Like most second-generation Pakistani-American Muslims, I went through a John Denver phase in college. Okay, maybe that phase was limited to those of us with a friend/roommate who loved John Denver and played his albums on multiple road trips to Colorado. If you don’t have a friend like that, you are missing out.
Were it not for that friend, I may have never listened to a John Denver song. I am a music assimilator – I don’t explore new music on my own, I absorb it from my environment. I become a fan of Sinatra, Michael Jackson, The Samples, Bela Fleck, Nelly, Tom Petty, Disney soundtracks, and Broadway musicals because someone I was hanging out with loved them first.
Apart from John Denver, I’ve avoided country music because of a disconnect. Sure, I don’t have a real connection with Frank Sinatra or Scar from The Lion King, but I still became immersed in their songs.
This never happened with country music as I built up stereotypes, preventing myself from enjoying the music. I associated country music to alcohol, pickup trucks, rural America, and Christianity (I’m 0 fer 4 in those categories). I associated the country music culture with the parts of America that I considered to be less than friendly to Islam.
No, I had no personal experiences to back this up – that’s part of what makes it a stereotype. Personal experiences often shatter stereotypes, and it takes doublethink to maintain a stereotype in the face of contradictory experiences.
Personal experiences often shatter stereotypes, and it takes doublethink to maintain a stereotype in the face of contradictory experiences.
I had plenty of interactions that could have broken the stereotype. Such as: I married a country music loving girl from a small town who made our first wedding dance a country music song. I danced, but I still didn’t embrace (the music). Yes, there some stubbornness involved here. I did buy her tickets to a Rascal Flatts concert once, but she went into labor a few hours before the concert and that was that.
A force stronger than stubbornness recently broke my stereotypes: laziness. We cancelled XM radio for my car, pushing me back to FM/AM radio around the time of the 2016 election. After several weeks of exhausting political talk, reruns of the same Top 20 hits on pop/rock music stations, and mind-numbing NFL discussion on ESPN radio, I became desperate, and hit #5 on my radio preset – the local country music station my wife programmed in my car.
After a few commutes, my doublethink broke down and I began enjoying the music. I kept it a secret at first, assuming it would pass, but I kept listening to it, sometimes at work with the door closed, sometimes with the kids in the car. Eventually, without my wife’s knowledge, I admitted to myself I enjoyed the music. Driving on an interstate, it’s a nice escape imagine driving on a dirt road. It’s also a nice sentimental reminder that I am the guy that got that girl. Inspired, I tried to buy Rascal Flatts tickets. Unfortunately, they came to town last year, so I’ll try again in 2025.
A few days after my thwarted concert ticket purchase, I happened upon a John Legend interview on NPR. An unabashed liberal, I learned that many country music artists are almost as liberal as him, but avoid airing their views so they don’t alienate their fan base. This prompted a new consideration – if country music artists, who know the culture better than anyone, avoid expressing liberal views because it will hurt their career, what would happen if I was in the audience?
The uptick in violence against minorities and animosity towards Muslims is not something I can ignore or overlook. Violent acts are being committed against people because the color of their skin made someone think they were Muslim. I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve, but my skin color and facial features are what they are. I won’t skip a country music concert over these worries, but it’s hard to completely banish them, though I recognize its trading in more stereotypes.
Rather than skip the concert, I realized I should spend more time helping break down stereotypes. If personal experiences shatter stereotypes, I should spend more time around country music fans, not less. I should find opportunities to be an advocate for my family, my friends, and my religion, as well as the underrepresented, undervalued, or unfairly demonized. I should avoid my own preconceived notions. Also, I have to believe that country music fans deep down appreciate my natural tan over an orange one.
What stereotypes have you discovered you trade in, and are you doing anything to break them down? Comment below! This is the my first ever blog post, so be kind in your comments.