Why It’s OK to Ignore Phil Robertson’s Racism

Surely there’s room to focus on the new Civil Rights revolution, for which the first one laid foundations

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Margaret Croft / The News-Star / AP

Phil Robertson at his home in western Ouachita Parish, La., on May 15, 2013.

Amidst the current uproar over “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s take on homosexuality, we have heard rather little about the other wing of his social commentary, the part about how good things were for black people living under Jim Crow in Louisiana. And in 2013 that’s just fine.

To be sure, Roberts would be out of place as a social science teacher on either subject. He considers homosexuality a “bestiality” that sins against God, and enough so to justify a detour into anatomical topics that casts gay men in a rather somber light. Meanwhile, he warmly compares black laborers he knew growing up to “white trash” like him, remembering them as working for farmers “singing and happy,” more inclined to do so “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare.”

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Splendid. But the gay part is more important than the black part this time.

Phil Robertson is an old man of 67, and frankly, why should we care that his take on black history is not exactly enlightened? Such people are always with us, and do not prevent change from happening. A centenarian of my acquaintance who lived a Northern life is given to claiming that in the North, as opposed to the South, black people, and race relations, were “just fine” until people like Martin Luther King started “stirring them up.”

Okay. That was all some people could see from their privileged perspectives, but the Civil Rights revolution happened despite them.

And here we are.

There were plenty of perfectly intelligent white people who thought that way even when King was alive. One can watch him all but roasted on “Meet the Press” not long before his murder, by what were then considered the intelligentsia.

And here we are.

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Some insist that America must achieve a degree of sociohistorical enlightenment on what black America has gone through, in order to have sympathy for black problems today, rather than classifying black people as somehow inherently incapable—or even “bestial.” There’s a point there—and it has happened, to the extent that it ever will. All anyone has to do is consult the coverage of “12 Years a Slave” to understand this. Anyone who says in 2013 that white America is in some kind of “denial” about slavery is being willfully blind to the fact that change happens.

Now, no one has ever thought all of America would completely “get” black America’s past. And Robertson is precisely proof of that. We need not fear any “repercussions” of what an ignorant man not long for this earth spouts off in an interview.

Here we will stay, and move on.

What really helps black America today is focusing on what we can do now, not making white people understand why the past makes it hard. And that’s the thing: the gay rights revolution, the new frontier on Civil Rights, is now. The shift in public opinion about homosexuality and gay marriage has been seismic over the past few years, and it is the duty of the enlightened segment of a modern society to support such transitions when they’re happening.

In that light, discrimination against gay people is more overt in modern America than against black people. Yes. We’re not used to thinking of it that way, but the general consensus on racism is that one of the hardest things about it is its subtlety. Sure, nasty words against black people in comments sections will always be with us. But there’s a difference between this and ongoing, open comparison of gay people to animals, designating their sexuality as a sinful departure from basic human dignity, and families disowning them.

Comments like Robertson’s of that kind, then, require urgent condemnation in 2013, especially given how few people would have batted an eye about them as recently as 15 years ago. Let’s face it—even embrace it—that we’re further along on racism now than we are on homophobia. Not all the way there—yes, Trayvon Martin. But closer than we’re always comfortable admitting.

Some will ask why we can’t attack Robertson on both fronts. And the answer is that it’s easier for we humans to focus on one thing at a time. As to reminding America about black America’s troubled past and present, let’s remember that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly spent last week on the griddle for insisting on the whiteness of Santa Claus, and that in a few weeks there will have ample time to discuss race on the occasion of Dr. King’s birthday.

Surely there’s room this time for focusing on the new Civil Rights revolution, for which the first one laid foundations.

