Monday, December 23, 2013

Redneck Religion: Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty Dilemma


     A few weeks ago I was in need of a cheap black T-shirt to wear with my bop around black sweat pants on a non-teaching day.  Considering I was only fielding office hours and would be on campus no more than three or four hours, I, as I often do, wear lounging gear, but I had been slothful and had not done laundry the night before and decided to drop in to Walmart to cop a shirt.  Briefly glancing at the megastore’s selection, I decided to purchase a black t-shirt with the words Duck Commander in yellow letters.  I put the shirt on in my car and thought nothing of it.  Now, after a week filled with controversy regarding A&E's Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s statements on homosexuality and Religion and Race in the American South, I may have to rethink my purchase of this now peculiar piece of paraphernalia.  And since this is an op-ed piece, and due to my love for rhetorical composition and the adherence to the rules, both grammatical and social, Reverend Earle J. Fisher and I have decided to have no thesis whatsoever.  Pure, unadulterated stream of consciousness is what you should expect.  Now, with the aforementioned mentioned, I have decided to post a couple of excerpts from Phil Robertson’s interview in the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine.


On Race:  "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once," the reality star said of growing up in pre-Civil-Rights-era Louisiana. "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!"Robertson continued, "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

On Homosexuality:  Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," he tells the magazine. Paraphrasing Corinthians, he says, "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."Phil continues, "It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."

     Any scholar or layman can unpack this rhetoric and see that stereotypes and the aesthetics, descriptions, and ideological beliefs associated with stereotypes is at the core of the Duck Dynasty Dilemma (or so the media would have you to believe).  Born and raised in the South, I know the warning signs of certain kinds of white folks.  ‘Redneck’ is to Blacks as ‘Nigger’ is to Whites.  Just as non-Blacks can assume someone’s moral compass and character merely on the color of one’s skin, so too can non-Whites do the same based on one’s skin color and aesthetic composition.  As a Southerner, most Black people assume that a long-haired, long-bearded, Christian, rural, White male with U.S. or Confederate flag paraphernalia or clothing, is no friend of Blacks and probably labors in some agrarian occupation and isn’t too fond of gays or miscegenation or anything anti-Southern (i.e. condemning the documented atrocities of the American South---you know, Black American slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings). In essence, are we really taken aback by Phil’s comments?  It should be no shock that, even though Robertson referred to himself as “white trash” and being “the same as Blacks”, that he is ignorant of his white (male) privilege.
      Stereotypes infect and affect us all, even white people—even if they are not bigots, sexists, racists, misogynists who revel in classism.  The Duck Dynasty audience, or the audience A&E targeted for the highly successful cable show, knows, or at least think they know, Robertson’s ideological beliefs and, for the most part, follows the show because they identify with him and his familial brood. 

      What we find extremely peculiar is the failure (or benign neglect) of many people to connect the commentary Robertson offers synthetically.  He put together racism and homophobia while being asked about sin.  What he communicates is, he sees God as a white heterosexual male.  In the framework of his sector of the Christian faith tradition this is by no means uncommon.  It is the same sentiment shared by Megyn Kelly as she remixes notions of Jesus’ personhood in connection with Santa Claus.  It is white racial and religious privilege turned (also referred to as #turnt) all the way up!  It is consistent with white, systematic or dare we say redneck religion and theology. 
      Tim Wise tells the story of his daughters discussing the movie “Bruce Almighty” were one of his daughters informs the others of the movies ultimate fiction because Morgan Freeman, a black man, plays God and from the daughter’s perspective, “He can’t be God because God is white.”  This telling statement is the foundation or building block of the type of theology that has been inserted in the inspirational veins of most conservative, evangelical Christians.  Robertson, like many others, draws these mythical parallels between social reality and spiritual reality.  Therefore, in Richardson’s mind, it is not only feasible but foundational to connect an indictment of homosexuality with a blinded eye towards the harsh realities of the Jim Crow south. 
     One blogger recently wrote a blog entitled, #DuckDynasty, Grace, and White Supremacist Gods #fleshYGod where it was stated,  I can understand why persons come to reject Christianity in this age, (let’s put aside sexual ethics for a second), when all of these outspoken representatives of KKKristianity continue to perpetuate the white supremacist mythology. KKKristianity in the eyes of outsiders seems less like a group of followers of Jesus who love our neighbors as ourselves as they are more in love with the idea of swimming in cultural ignorance.... White Supremacist Gods have cheap grace and oppression as their telos” (insert #BOOM #DropTheMicAndWalkOffTheSacredStage)
      It is understandable, albeit rather dangerous, to associate and develop a concept of God based on one’s experience with society, politics and sacred traditions.  But it is bigoted and biased to presume that one’s own religious convictions are universal convictions that are shared and supported by anyone who really matters.  Race matters.  Religion matters.  Time and space matter.  That is exactly why diversity matters.  None of us have God figured out, nor do we have an exhaustive or complete understanding of God. 

      Therefore, in many ways, Robertson’s comments are, indeed, a matter of the first amendment, but not so much as it relates to freedom of speech as it relates to freedom of religion.  Should he be allowed to spew his racists and homophobic theology out in public? Verbally, yes!  Should he be subject to the backlash and consequences of promoting a shallow and insensitive view of what many have come to encounter as a loving and liberating God?  You bet your bottom Bible! And since Walmart is seeing Duck Dynasty gear fly off the shelves at an alarming rate, and  Cracker Barrel  has rescinded their decision to remove Duck Dynasty paraphernalia from their restaurants, maybe I can get one of those corporate, white-owned chains to buy my T-shirt.  It's been worn a few times, but hey, nothing's wrong with a little wear and tear.  It gives the shirt character and history---like the good ole' South.  History and the ideologies associated with it has never physically hurt anyone, has it?  They're just words on a shirt, right?

                                                                          Earle J. Fisher and Gee Joyner
                                                                          (The Pastor & The Professor)