Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why I'm giving Phil Robertson a pass concerning his comments on race

As the result of an interview with GQ magazine that was published last week, "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson was suspended by the A&E Network, where the show aired, for making allegedly "anti-gay" comments. That's not the only controversial thing he said, however.

He also said that, where he was, he "never" witnessed African-Americans being treated any differently due to race, even when he was a youth during the civil-rights movement; those remarks caused a lesser firestorm.

This may surprise you, but on this one I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. "How could he not see it?" you may be wondering.

Because of one fact that people often overlook: The civil-rights movement was almost exclusively an urban phenomenon. Certainly a number of atrocities did take place in rural areas, but virtually all the action was in Southern cities, where Robertson didn't live.

That should make sense, because the obvious problems were there.

And it wasn't simply about rich vs. poor, either, as many of the foot-soldiers of the movement were wealthy professionals, academics and merchants who had the wherewithal to support it financially. The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s first pastorate out of graduate school, was a "seditty" congregation that had community status in Montgomery, Ala., and when things began to spread only the cities were involved. (Indeed, Montgomery wasn't even the first bus boycott; Baton Rouge, La. had previously experienced one a couple of years beforehand.) Being from the country, Robertson simply wouldn't have first-hand knowledge of these things.

If Robertson is guilty of anything, it would be gross insensitivity toward his black neighbors and occasional co-workers; perhaps he ought to have discussed with them the challenges of being black in the rural South. That wouldn't be confined to people like himself, however -- all of us ought to be willing to address such or similar things. So before we point the finger at this one man, perhaps we all ought to consider our part in the conflict.

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