'Duck Dynasty': Putting the Racist Back in Redneck

The Rev. Madison Shockley
The Rev. Madison Shockley is the pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ (UCC) in Carlsbad, Calif. Originally ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1979, he has served churches in St.…
The Rev. Madison Shockley

The monarch of the “Duck Dynasty” reality show on A&E, Phil Robertson, has gone off the plantation to give a GQ journalist a full dose of the Robertson “Klan.” In the unfiltered environment of a magazine interview, the senior Robertson expounds on a random range of cultural issues. Almost every conversation turns back to his Christian faith, the Bible and the way things ought to be.

In the category of his Christian faith are his statements about the LGBT community. Asked, “What is sinful?” he starts with “homosexual behavior.” That seems an odd place to begin. Given that the Bible itself starts with murder (remember Cain and Abel?) and then gives Ten Commandments (not one of which mentions homosexual behavior), then climaxes with a condemnation of covetousness (read consumerism and materialism). Robertson’s fixation on homosexuality is peculiar indeed. However, he is a perfect reflection of the down-home evangelical Christianity that shares his obsession. Having a faith that claims Jesus as God, one would think that he would be more concerned with what Jesus said about the matter (absolutely nothing) than the sexually repressed apostle who penned the poisonous verses of the Letter to the Romans that Papa Robertson has committed to memory (or at least scribbled on the palm of his hand).

While his homophobic views are rooted in his religion, his racist views are rooted, well, in his racism. In the category of the way things ought to be, Robertson waxes nostalgic about the “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare” South where godly black folks never said a mumbling word but sang happy songs all the day long. The 67-year-old Robertson, born into a segregated society, would have come of age in the heat of the civil rights movement. Yet, he claims he never saw a black person mistreated in his northeast Louisiana community. In the same breath, he recounts how in his farming town, “the blacks worked for the farmers.” He saw no mistreatment in the fact that there were no black farmers, only black workers. He saw no mistreatment in separate and unequal schools, bathrooms, buses, parks, swimming pools and churches. He saw no mistreatment in all-white elections, juries and governments. Racism can never exist if we simply refuse to see it.

Robertson’s rantings have pulled the cover off of the latent racism in this growing subculture that embraces the aggrieved affectation of a “minority” group. “Redneck” used to be a slur, an insult, indicating an ignorant, poor, racist, white person from the South. The term derived from the sunburned necks earned by working in the fields. Racism was core to their identity, because, while in material ways they were no better off than poor blacks, the one thing that made them superior was their whiteness. “Free, white and 21” was the unofficial slogan of the redneck.

But then, in 1989, genial comedian Jeff Foxworthy pointed the word back toward the mainstream of the American lexicon with his self-deprecating “You might be a redneck” routine. The word has since been domesticated. It now rolls off the tongue of sweet little Honey Boo Boo whose catchphrase is “You better red neck-i-nize!” But with this interview, Phil Robertson has put the racist back in the redneck. In recent decades, the word has lived right at the border of its racist past. Now Robertson restores it to its rightful racist place. Black folks have always known something ugly was lurking just under the surface of all the redneck renaissance. Now, Robertson has said what few had the courage to say out loud. Now we are all reminded that part and parcel of this newly redeemed redneck culture is the foundation of racism upon which it has always sat.


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