what else was there — specifically looking to see what kind of representation black people had in this room. ... You know, the visitors center for a city that's almost 70 percent black and historically has been made internationally famous thanks to the artistic creations and contributions of black people.
What did I see in that visitors center? A whole bunch of Elvis. There was an image of B.B. King behind the counter, and a few other items were on display with the images of blues/soul singers from the '60s/'70s — black entertainers holding guitars, saxophones, etc. But what I was really looking for was the proportional representation to how black this city is. Was there something relating to black culture similar to whatever "party like a redneck" is to white culture?
Then I thought to myself, "You've spent 30-plus years in Memphis. Have you ever run up on a 'redneck' party?"
Nah. Memphis is so black, where would something like that happen in this city? Maybe slightly on the outskirts, or in Mississippi, for sure. But in the heart of Memphis, where are these "redneck" parties happening? And if they are happening, are they happening so much that a reference to them is literally the first thing you see — available for purchase to remember Memphis by in the visitors center?
Then I had to consider that maybe these "redneck" parties do happen, and I'm just too black to be invited? Maybe. Maybe not.
I looked up "redneck." I wanted to be sure. Here's what I found: Redneck, an uneducated white farm laborer, especially from the South. A working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area. "Rednecks in the high, cheap seats stomped their feet and hooted."
I had no idea this city was deep enough in the people those definitions refer to to make a reference to them the first thing you see at the Beale Street Landing visitors center. This cup (variable A) and it being in this visitors center (variable B), where it was in the center (variable X), and the proportion of the representation of African Americans in that room (variable Y). ... It's what I see over and over again in this city. In this story, it's a cup and a visitors center. In other stories, it may be who gets chosen to do a show at the Levitt Shell; just replace the variables.
People's favorite word to throw around now is "equity." It's the world's new and trendy way to "confront the issues."
This city has an identity issue. A big one. I've never been in a city with a bigger identity issue. It's an issue that finds its arguments not just in race, but also in generations. Meanwhile, other cities and communities value the parts of their identity that either get suppressed or ignored here and have built whole economies off of them. And we wonder why this city has a problem retaining its talent — keeping young and brilliant people here to help build it.
I tell people all the time: Your home ain't gotta be pretty for you to want to stay and make it better, but first, you gotta believe it's your home. It has to feel like your ideas are supported and you and your people are accurately represented and have a chance of success.
Seeing "Party Like a Redneck" mugs in the visitors center doesn't sound like a city ready to embrace its culture of mostly black people doing black things. It sounds like a city that doesn't want you to know it's full of black people doing black things that aren't the blues. We love the blues, but we've done a lot since the days of the blues.
There was a guy who'd asked us to check out that location. When he checked back in to see what we thought of the place, he said he'd heard all about that cup and wanted to apologize for it. I respected that, but it shouldn't take me pointing this out. How tiresome it is to be the guy who's gotta point this shit out. Over and over. It's exhausting AF.
PS: I didn't get to discuss how the word "redneck" is offensive in itself. All definitions consider it "derogatory." That's worth its own conversation, for sure. I just wanted to point out that you walk into black-ass Memphis and there's a cup that says "party like working white people from rural areas. Welcome to Memphis" as soon as you walk in.
IMAKEMADBEATS is a producer, engineer, and founder of Unapologetic.