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30 comments
ShutzShay
ShutzShay

        Discrimination of any type (subtle or not) should not be glossed over.  Focusing on one problem at a time is handy, but it should not undermine the idea that all issues are important- regardless of their appearance in our history.  I believe that the problem does not lie in one person's inability to understand the past of an ethnic group.  The problem lies within a collaborative ignorance regarding the effects words have on others.  When one figure (such as Robertson who is seen by many people on a daily basis) fails to notice the way his words effect viewers, more ignorance is advocated.  
          I agree with John McWhorter when he states that one person has never stopped change in the past.  However, was it not the masses that created change?  If someone is stuck in a world of privilege, and is slightly blinded by the subtle racism they do not face, why not try and enlighten them?  There can never be too many advocates for a better, more understanding society. If Robertson were to realize the effect his words have on "Black America" and decide to change his thought process, imagine how many of his fans would come to a similar enlightenment.  After all, something becomes important and vital when others are undermined or hurt by it.
          I recently came across an article about "white privilege" by Peggy McIntosh.  It better explains the idea of being blinded by the privilege of not having to deal with subtle racism (which others go through every day).  Unfortunately, people of almost all ethnic groups experience some kind of privilege when compared to another. I encourage you to read this short article.  There is never a better time than NOW to become more educated, understanding, and to improve your relationship with the people we share this world with.  Thank you for writing this article John McWhorter!  I enjoy your work.


Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:  http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

What exactly was racist about it?


He was simply describing the experiences he had with the peoples of various races he met. Did he claim to speak on the conditions of an entire race? No. At the very most, this is a case of being mildly insensitive. If that passes for racism in the media, then there are few instances of such "racism" that deserve any attention. 

MargaretGonzales
MargaretGonzales

This man and his pals are foul mouth. I've never read in the Word where Jesus or His followers used foul language. This is definitely not coming from the H.S. Even satan can quote Scripture and teach truth with drops of poison. In the N.T. we are warned about false teachers.  Not everyone who says Lord, Lord to me will enter the Kingdom. This TV program reminds me of the fairy tale about the pidepiper. "Be gentle as doves and wise as serpents".

JHunley
JHunley

"John McWhorter is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and the author of What Language Is (and What It Isn't and What It Could Be)," and yet he says, "...it’s easier for we humans to..."  I learned about the correct use of case in junior high school.  How can one afford any credibility to a University-level English professor who makes such a fundamental grammatical error?

gchalv
gchalv

Phil said nothing the slightest bit racist, nor did he say anything even slightly homophobic or anti-gay -- he stated the truth about his personal experience with blacks - who were his friends - and the truth about what homosexuality is....  Period. 

GlennScott
GlennScott

What he said:


As "poor white trash" society place him where they placed all blacks at the time. In his limited world, scope, things he could actually physically see................they, and he, found joy in everyday life. If you didn't come away from what he said as just that, then I know you will find fault even with my attempt to say HEY!! get a grip.

He is not a politician, or sociologist, or ????, he is not required to worry about the big picture.

BradJohnson1
BradJohnson1

His comments being "racist" are complete bs. People act like everybody hated, beat, raped, and murdered blacks. Many people treated blacks with respect and welcomed them as equals. Phil happened to grow up in such an area. Good for him. 

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Why It’s OK to Ignore John McWorter's opinion

Because based on his comments I highly suspect he didn't actually read the GQ article.  If he had he would have stumbled on a couple of other comments by Phil Robertson that also illustrate Phil's faith.  One being that as a nation we should return to God which would relieve ourselves of many of the ills we face in our modern society.  And two that he isn't the one to judge homosexuality.  He says his job is to love all mankind (this includes homosexuals) and let God be the judge.   Instead, Mr. McWorter and the rest of the outraged media are focusing on Phil's Bible based belief that homosexuality is a sin before God and continue to insist the Phil linked that lifestyle to bestiality which he did not.

Because homosexuality is a politically correctly protected issue.  It is verboten to speak out against, say anything criticizing or to or even think of it in terms contrary to the politically correct political line. 

And here we are.


DanBruce
DanBruce

Let's just hope that this is the end of "Duck Dynasty" and the start of the demise of the rest of the reality shows that feature the regurgitations of self-confessed "white trash." Same goes for reality shows that feature "non-white trash." Television can do better, and America deserves better.

