Okay, folks, one more time: Words can hurt and anger. If you are in a powerful position, be careful what you say and how you say it.
The latest to feel the wrath of dribbling out hurtful words is Phil Robertson, one of the stars of the monstrously popular TV reality show “Duck Dynasty.” In a GQ magazine article, he slammed gay people as sinners and compared their sex lives with bestiality.
He went on in the article to say that when he was a youngster growing up in Louisiana, black folks seemed happy and pleased as punch to be hoeing cotton. By now you know the A&E network has suspended him indefinitely from “Duck Dynasty.” The show is about the lives of the Robertson family that became wealthy selling duck-hunting products. The show, in its fourth season, has broken several ratings records on cable television and is the most-watched nonfiction cable telecast in history.
It is the latest in the long list of reality shows that delve into backwoods folksiness. Like most of these kinds of dustups, the U.S. Constitution becomes “exhibit A” for the defenders of free speech and those who say free speech can get you punched in the mouth or sent home packing from your lucrative gig.
However, there are consequences for utterances that offend, and those people bold enough to make offensive remarks should be willing to accept the consequences.
Gay and lesbian groups, as expected, were enraged by Robertson’s comments. I’ll get to his other comments later in this column.
Lord knows Robertson should be allowed to say whatever crosses his mind. This is America, after all. But, even he should have known that his words have consequences, even if he said they were based on his biblical convictions. I have read comments on social media concerning A&E that claim liberals beat up on religious conservatives who make strong, biblically based comments.
First, this may come as a surprise to some, but there are millions of liberals who are Christians, too. I’m taking a guess here, but there are probably some conservatives and some Christians who make major business decisions at the A&E network. And, yes, it was probably a business decision to put him on ice until the outcry subsides.
As my wise grandmother would tell me: “You can feel what you want, but you don’t have to tell everybody how you feel.” (That worked for me until I started writing newspaper columns.)
Now, on Robertson’s other comment in GQ about happy black folk in the cotton patch:
Robertson, referring to himself as “white trash” in the article, recalled that black people were happy and Godly “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare” days when he hoed cotton, side-by-side with them in rural Louisiana. He said they were singing and seemed okay.
My wife and her family worked in the cotton fields of north Louisiana. I don’t think we have ever had a conversation about how happy they were doing that. Just to be sure, I asked her again about that and Robertson’s comment. Here’s her comment:
“I grew up on the Lofton Plantation called Sacsonia. The thing I hated most is that we could not attend school until after the crops were in. At age 6, I had to keep my younger sisters while my parents went to the fields to pick cotton. At around 7-years-old, I would have to wake up before dawn to ride a truck for what seemed like miles to be the “water boy” in the cotton fields. I would get paid $3 for the whole day.
“It’s not a time I wish to relive. What some people don’t understand is that as black people we tend to hide our pain by singing and acting happy. I have never met a black person who grew up on a plantation who enjoyed it and wanted to have things remain as they were.”
Ed Pratt is a former Advocate editor. He is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.