A few months ago, tabloid headlines, for once, spread a positive message about the good of humanity when Brittany Aldean, wife of famed country singer Jason Aldean, posted a makeup tutorial on Instagram.
Her caption? “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life.”
Many who viewed the post found it an insensitive message trivializing the experience of transgender people. One of these was country singer Maren Morris.
In a feel-good story, Morris sent Aldean a calm, thought-out message revealing how the latter’s intentional jab was one puzzle piece in a larger damaging impact. Though the two ultimately saw the issue differently, they agreed to keep an open dialogue moving forward about how to best support, or at least avoid hurting, those in the LGBTQ+ community.
None of that happened.
Instead of a productive comment, Morris publicly opined that it was “so easy to, like, not be a scumbag human” (Side note: I’m horrified that nonsensical overuse of the word “like” weaseled its way into a written form.) and told Aldean to “sell her clip-ins and zip it.”
Morris’ comment naturally brought everyone out of the dark corners of the online woodwork to join the mass of 30-plus-year-old grown-ass adults who enjoy acting like 12-year-olds on the internet. Jason Aldean joined the fray, as did Candace Owens and Cassadee Pope, among others. There was even name-calling in this raging online food fight – “Insurrection Barbie,” an admittedly creative burn.
The point of this column is not to discuss the issues at the center of their debate, as that could take months. I’m writing about a method, not a message.
Personally, I believe Aldean’s comment was insensitive and potentially damaging. But whether you agree with her statement or not, the opportunity for education and resolution was instantly lost when Morris hurled her furious response from the Twitter clouds.
Instead of serving up support for the community Morris defended, headlines shifted from “Let’s examine how we speak about transgender individuals” to “check out these feuding celebrities.” I’ll bet that some who would otherwise condemn Aldean’s comment consider her a victim in the situation, simply because there are very few Instagram captions that make someone a “scumbag human” all on their own.
For the record, I’d argue the feud did more for the tabloid industry than the individuals Morris was trying to defend. Some who I’ve talked to say that for them, the response did more harm than good for that community.
On a ski trip over Christmas break, a good buddy and I spent a long car ride wondering where this world lost its ability to productively disagree with someone, especially if we believe they’re ignorant, insensitive or misinformed.
Naturally, this dot com brawl came up. I told my friend that I was no fan of Aldean’s comment, but the phrasing of Morris’ unprompted retort wasn’t much better.
My friend and I both hail from Rhode Island, so call us homers all you want, but we realized we didn’t have to look any further than former New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman for two phenomenal examples of productive resolutions in very similar circumstances.
In early March 2021, Miami Heat center Meyers Leonard made headlines for using an anti-Semitic slur during a video gaming live stream. Edelman, a proud Jewish athlete, penned an open letter to Leonard on his Instagram.
Among the highlights, many of which are so applicable to the Aldean-Morris feud: “I get the sense that you didn’t use that word out of hate, more out of ignorance. Most likely, you weren’t even trying to hurt anyone or even profile Jews in your comment. That’s what makes it so destructive. … Casual ignorance is harder to combat and has greater reach, especially when you command great influence. Hate is like a virus. Even accidentally, it can rapidly spread.”
Edelman then openly invited Leonard to a Shabbat dinner with some friends in Miami.
It wasn’t the first time he’d extended a similar invitation.
Just a year earlier, Edelman responded to former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson’s anti-Semitic social media posts, one of which included a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler. Saying that he “(saw) an opportunity to have a conversation,” Edelman openly offered to go with Jackson to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Further, recognizing that Jackson’s posts were in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Edelman offered to add a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Though the tours themselves didn’t happen, Edelman confirmed that he and Jackson spoke directly after his invitation, that “it was a healthy conversation,” and that the two had stayed in touch ever since.
In both instances, Edelman still used his celebrity platform to hold Meyers and Jackson publicly accountable and denounce their part in spreading ignorance and hate. But unlike Morris, Edelman chose to reach out with an opportunity for education when he easily could have ignored the players or cursed them out – particularly when, unlike Morris, he was a member of the targeted group in both cases.
Edelman chose to build a bridge. Following the same metaphor, that means Morris saw a bridge on fire, went home unprompted, got a can of gasoline, came back and lit that sucker up. Her actions amplified the divide and hatred that started with a simple Instagram caption and only grew with each subsequent reply – on BOTH sides.
Morris and Aldean had an opportunity to stomp out an environment where embers of hatred and violence start the raging bonfire for those who take these viewpoints to extremes. I’m not naive enough to believe that any pair of people will come to complete agreement as long as they approach a discussion with civility. But I’d like to think they’d come out of there with an understanding of at least how not to harm a marginalized group.
Edelman’s actions are an art that’s all too rare in recent years. He chose to understand his position of influence and condemn ignorance-based hatred while simultaneously inviting hard conversations and offering education. Unsurprisingly, the outcome was 1,000% better.
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