ChristeneBartels
ChristeneBartels

Reality check please. Phil Robertson describes his upbringing as, although being 1950, it looked like 1850. No electricity, no running water, no commode, farmed using a horse and plow. Get it?

His world was not seen through the prism of “black and white.” His world was seen and experienced through the eyes of a person who lived in a world of poverty that would suck the soul out of lesser people. If you bother to listen to his story, you will hear about a man who lived in a world where blacks and whites were united in the common bond of that utter poverty. He didn’t see the blacks around him complaining about the injustices of discrimination because no one had the TIME or the luxury to sit around and brood about how unfair life was. They were too busy trying to eek out a day to day existence, like everyone else, and being thankful for every life sustaining crumb that fell into their lives to make that possible.

That was his experience. That is what shaped him into the person he is. Who the hell is anyone to take that and twist and pervert it into something dark, ugly, and hateful just to promote their self-serving agenda. Spiteful, bigoted, ignorant hypocrites, that’s who.

As for GLAAD and the LGBT community? While we watch their courageous battle against the vile, hate spewing, Bible thumping wing of intolerant Christians who foul our society with their beliefs, I would be interested, for the sake of balance and perspective, to hear from the Muslim members their community. Certainly their struggles with the Qu'ran thumping members of their religious community who believe that homosexuality is a sin punishable by death is a vital aspect of the continuing battle to defeat homophobic bigotry in this country. Given that Islam is beginning to grow and flourish in this country and the Western world, I would like to know how they are proceeding to enlighten their religious community on the errors in their thinking.

Is that crickets I hear chirping?

Truth be told? If you were a gay/bi/black/red/rich/poor/drunk/thief/hooker/Muslim/atheist/satanist and Phil Robertson saw you lying on the side of the road.......he would be the first one to pick you up and take you in.

ChristeneBartels
ChristeneBartels

Reality check please. Phil Robertson describes his upbringing as, although being 1950, it looked like 1850. No electricity, no running water, no commode, farmed using a horse and plow. Get it?

His world was not seen through the prism of “black and white.” His world was seen and experienced through the eyes of a person who lived in a world of poverty that would suck the soul out of lesser people. If you bother to listen to his story, you will hear about a man who lived in a world where blacks and whites were united in the common bond of that utter poverty. He didn’t see the blacks around him complaining about the injustices of discrimination because no one had the TIME or the luxury to sit around and brood about how unfair life was. They were too busy trying to eek out a day to day existence, like everyone else, and being thankful for every life sustaining crumb that fell into their lives to make that possible.

That was his experience. That is what shaped him into the person he is. Who the hell is anyone to take that and twist and pervert it into something dark, ugly, and hateful just to promote their self-serving agenda. Spiteful, bigoted, ignorant hypocrites, that’s who.

As for GLAAD and the LGBT community? While we watch their courageous battle against the vile, hate spewing, Bible thumping wing of intolerant Christians who foul our society with their beliefs, I would be interested, for the sake of balance and perspective, to hear from the Muslim members their community. Certainly their struggles with the Qu'ran thumping members of their religious community who believe that homosexuality is a sin punishable by death is a vital aspect of the continuing battle to defeat homophobic bigotry in this country. Given that Islam is beginning to grow and flourish in this country and the Western world, I would like to know how they are proceeding to enlighten their religious community on the errors in their thinking.

Is that crickets I hear chirping?

Truth be told? If you were a gay/bi/black/red/rich/poor/drunk/thief/hooker/Muslim/atheist/satanist and Phil Robertson saw you lying on the side of the road.......He would be the first one to pick you up and take you in.

spagester
spagester

He didn't say things were OK for blacks, he said he worked side by side with them them and did not hear them complain. If you are going to write, write honestly.

do2
do2

Isn't it amusing to hear all these professionally aggrieved liberals, who have never set foot outside Manhattan, tell Phil Robertson how the South really was.

