Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is Labeled Racist 

Carl Beust /

What is the liberal reaction to a program designed by a national treasure to deliver books to millions of impoverished children across the globe? Call it racist. 

Launched in 1995 by the legendary country singer Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library was inspired by her father’s inability to read and write. Robert Lee Parton Sr. never attended school or learned how to read, but he played a significant role in the organization until he died in 2000. 

Dolly started the program to foster literacy, imagination, and a lifelong love for reading. She began distributing the books nearly three decades ago to children in Sevier County, the poor, rural area in Tennessee where she grew up. She has invested millions into the Imagination Library and hopes to be remembered “not for her looks, but for her books.”  

The program mails free, high-quality books to children each month, regardless of their family’s income, ensuring that every enrolled child receives a specially selected book.  

Dolly’s vision has grown, and the Imagination Library now operates in five countries: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland. Today, over 2 million free books are gifted monthly to children worldwide. 

However, a recent academic paper claims that the award-winning program is racist. The paper argues that it promotes “white privilege and heteronormativity” and lacks sufficient representation of cultural diversity, disabilities, trans and bisexual gender identities, and non-traditional family structures. 

A paper by Jennifer Stone, a speech and language pathologist from the University of North Carolina, claims that Dolly Parton’s philanthropy is “potentially dangerous” and shows signs of “white saviorism.” Stone argues that by focusing on “reading to succeed” and “perfecting parenting,” Parton’s Imagination Library program is “oppressive.” The paper states that these themes subjugate children and promote a “White, middle-class, cis-gendered, heteronormative, able-bodied norm.” 

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, shot back at the criticism, saying that it’s a clear example of the distorted thinking encouraged by schools and universities in the Western world, weakening our societies. 

Dolly, now aged 78, is the queen of subtle activism. In 2018, after having Dollywood theme park’s star attraction “The Dixie Stampede” slammed as a “lily-white kitsch extravaganza,” Dolly dropped the word “Dixie” from the show’s title. She told Billboard that many people, including herself, are often innocently ignorant. When she learned that “Dixie” was considered offensive, she renamed the attraction to “The Stampede” to avoid offending anyone. “I would never dream of hurting anybody on purpose,” the beloved country star said. 

“Dixie” was commonly used as a nickname for the southern states that formed the Confederate States of America during the era of the US Civil War. Two other country groups, the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum, have changed their names by removing references linked to the Confederacy. They now go by The Chicks and Lady A, respectively. 

In 2020, Dolly broke her typically apolitical silence by supporting Black Lives Matter. It was one of the few times she has spoken “for” or “against” a political matter, as she seeks to maintain a balance to keep her fans happy while seldom publicly taking sides. At the 2017 Emmys, she stayed silent on stage while her former 9-to-5 co-stars, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, criticized then-President Trump. In 2020, during an episode of her podcast “Dolly Parton’s America,” she suggested that people pray for him instead of hating him. 

Dolly is also a beloved LGBT and feminist icon who has supported progressive causes. She supported gay marriage in 2014, a year before it became legal nationwide, spoke out against anti-transgender “bathroom bills,” and backed the Me Too movement. However, her support for left-leaning issues is usually expressed in a way that’s meant to be inoffensive, often reminding people not to judge others. In a 2014 Billboard interview, she said that judging others is just as bad as any other sin and that she tries to love everyone. 

This is the American treasure whose only crime was helping impoverished kids worldwide find the magic of reading. Leave it to liberals to poo-poo on her achievements while simultaneously calling her selfless actions “racist.” Look out, Dolly; Jolene isn’t just coming for your man anymore. She’s coming for your legacy.