Friday, December 27, 2013

Duck Dynasty and Racism

Robertson returning to Duck Dynasty has been touted as a "win" for his family. I don't think it is a win for anyone.

On growing up in pre-civil-rights-era Louisiana
“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.”

-Phil Robertson

Robertson was born in Caddo Parish, in 1946. It is possible that segregation did its job well, and that as a child Robertson was blind to the racism around him. But he has a masters in education, is an adult, and has access to the internet. I find it difficult to believe the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty truly has never heard about the dark and tragic history of the Parish he grew up in. 

Lets give some historic context about what the black families Robertson worked alongside had lived through:

“The numerous murders and acts of violence committed during the weeks preceding the presidential election of 1868, and during the summer and fall of 1874, clearly indicated the political nature of the white violence. Indeed, at least 290 homicides (51% of the total number) occurred during those two years. Moreover, even more significant is the fact that no less than 220 blacks (74%) killed by whites were during those two years. The statistics were much higher than the ones for the other parts of the state. They show the greater readiness of whites in Caddo to resort to extreme violence in period of political tensions in order to maintain their social and political preponderance over the black masses (pg 7/379).
“Caddo claimed the sinister distinction of being the lynching capital of the states from 1910 until 1929. (pg 7/131) ”
Though Robertson was born years after these events, they were within living memory during the years he worked. Many of those working in the field would have been personally touched by those events. Though by the forties Caddo Parish  had lost it's grim nickname, violence was still high. Three years after Robertson's birth the KKK began it's third re-activation in the South.

“The Klan targeted Shreveport and Northwest Louisiana to become a central hub of Klan activities, as its chapters quietly multiplied in the area through the 1950s and into the 1960 (pg. 11/134).”

The popularity of the KKK in the area that Robertson grew up in allowed blatant racism to be seen as patriotic. During the same time that the KKK was using the confederate flag as a symbol for white supremacy, a confederate flag was raised in front of the Caddo Parish courthouse (and not removed until 2011).  In 1956 the Shreveport State representative, Wellborn Jack stated that:

 ‘the Shreveport Citizen's Council can always depend on me to take a stand 100% for segregation and 100% against integration.” In response to a 1958 bill requiring labeling of blood with the race of the donor, Jack commented, ‘I don’t want any Negro blood in me. I guess it wouldn’t hurt me like they say, but I find it repulsive.’(pg. 11/134)”

It's not surprising that Robertson never heard anyone say "These doggone white people." Considering the history of and continued violence in the area where he grew up, confiding discontent in a white person would very likely lead to you being hung from the trees or beaten to death.

Robertson was poor, and perhaps isolated from greater culture, but his blindness to the mistreatment of those he worked alongside speaks to his privilege. He could be utterly unobservant of the racism around him, because it did not personally affect him. 

And one cannot help but wonder what  Robertson considers to be "mistreatment of black people"? Clearly not segregation in of itself. Robertson attended Louisiana Tech University during it's tumultuous desegregation which started in1966, after the United States v. Lincoln Parish School Board was filled on June 8th(open jurist). Perhaps football was too distracting a sport for him to notice.
From Rage Against the Minivan's A Short History Lesson (click here for more)

When A&E continues filming, without holding Robertson accountable, when they brush away any offence at his statement by making it clear they disagree with what he says, but that it is his opinion, they do us all a disservice. We need to remember our history. If A&E want's to take a stand, then they should talk about the history that Robertson lived through, show us why they disagree with his statement. They won't, of course, because they make a profit off of this family. They will creatively edit out any potentially offensive opinions from their filming (as they have already), and pretend  the Duck Dynasty brand they've created is separate from the opinions and beliefs of the family themselves.

Duck Dynasty is as romantic a re-imagination of the Duck Commander family, as Robertson's reinvention of the past.  So, I will simply end this post with a reminder for those (like Robertson, apparently) who have been lucky enough to never have to smile through adversity: happiness does not have to do with genre that you sing. 

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