Summer 2020 was a lot of things. A lot of things. The worst part of that summer was the way everyone pretended that anyone actually cared about Black people. From the renaming of streets and painting of “Black Lives Matter” on the road to countless statements of “hearing” and “listening,” it was absolutely ridiculous in real-time, and even more sinister in retrospect.
In the midst of all of the public apologies and corporate statements, the music industry had their own reckoning with antiblackness. We got tons of Black music playlists and white artists acknowledging the impact and influence Black musicians have had on them. The most mind-boggling moment came courtesy of Lady Antebellum. The country group has sold over 35 million records, garnered over 4 billion streams, and won seven Grammys… but none of that stopped them from being one of the most tone-deaf groups of people in recent memory.
On June 11, 2020, the band formerly known as Lady Antebellum changed their name to Lady A. Read an excerpt from their statement below:
“When we set out together almost 14 years ago, we named our band after the Southern ‘antebellum’ style home where we took our first photos. As musicians, it reminded us of all the music born in the South that influenced us… Southern rock, blues, R&B, gospel, and of course country. But we are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery. We are deeply sorry for the hurt this has caused and for anyone who has felt unsafe, unseen or unvalued. Causing pain was never our hearts’ intention, but it doesn’t change the fact that indeed, it did just that. So today, we speak up and make a change. We hope you will dig in and join us.”
Now, that’s all fine and dandy. The issue is, when Lady Antebellum set out to change their name, they, in a fashion that’s typical of white privilege, couldn’t be bothered to verify if the name “Lady A” was being used by another act. As fate would have it, there was, in fact, a Lady A that predated Lady Antebellum’s hasty and asinine name change. Anita White, a singer with a catalog that ranges from soul and gospel to funk and blues, has been going by the stage name of Lady A for over twenty years. So, what did Lady Antebellum do? The band called Ms. White, gave an insincere apology, and refused to answer any direct questions about how the two acts would coexist in the same industry under the same moniker. Less than a month after the name change, the group rejected Ms. White’s counteroffer: either the band would be renamed, or that her act would be renamed for a $5 million fee plus a $5 million donation to be split between various Seattle charities, a nationwide legal defense fund for independent artists, and Black Lives Matter. Unsurprisingly, Lady Antebellum rejected the counteroffer and filed a lawsuit against Ms. White reaffirming their trademark of the name.
So, let’s unpack this. In order to protect their fragile egos, three white people have sued a Black woman for the rights to a name that she has used for over two decades, a name that this group only adopted because they wanted to jump on a bandwagon of virtue signaling and performative activism. The fact of the matter is: nobody was checking for Lady Antebellum’s name like that. Nobody really cared. Truthfully, they haven’t been a big deal outside of their core audience for almost a decade now. Yes, the name does have ties to slavery and the Antebellum South, but what difference does “Lady A” make if everyone already knows what the “A” stands for? They’re not cutting ties with what Antebellum suggests, they’re just hiding it. It’s lazy, it’s performative, and it’s insulting that they’ve deluded themselves and tried to convince us that any of this means anything. What’s even more insulting is the fact that what Lady Antebellum is doing is all too commonplace. For white people, it’s easier to do something that has the glow and glimmer of progress, but actually does nothing to improve anything for Black people. Lady Antebellum didn’t donate to any organizations for the advancement or protection of Black people, and they’ve done nothing to uplift younger Black artists in their own notoriously racist industry. Furthermore, all of the credited songwriters and producers on the two currently available songs from their upcoming project are white. This band has done nothing concrete to show their solidarity with the Black community or with their Black colleagues and contemporaries, but they decided to use our plight to garner some social goodwill and when that backfired, they reverted to blatant antiblackness and bullied a Black woman. Lady Antebellum has more social capital, more money, and more name recognition than Ms. Anita White. This isn’t just a lawsuit; they’re bullying her and strong-arming her into giving up a name that is unequivocally hers because they are too proud and antiblack to admit that they’ve made several mistakes.
Abbreviating a name does not make you an ally, nor does it show that you’ve actually grappled with how deeply antiblackness is ingrained in your brand and in your actions. At this point, it’s better if white people just leave us alone and stand in their antiblackness instead of making these ignorant, insulting, and half-assed attempts to show that they “hear us.” It’s tired. I’m tired. Lady Antebellum didn’t even need to change their name, if they truly cared about the causes that they claimed to, they would simply show up for Black people in tangible ways. Put up some of their money, give Black country artists opportunities that they’ve been passed over for, etc. The fact that this group sees nothing wrong with their lawsuit against Ms. White and is determined to move forward with it is absolutely abhorrent and pitiful. One thing that it’s not? Surprising. White people always find a way to bring their antiblackness to a new level — even when the antiblackness is gilded in “reflection” and “activism.”