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Ducks and Race

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Phil Robertson thought he was a TV star. Now he's in trouble.

The concern is his remarks about homosexuals. "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," Robertson explained to GQ magazine. He then cautioned his fans, "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."

Bigotry, worthy of the utmost condemnation? Absolutely.

But less noticed were his comments about race. Robertson also recalled,

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.

Yet, these have been relatively bypassed. The New York Times began its story by explaining that Robertson had been suspended by A & E because of comments "that the network deemed homophobic." Nowhere in the article did the author mention race or Robertson's remarks on life under segregation. The Los Angeles Times story mentioned homophobia, didn't touch on race at all, then spent the whole article discussing the impact on the local industry, television. Even slurs against the gay community only appeared in the third paragraph, mentioned in a single sentence. By the next paragraph of a substantial article, the real theme was introduced, how, "Once again, TV finds itself in another cultural hot zone." Jonathan Merriit in The Atlantic headlined his piece, "The Real Duck Dynasty Scandal: Phil Robertson's Comments on Race," and subtitled it, "The comments about gays are offensive, but his vision of the Jim Crow South is shocking -- and his conservative defenders and liberal assailant are mostly ignoring it."

Perhaps rightly so. Let's investigate what Robertson got wrong, and what many parts of the press feel are less necessary to cover than his despicable comments on sexual orientation.

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church to send a message to African-Americans. Four very young schoolgirls -- Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair -- were blown up. Seven hours later, two young men were shot and killed: 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware. Robinson was fatally shot by police for throwing rocks at cars, Ware, still a child, was ambushed.

Medgar Evers was a field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi. On June 12, 1963 Evers was emerging from his car, carrying a bundle of t-shirts that read, "Jim Crow Must Go." Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizen's Council, assassinated Evers, firing a 30.06 round into his back.

Most revealing is a story told by Lyman Johnson, a civil rights activist in Kentucky. In his autobiography, he relates a small incident that happened while he was a student at Virginia Union.

One afternoon, he and his friends visited some girls in a sorority house: "We were all spruced up, and the girls were all dolled up. We thought we were hotshots." They were trying to pick up some ladies, and expected success.

Just then a car came skidding, lost control and rolled over, with a police car right behind. Johnson explained that the first vehicle was driven by a well-known bootlegger, "but now he was helpless. 'I can't move' he screamed, 'My legs are broke and one arm'...We saw the police... began to beat him with clubs..." He and his friends just sat there "watching and didn't move."

Just then the sorority housemother came out and implored the young men, "Don't let them treat that man like that. He's helpless. They'll kill him." Johnson remembered, "But we all sat still."

The housemother had more courage. She walked to within feet of the police and pleaded, "Officers, don't you see that man can't help himself. Please don't beat him anymore. Please don't." The young men "watched as the police turned on her and said, 'Nigger woman, you tend to your own goddamn business. You better shut up and go back in your house, or you'll get a taste of this same medicine." Johnson explained, "They began calling her all kinds of crude names. She turned around and came back on the porch. She looked at us, but we couldn't look at her."

He analyzed the situation.

There we were -- five healthy young black men -- and there wasn't a thing we could do. Just a few minutes before we had been bragging with those girls, making them think we were the saviors of civilization. Now we were cringing in fear. Not one of us opened his mouth. In less than five minutes our manhood had been stripped from us.

Explaining what is was like to be black and live in the Jim Crow South, Johnson concluded, "We were like helpless aliens in our own country."

Yet despite this evidence, despite American history which they claim to revere, conservatives are ignoring the racial issue and rallying behind Robertson. Bobby Jindahl declared,"Phil Robertson and his family are great citizens of the State of Louisiana... It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended." Sarah Palin wrote on her Facebook page, "Those 'intolerants' hatin' and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us." She included a picture of herself with Phil and other members of the Robertson family. Ralph Reed denounced the suspension as "a brazen act of Anti-Christian bigotry."

So let me get this straight: Conservatives are mad because Robertson is being denied his right to be a TV star. But they don't complain when he says that millions of Americans who were excluded from our very way of life in the most fundamental way, who were being denied respect and liberty, and in the case of little children, their very life, were actually "singing and happy"?

Words fail me.