GregoryPeterson
GregoryPeterson

Phil Robertson is not some poor old unschooled country bumpkin sitting on a tumble down porch in a rocking chair. He has a masters degree in education and is a wealthy, successful businessman. I am just a couple of years younger. He is well educated and hasn't been poor since he graduated from grad school. If he says that his religion is what drives his condescendingly bigoted motivated reasoning, we should probably look there for some insight about why he said what he said.


JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"  Evelyn Beatrice Hall


By judging the comments I've read across the web, not many liberal/progressives agree with Ms. Hall. 

GlennScott
GlennScott

Reading Mr.McWhorters piece again I am almost embarrassed to have posted my reply. If nothing else my reply is redundant placed under his article.


I found myself ashamed, almost, even finding fault with the NAACP, GLAD, members criticism of Phil Robertsons comments. As John stated here, what I hear anyway, is enough already. The common man does not have to think in terms of the "enlightened" few. It is ok to think in terms of our own absolutes:


Mr. Robertson believes his interpretation of the bible states Homosexuality is a sin. But his interpretation of the bible also tell his he must still love and..........I want to say not judge, but you can find fault with that word.

Mr Robertson does not appear to be raciist, and is saying: who I saw, they were happy.


I am again getting redundant to the view spoke in the piece above.


Hopefully most will come away from the GQ article redefining their thought process.....I don't have to change my own beliefs, no do I have to think in terms of the absolutes of the people who make it their life to speak out on a subject.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@AlphaJuliette Because JM is the biggest racist at Time and always is bias when it comes to the black community , he is full of the race card bs all the time.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@DanBruce It wont be they will be back stronger then they ever wereThe NAACP and jessie and Al will lose this one big time. Phil will be back very soon.

GlennScott
GlennScott

@spagester He, the writer, is. The only comment I found suspect in the article is that we do not have to be concerned about Phils comments because he is not long for the world. We wouldn't have to fear Phils comments even if he was 18. We, I mean humanity.

rfalcon1000
rfalcon1000

@do2Im from the South and a liberal. And if you want to believe the lie that blacks were singing while picking cotton and were so much better under Jim Crow, then you're freaking clueless And that's what southern racist do.they sell the lie. Oh the blacks were happy before the civil ware..they'll say. etc etc etc. I have no idea where you're from and honestly don't care, but you're just as clueless as the ones you say are from Manhattan. And if you're from the south, I can only imagine how many times you've spread the lie. Did I mention how much blacks loved having to eat in the back of restaurants, riding in the back of the bus, not being able to swim in "white pools".sitting in the balcony in theaters and courthouses...trying to get a small amount of justice when a crime against them is made.....drinking out of separate water fountains.....woo hooo...no wonder they loved to sing...they had it so good....Pffffft.....grow up and get real.

JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

@GregoryPeterson he was paraphrasing the bible which he clearly believes in. The concept of free speech doesn't mean much if you can't express closely held religious beliefs....

spagester
spagester

@GregoryPeterson You haven't read the interview or you have no critical thinking skills. Either way you just embarrassed yourself.

DanBruce
DanBruce

@Openminded1 You are no doubt be right. A certain large segment of America is in a vigorous race to the bottom.

coastalcoasting
coastalcoasting

@rfalcon1000 @do2 In the part of the south my family is from, there were no buses, restaurants, pools, water fountains or theaters.  That was Phil's point, he was speaking about what he saw, not what was happening in Birmingham, Baltimore, or even Boston.  Yes segregation and horrible things happened in all of those places during Jim Crow, but we have forgotten that the whole country was not urban.  In the fields a share-cropper was a share-cropper, it didn't matter if he was white black or asian.  They were all equal, they were all poor.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@rfalcon1000 @do2 Those days are over, this is 2013 blacks do not sit in the back of anything now. Who is in the Oval office now. grow up and not only get real, get with the times.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@DanBruce @Openminded1 You also maybe right bruce, I have never watched the dumb show and could careless. all these so called reality shows suck. I just know the following this show has and knew the big mouth jessie and the bigger mouth Al would lose on this one.