Phil Robertson A Racist? Not So Fast

Yes, I stand with Phil Robertson. Since I was busy at my day job when the controversy erupted, I did not have a chance to weigh in on what was going on at the time (though I was perhaps the first to note on Twitter, correctly, that the yuppies would have his job because of his comments). It seems too late to rehash the matter now–there have already been many excellent articles written.

However, his comments about homosexuals have only provided material for the first salvo against him. Next comes charges of racism. We can already see such charges being made here. Believe me: There will be more. The haters want his head on the wall, and they will stop at nothing to get it, and there will always be some Christians and conservatives who will help them as they do the devil’s work. That he commented at all on race in the GQ article, and that he is a southern white male pretty much seals the deal, as “everyone” knows that southern white males are always racists, even when they aren’t.

Here is what Phil Robertson said in GQ about race:

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.

While his comment was politically incorrect, without a full context it really is impossible to say whether it was racist. Note that he does not mention Jim Crow or segregation–his comment is regarding welfare and entitlements, both of which flow to blacks and whites. Indeed, he began his own working life after segregation had been ended in the South, so from the context he is not saying that black people were happy under Jim Crow. In fact, given his age, Jim Crow may have ended before he was even really aware of its existence. Unless we lived in a rural area near Monroe, Louisiana during the late 1950s or early 1960s, it is impossible to say what, if anything, he might have seen regarding white-black relations while he was young.

Note also his characterization of himself as white trash. People who have not lived in the South may not get the nuance here. Basically, many poor white people in the South even during Jim Crow were in the same boat as black people. There was not much of a distinction between the two groups. They were both poor, both lived in the same kinds of houses, ate the same kinds of food, and did the same kind of work. And, depending upon the area, they may well have even lived in the same non-segregated neighborhoods and have gone to the same schools. Both were disenfranchised by the political system. Neither group may have been able to pay the poll taxes or pass the literacy tests necessary to vote, and the local political bosses certainly did not favor poor whites over poor blacks. The fact that he was white trash seems to be a large part of his point here.

Is he being racist, or is he saying that the political and social divisions that have grown up between blacks and whites of his generation and in his area are largely due to the growth of the entitlement state? He seems to be saying exactly that. If so, then he is not saying anything all that different from what many other conservatives have said.

So, it looks an awful lot like he made a fair comment based upon his own limited experiences. Unless more context or more evidence is provided, then he certainly does not sound like a racist to me.

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One Response to Phil Robertson A Racist? Not So Fast

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Posts Of 2013 | The Tree of Mamre

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