Monday, December 7, 2015

To the Left and to the Right, Forward, Side, Together

Yes, some of you may recognize the title of this post as dance steps, and it's a dance I think American political types are doing right now in response to the words of Phil Robertson.  Robertson is the patriarch of an A&E TV family called the Duck Dynasty - and I admit here I am not one of the 14 million Americans who tune into Duck Dynasty weekly, according to Nielson, and frankly didn't know it existed before this bru ha ha. We can talk about how out of the mainstream that makes me some other time.  That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows me.  Anyway, in a  a feature article on Mr. Robertson and Duck Dynasty in GQ Magazine Robertson said some words about pre-civl rights era Black people, and elsewhere, some other words about people of - how should I say this - a particular sexual orientation.  These offending words have been picked up and transmitted far and wide via social media:

Here are the words lifted from the GQ article:

“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.”

And these words:

“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.”

And there's this interaction between the writer and Robertson:
“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around...."

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“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 says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “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.”

Later, in a statement issued after certain segments of the political world erupted in outrage and A&E suspended Robertson's contract for Duck Dynasty, he also said this:

“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior.  My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together.  However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

Robertson's words have been attacked from the left, and defended from the right.  Just the smallest sample of what's out there:

A spokesman for GLAAD (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), a media monitoring organization, said:
"Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans—and Americans—who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples...Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families." 

At the risk of ruffling feathers, I have an entirely different perspective on all of this. First, we are punishing this man for speaking [ignorantly, I grant you] from the heart. If you've read all his words, he's obviously speaking from his personal experiences (black farmers he worked alongside of) and his religious belief system (his perspective on sexual orientation), but not from any knowledge beyond that. If you've read his words, you know that he comes from a place of ignorance and lack of education in the sense that he hasn't been exposed - perhaps never bothered to expose himself - to the alternative oppressive experiences of black culture and life during the pre-civil rights era. And because he was, in his own words, "white trash" working in the fields alongside the Blacks he knew, he may not have seen his own situation as far removed from theirs. There are multiple power hierarchies. "White trash" - poor white people - are below the rest of the white people on that hierarchy, and even though they carry white privilege - possibly or probably without understanding that they do or the implications of the privilege - Robertson in those days may have related more to his Black co-workers than to his white bosses.

However - and please don't take this as a defense or an apology for Robertson because it's only an observation - he appears not to be malicious in his ignorance - in fact, possibly the opposite. Biblically speaking, which seems to be the frame that informs him and his views, he seems to come from the "right" place in Leviticus - the place that says to love everyone, not the place that says to be a hater. I see Robertson as absolutely the wrong martyr for the Religious Right, and also the wrong punishee for the Liberal Left. Instead, I see this as a teaching moment for both sides. To the Left I say: Don't punish this man as representative of the worst of the right - the true haters. Instead, invite Robertson into an educational experience. I think he'd be open to it, considering his tone and word choice. And to the Right I say: Don't be stupid. Here is a political opportunity for the Right. Embrace the fact that this man doesn't have the whole story, and use this as an opportunity to discuss the need for more extensive education, both about the Black experience in America and the positive contributions to America. Both sides - plus the American people - could score if we saw this as a teaching opportunity.

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