Today’s Love is for Dolly Parton–and White Folks Who Aren’t Scared

Today's politics remind us of fear's power against justice. But it doesn't work on everybody.

By Kai Wright Nov 29, 2010

If today’s politics prove anything, it’s the power of fear. There are myriad theories for the tea party’s ascendance, but surely one of them is fear of the unknown. Fear of a black man with a name like Barack Obama. Fear of the unalterably changed (and still changing) demographics of American society. Fear of religions and cultures you don’t understand. Demagogues and profiteering media have exploited all of these fears to great success, particularly among southern white folks. But not all white folks are afraid, even below the Mason-Dixon Line. And today’s love is for those who choose joy over fear when confronted with people they’ve been told to hate. People like that fierce southern, white icon Dolly Parton.

In a pre-Thanksgiving interview with Larry King, Parton offered a reminder of why she’s drawn such a broad swath of fans for so many years. The clip above (h/t Joe.My.God) begins with her answering a question about why and how she embraces her gay fans, but Parton migrates into a broader comment on the joy she finds in coming together with all sorts of people she might otherwise fear. "We should be a little more tolerant and a little more accepting and understanding of not just the gays, but other people, minorities. We just don’t have enough love to really live in this world, and we really need to." Indeed. She goes on to explain she’s written a song on the subject, which she sings in duet with Queen Latifah in their upcoming musical about a gospel choir. 

"We didn’t know any blacks or Hispanics or any of those people growing up. I grew up way back in the mountains," Parton continues, before telling an endearing, if awkward story about claiming a namesake black classmate as her "sister," and doing the same while bonding on-set with Latifah. It’s unclear if Latifah’s trying to pick up any new siblings, but we’ll give Dolly a pass on the appropriation and focus instead on the love. 

And hey, joyful meetings often breed urgent politics. Maybe Latifah has also given Parton–who’s long been outspoken about LGBT rights–a racial justice frame. Commenting on her last film, in which she partnered with Common, Latifah told MTV:

"Every time that I do a movie, when I get into a position of power and my voice actually meant something, I realized that I could no longer walk out onto a set and look at a bunch of white males," Latifah, who was a producer on "Wright," told MTV News earlier this year. "That was just no longer acceptable. I need to see dynamics. I needed to see what I just came out of from walking off the street when I came in here. Where are the women? Where are the people of color? I need to see that in front of me, ’cause I just don’t feel like it’s right."

But that’s another day’s love.

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