Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Robertson's other controversial statement

Amen, brother.
Are we done hyperventilating over Phil Robertson’s GQ interview?

Actually, it’s been kinda fun watching the MSM clutch their pearls over Robertson’s unapologetic assertion that gay sex is unnatural. After all, these are people who have spent no little amount of broadcast time painting Southern Evangelical Christians as inbred, backwoods-residing, mouth-breathing Luddites with a penchant for “flat earth” theories; they have no room in their collective subconscious for Bible-thumpers who are technologically up-to-date and show quite a bit of marketing savvy. Robertson’s forthright citation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is precisely the kind of thing they should have expected. So we no more believe in their overdone displays of rage and condemnation than we believe that Louis was shocked, shocked to discover gambling at Rick’s gin joint.

Amazingly, there has been little public support for A&E’s decision to suspend further appearances by Robinson on his own show. The comfort-food restaurant chain Cracker Barrel tried removing Duck Commander products from their in-restaurant stores, only to bring them back out when their customers protested the decision.

Even more strikingly, various gay activists have gone so far as to publicly support Robertson and cry “shame, shame” on A&E. Said Brandon Ambrosino in TIME.com, “G.K. Chesterton said that bigotry is ‘an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.’ If he is right — and he usually is — then I wonder if the Duck Dynasty fiasco says more about our bigotry than Phil’s.” And former NOW leader Tammy Bruce tweeted her followers, “The gay civil rights movement was about making sure we weren’t punished for being who we are. Time the left applies that same value to others.”


Pat Archbold wrote in his National Catholic Register post that Duck Dynasty was always intended by A&E to be an exercise in laughing at noveaux riches backwoods hicks. So much can also be said of the GQ article: If anything, it was most likely intended from the beginning to be a hit piece. But just as Duck Dynasty produced cultural heroes despite A&E’s best efforts to make the Robertsons laughingstocks, the GQ interview gave Robertson a platform.

However, in the rush to defend Robertson’s articulation of traditional Christian sexual morality, my fellow Catholic writers have bypassed Robertson’s other controversial statement. This does us all a disservice, especially when it appears that in defending Robertson we unintentionally defend his racism. Or is he a racist?

Drew Magary, the article’s author, exerts no special effort to show that he empathizes with Robertson. Not with his politics, and most definitely not with his religion. Almost as if to underscore the differences between himself and Robertson, Magary uses all the profanities Robertson doesn’t — the crutch of the 21st-century wanna-be hipster writer. The gratuitous cussing merely emphasizes Magary’s Eastern liberal prissiness whenever Robertson says something that rubs him the wrong way ... and apparently anything involving Jesus, Scripture or sin does rub him wrongly.


For what it’s worth—and since I actually looked it up—the violent-crime rate here in America has plummeted since 1990, even as church attendance has stayed the same. And, of course, Phil is conveniently ignoring centuries upon centuries of war, bloodshed, and human enslavement committed in the name of Christ. But I doubt any of that would sway Phil. And anyway, I’m a guest in his house and he is my welcoming host, so I smile politely and nod like the milquetoast suburban WASP that I am. If you can’t reconcile some of the things Phil says with his otherwise friendly demeanor—perhaps because you are gay, or a duck—I don’t blame you. And I don’t blame Duck Dynasty for keeping the show safely apolitical, ensuring smooth digestion for a mass audience. [bold font mine. —ASL]

Oh yes, those nasty, bloodthirsty Christians. How could we forget.

Magary is a writer, not an historian, and therefore his parroting of common pseudo-history shouldn’t surprise us. In fact, his snarky anti-Christian rap trades off with his subtextual theme of confronting his own feelings of masculine inadequacy when placed in the company of virile outdoorsmen and hunters like the Robertsons. The overall effect is schizophrenic: Magary looks down on Phil Robertson … but also (sort of) looks up to him as well. His anti-Christianity is his line of defense against too much admiration.

Perhaps this is why Magary pulls this quote out into a sidebar without any explanatory context:


Phil On Growing Up in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana
“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.”

Does this translate into a claim that, as Tamara Lush of the Associated Press put it, “African-Americans were happy under Jim Crow laws”? Hardly; it means the black people Robertson worked with during the period weren’t uniformly, universally miserable and angry. Robertson isn’t denying that cross-burnings, lynchings and all the other uglinesses of the pre-CRA South happened ... they simply didn’t happen within his line of sight; they weren’t omnipresent features of the Louisiana landscape. We don’t need a false picture of unremitting African-American woe to know that Jim Crow laws were an obscenity.

Certainly, the way it’s phrased would cause any white liberal worth his salt to wince, especially since the words “entitlement” and “welfare” seem to hang in there without connection to anything else; I’m not about to pretend that there isn’t some stereotyping going on there. But Robertson is hardly calling for repeal of the Civil Rights Act or the reversal of Brown v. Board of Education.

So here’s a question: Why isn’t this quote getting the attention that the quotes about gay people have gotten?

First, I would say we’ve finally reached a point in black/white relations where, if we can’t drop our guards completely, we can still live with a little less sensitivity. Most African-Americans, I would guess, regard Robertson’s remarks as ignorant but made without malice aforethought; many a black Republican has questioned whether transfer payments have been a net benefit or detriment to the economic improvement of their race.

Second, I believe that gay rights has monopolized our national attention to the extent that racial issues have gotten short shrift. Perhaps it’s because the problems of income disparity, poverty and crime have proven to be such intractable issues that we’ve turned to gay rights because the problems there seem so comparatively easy to solve — re-write a couple of laws here and there, and hey presto! equity achieved. (They aren’t really that easy, but that’s the illusion we have right now.)

In any event, Robertson’s remarks were no worse than those made by many another clueless but well-meaning white man (Your Humble Blogger included). Unless and until it’s revealed that he’s a Grand Dragon of the KKK, I’m willing to believe he has no unkindly feeling towards black people worthy of the appellation racist.