Warren Blumenfeld wishes we could talk about the deeper issues that Phil Robertson’s interview in GQ brings up, rather than jumping straight to his firing.
Officials of the A&E cable TV network have suspended the patriarch, Phil Robertson, of their surprisingly popular “reality” show, Duck Dynasty, for his comments in the January 2014 issue of GQ Magazine.
On the topic of homosexuality, from his perspective Robertson quipped that “It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” and he proclaimed that same-sex sexuality leads to promiscuity with multiple male and female partners, while likening it to bestiality. He concluded by paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 6-9 from the Christian testaments: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Three years prior to his GQ interview, Phil Robertson thrust his accusations even further as a guest speaker at the Berean Bible Church in Pottstown, Pennsylvania: “Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another and they received in themselves the due penancey for their perversions. They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God haters, they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil.”
On race relations and socioeconomic class: During his youth growing up in the Jim Crow South, Robertson talked about the “singing and happy” black people whom he worked alongside hoeing and picking cotton since, as Roberson phrased it, he himself was “white trash.” “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.” Then taking aim at current safety-net programs, he asserted: “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
On the environment: Robertson paraphrased Genesis 9 in rationalizing his chosen occupation of providing products for and in his own actions in hunting and killing ducks. “After the flood, that’s when [God] made animals wild. Up until that time, everybody was vegetarian. After the flood, he said, ‘I’m giving you everything now. Animals are wild.’” (Genesis 9:2 actually states: “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.”)
Great Potential, But Missed Opportunity
Phil Robertson, in his own misguided and offensive fashion, has given us as a society much to unpack by his linking multiple issues and multiple form of oppression (heterosexism, racism, classism, environmental control and degradation), and all in the context of religious justification.
Many critical questions arise, including, for me, “How much longer are we as a society willing to condone so-called “religious” or theological justifications, especially in a society that purportedly separates religion from government, in the denial of rights, denial of respect, denial of first-class citizenship, and continuance of demeaning and dehumanizing representations and stereotypes of people who express their love, their sexuality, their relationships, and their very lives different from supposed heterosexual and “traditionally” gendered norms?
“How much longer are we as a society willing to condone and engage in historical revisionism and stereotyping, as does Phil Robertson, in his categorization of the “singing and happy” and subservient blacks, and denial of his own white privilege by tuning out the realities that people of color face on a daily basis, today as well as during the Jim Crow South. Robertson needs also to read an introductory book on the history of music because if he had, he would have understood how absurd sounds his statement that the black people he knew in the South were not “singing the blues” since African-heritage people in U.S.-America created the musical form called “The Blues.”
“How much longer are we as a society willing to marginalize and scapegoat working-class and poor white people in our categorization of them as “white trash,” and how much longer will white people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds refer to themselves in such demeaning terms internalized from the dominant culture?
“How much longer are we as a society willing to blame people from lower socioeconomic classes for their limited resources, and when are we as a society going to come together as a nation to secure the safety nets that provide people greater opportunity to achieve their fullest potential?
“How much longer are we as a society willing to justify our ruthless control and maltreatment of other life forms sharing our world, and how much longer are we going to engage in an insensitive and consuming degradation of the planet in our quest for its resources and our financial gain, all which some people continue to justify as “God’s plan”?
Unfortunately, rather have seeing these and other critical questions springing from Phil Robertson’s statements, most attention in the media and by conservative political pundits have been misdirected to the firing of Robertson from the “Duck Dynasty” series by A&E, with the attendant questions related to issues of freedom of speech and the role of media.
While I find these questions extremely important, I see a great opportunity slipping away in the raising of issues to the highest level of public discourse regarding where we go as a multicultural society.
Throughout the checkered history of the United States, dominant groups have marginalized and attempted to silence opposing ideas and ideologies. During the current controversy, I am reminded of a poignant and cautionary quote from the great poet, essayist, and social activist, Audre Lorde, who asserted that we must not employ the tactics or use the language of those who oppose us, for she reminded us: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In other words, we must not replicate the language and the tactics of those who attempt to deny us our rights and our dignity.
Therefore, I call on A&E to reinstate Phil Robertson to his place on “Duck Dynasty,” and then, we can finally commence the public discourse on his statements rather than on his firing.
Photo: Margaret Croft / AP