DUCK DUCK GOOSE
I’ve been following the uproar and then tamping down of the remarks Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson made in a recent GQ interview that equated homosexuality with bestiality, homosexuals as terrorists, and Black folk being happy in the pre-Civil Rights South. Later, Robinson issued a statement to explain his remarks:
I myself am a product of the ’60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.
Robertson’s original remarks and his explanation are not new or unique. The network that carries Duck Dynasty, A&E, initially suspended Robertson indefinitely and distanced itself from what he said. It soon reversed the suspension when there was a huge outcry from the show’s fans (including Sarah Palin and LA governor Bobby Jindal) and the rest of the Robertson family declaring that they would not participate in the show if Phil was not a part of it. Faced with choosing between those outraged by the remarks and those who may or may not agree with them but appealed to Robertson’s First Amendment right to spew his opinion, A&E decided to unsuspend Robertson indefinitely a week later—offering a common corporation rationale for doing so. The Human Rights Campaign agreed with A&E’s rationale, GLAAD did not, and I could not find any mention of Black and/or people of color advocacy groups that A&E consulted.
Where I grew up in the urban South in North Carolina, this is known as a hot mess. And even more, it is frustrating for me to see such vitriol and stereotyping being passed off as coarse language, one man’s opinion about the rough road he has traveled to find salvation, family values, and then wrapped with unity, tolerance, and forgiveness. This hot mess is about intolerance despite the matter-of-fact, that’s the way I see it Southern folksiness of his remarks. And it’s far, far from being moral.
I can find little moral high ground from Robertson’s statement
I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. …They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! …Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.
The Jim Crow South that Robertson grew up in was rampant with suffering for Blacks and whether or not he personally saw mistreatment or not, it’s hard for me to believe he did not hear about it. From the Black Codes, the Separate Car Act, Plessy v. Ferguson; Louisiana was a key architect of Jim Crow. Robertson’s remarks either display a deadly rampant ahistoricism or a tolerance of inequality and the various forms of violence that forges a bucolic pre-Civil War South where folks were content with being oppressed and the ongoing violence of the lynching tree. Life was hard for Black folk and poor Whites but there was not equality even in this as race always trumped class and social standing.
Challenging homophobia and racism is hard work. Eradicating them is even harder. When we suppose that there is a right that protects our actions to discriminate, defame, and brutalize one another or the history that has brought us to this place, we have fallen far from a high moral ground or protecting the Constitution. Wrapping our sins in religious language and values cannot protect us. And as I’ve said before, there remains much more work for us to do to help bring in greater spaces of justice for all.