July 13, 2020 - 8:43am

The platinum-selling country band formerly known as Lady Antebellum has changed its name to Lady A, for fear that a name referencing the time before America’s Civil War might imply endorsement of the slavery that characterised that period in history.

This has been done, we’re told, out of respect to the many black people whose ancestors were victims of the slave trade and the post-abolition racism that has dogged the lives of black Americans since those times.

It’s nice to see the music industry stepping up to our brave new moment of ending racism. Only there’s a problem. The name ‘Lady A’ is already taken. Anita White, a black blues singer has been performing under that name since 1987.

Lady A (band) is now suing Lady A (singer) for the trademark rights to the name ‘Lady A’. Anita White has responded furiously, pointing out that the band’s rebrand has already made it nigh-on impossible for her fans to find her work on streaming services, and highlighting the irony of a white band seeking to appear less racist by steamrollering a black artist:

It is absurd that Lady Antebellum has chosen to show its commitment to racial equality by taking the name of a Black woman, particularly in this time when we are reminded every day to “Say Her Name.”
- Anita White

It’s not original to remark on the hypocrisy of ‘woke capital’ adopting cosmetically PC postures alongside zero substantive change. But it’s hard to think of a more evocative example of this process at work, nor of the difference between virtue and the signalling thereof.

Anita White herself correctly identifies the dominant force in this disagreement as those deep-sea currents of money and influence left largely undisturbed by the surface squalls of woke branding. Other independent artists, she says, have contacted her since the story broke about ‘name feuds that they lost because they were on the opposite side of big money and privilege’. That the appropriation is happening in the name of anti-racism only adds a layer of bitter irony.

I don’t think we should be cancelling anyone. But while the internet debates the existence and/or merits of ‘cancel culture’, it’s striking that Lady A (the band) is yet to be cancelled for casually claiming a brand a black woman has spent her lifetime building.

Asking ‘why?’ invites reflection about the actual operation of power, money and class in relation to a movement for ‘social justice’ that claims to be about ‘moral clarity’. But the young would-be brahmins busy harnessing legitimate anger at racial injustice, to power a political movement Oliver Traldi recently described as a ‘guild hall’, for some reason don’t discuss power, money or class very often.

If they did, they might notice that much of the genuine and often racialised injustice evident today follows these axes. And that this is so despite (or, increasingly, because of) the enthusiasm displayed by woke capital for treating those injustices as chiefly matters of representation, language and branding.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.