Over the years America has made great progress in our race relations. We are one of the most diverse nations in the world. Residing within our borders are American citizens who come from many different racial backgrounds, plus many immigrants who are not yet citizens. You can walk into a McDonald’s in Pasadena and often hear people conversing in several different languages.
Much of the time we do very well in our plural society. But ever and anon racism again raises its ugly head in our beloved America. A recent instance is the statement of 67-year-old Phil Robertson in an interview with GQ Magazine. Robertson, who grew up in the South, is one of the cast members of “Duck Dynasty,” a program that appears on the A & E Television Network. Robertson said “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!. …Preentitlement, pre-welfare, you say: ‘Were they happy?’ They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
I read those words with amazement. I also grew up in the briar patches and cotton fields of Mississippi. I went to school, including college, in Mississippi, and I can tell you there was tremendous mistreatment. Blacks rode in the back of the bus. They could not eat in the restaurants. They could not stay at a motel or hotel. They could not vote. In referring to blacks in those days the word used was “colored.” Many whites used the “N” word. I was a pastor in Mississippi during those days, serving a church in Biloxi. A beautiful sand beach right out in front of our church stretched for 21 miles west. Not one inch of that beach was available to a black person. The schools and churches were all segregated.
The blacks knew very well the problem of speaking out against the system. Those that did paid a price. Medgar Evers spoke out and paid the price. He was assassinated in June of 1963. As for singing the blues which Robertson spoke about, where does he think the whole musical genre of blues music came from? Of course they were singing the blues.
The fifties and the sixties were quite dangerous. A young black teenager from Chicago named Emmett Till was visiting a cousin in Mississippi. He had the temerity to whistle at a white girl. The next you heard of Till his badly beaten body was floating down the river. The White Citizen’s Councils were in control of Mississippi. They had elected one of their own as Governor. Governor Ross Barnett’s battle cry was “segregation yesterday, segregation today, segregation forever!” The White Citizens Councils were like the Ku Klux Klan without robes and they had much more power and influence. Anyone, black or white, who spoke favorably about integration, was ostracized—often losing their job or their business.
Phil Robertson is simply echoing the words of the White Citizen’s Councils when they would say: “No one is mistreating our colored folks. All this talk of mistreatment is coming from Time Magazine, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Everybody down here in the South is quite happy.” When I read of Robertson recently mouthing such untruths, it brought back bitter memories of a Southern Society gone astray.
This lingering stain of racism is also presently seen by some TV and newspaper commentators who have defended Robertson, when he was temporarily suspended by the A & E Network, by saying that everyone should have freedom to express themselves without losing their job. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center put it well when he said, “Robertson has every right to say hateful, offensive things wherever and whenever he wants. But there is no First Amendment right to have a TV show. There is no First Amendment right to be free from criticism.”
A&E has reinstated Phil Robertson, and Duck Dynasty will continue to be shown because it is making money. But, if you look carefully, you will see it is somewhat stained by the lingering racism that still continues to haunt this great country of ours.
Wonderings and Wanderings