‘Duck Dynasty’ and quackery

 

I must admit that I’m not a watcher of “Duck Dynasty,” but I’m very much aware of it. I, too, am from Louisiana, and the family on the show lives outside the town of Monroe, which is a little over 50 miles from my hometown. We’re all from the sticks.

So, when I became aware of the homophobic and racially insensitive comments that the patriarch on the show, Phil Robertson, made this week in an interview in GQ magazine, I thought: I know that mindset.

Robertson’s interview reads as a commentary almost without malice, imbued with a matter-of-fact, this-is-just-the-way-I-see-it kind of Southern folksiness. To me, that is part of the problem. You don’t have to operate with a malicious spirit to do tremendous harm. Insensitivity and ignorance are sufficient. In fact, intolerance that is disarming is the most dangerous kind. It can masquerade as morality.

A&E, which airs “Duck Dynasty,” moved quickly to suspend Robertson, as his comments and suspension engaged the political culture wars, with liberals condemning him and conservatives - including the Louisiana governor and possible presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal - rushing to his defense.

Let me first say that Robertson has a constitutionally protected right to voice his opinion and A&E has a corporate right to decide if his views are consistent with its corporate ethos. No one has a constitutional right to a reality show. I have no opinion on the suspension. That’s A&E’s call.

In fact, I don’t want to focus on the employment repercussions of what Robertson said, but on the content of it. In particular, I want to focus on a passage on race from the interview, in which Robertson says:

“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.”

While this is possible, it is highly improbable. Robertson is 67 years old, born into the Jim Crow South. Only a man blind and naive to the suffering of others could have existed there and not recognized that there was a rampant culture of violence against blacks, with incidents and signs large and small, at every turn, on full display. Whether he personally saw interpersonal mistreatment of them is irrelevant.

Louisiana helped to establish the architecture for Jim Crow. First, there were the Black Codes that sought to control interactions between blacks and whites and constrain black freedom. The Jim Crow Encyclopedia even points out that in one Louisiana town, Opelousas, “freedmen needed the permission of their employers to enter town.”

Then, in 1890, the state Legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which stipulated that all railway companies in the state “shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races” in their coaches. The landmark Plessy v. Ferguson case was a Louisiana case challenging that law. The United States Supreme Court upheld the law, a ruling that provided the underpinning for state-sponsored racial segregation, and Jim Crow laws spread.

Roberson’s comments conjure the insidious mythology of historical Southern fiction, that of contented slave and benevolent master, of the oppressed and the oppressors gleefully abiding the oppression, happily accepting their wildly variant social stations. This mythology posits that there were two waves of ruination for Southern culture, the Civil War and the civil rights movement, that made blacks get upset and things go downhill.

Robertson’s comments also display a staggering ignorance about the place and meaning of song in African-American suffering. As for the singing of the blues in particular, the jazz musician Amina Claudine Myers points out in an essay that the blues was heard in the late 1800s and “came from the second generation of slaves, Black work songs, shouts and field hollers, which originated from African call-and-response singing.” Work songs, the blues and spirituals were not easily separated.

Furthermore, Roberson doesn’t seem to acknowledge the possibility that black workers he encountered possessed the most minimal social sophistication and survival skills necessary to not confess dissatisfaction to a white person on a cotton farm (no matter how “trashy” that white person might think himself).

It’s impossible to know if Roberson recognizes the historical resonance and logical improbability of his comments. But that’s not an excuse.

© 2013 New York Times News Service

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • We stand with the kidnapped girls of Nigeria

    As president and founder of the South Florida Girl Up, a club of teenage activists in Florida for the Girl Up Campaign of the United Nations Foundation, I want to add my voice to that of other activists with whom I’ve collaborated to create and support the first clubs in Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia.

  • Preventing a massacre in N. Korea’s gulags

    Since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued its report on North Korea in February, U.N. bodies, human-rights organizations, governments and think tanks have been working to respond to the crimes against humanity it documented, including the systematic abuse of prisoners and food policies that lead to starvation. But the report’s most chilling section rarely gets discussed: standing orders at North Korea’s political prison camps (the kwanliso) to kill all prisoners in the event of armed conflict or revolution.

  • Why the House should sue Obama

    The Constitution states that it’s Congress’ job to make the laws and the president’s to faithfully execute them. It does not permit a president to suspend a law or grant special dispensations from its requirements. But President Obama has done just these things on numerous occasions, and only the federal courts can preserve the constitutionally mandated separation of powers by definitively rebuffing his illegal actions.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category