Phil Robertson and The Atlantic Magazine (Updated)

“The Real Duck Dynasty Scandal: Phil Robertson’s Comments on Race”
Jonathan Merritt
The Atlantic
December 19, 2013

I have refrained from commenting on the matter of Duck Commander founder Phil Robertson’s comments to GQ magazine and the A&E Network‘s subsequent action to censor him. Living in America grants Mr. Robertson the right to speak his mind. It also grants the A&E Network the ability to operate in a manner that its owners believe will protect their business. It grants neither side immunity from the consequences of the words they speak or the actions they take.

In keeping with this blog’s effort to rise above the daily piff-paff of politics in order to focus on substantive issues of principle and policy, I thought to let the chips in this matter fall as they may.

Until, that is, I read an uncharacteristically shrill j’accuse by Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic that stopped just short of branding the entrepreneur/patriarch a racist.

“Buried under the firestorm of media and public outrage over Robertson’s comments on sexuality is his stunning insinuation that blacks were quite happy in the Jim Crow South:

Merritt’s issue is with these remarks to GQ by Robertson:

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.

To which Merrit reacted:

He may envision a Jim Crow South where blacks were treated well and sang happy spirituals all the day long, but this is not the South many African-Americans knew in this era.”

Now, perhaps it’s me, but nowhere in those remarks did I see Robertson even suggest (as Merritt asserts that he does) that his experience in Louisiana extended to the entirety of the Jim Crow South. Robertson never denies any of the evidence of mistreatment of African Americans. He never asserts that awful, disgusting things didn’t happen to the African Americans of the south (or of the North, for that matter – remember the Chicago Race Riots of 1919?) He simply relates his own experiences without any attempt to make them universal.

I understand that Merritt does not want history whitewashed. I don’t want it whitewashed either: indeed, I want my mixed-race son and all of his classmates to know that racism is a latent evil that must never again be shown a glimmer of tolerance.

But we should also remember that personal narratives that run counter to the mainstream of history are not experiences to be erased simply because they, inconveniently, don’t fit the broader story; instead, they should be understood as pieces of a greater puzzle that must be understood in their context.

There were poor white people in the south that didn’t hate African Americans. There were African Americans who got along with poor white people. And somehow, despite their circumstances, they were able to find happiness. That does not justify poverty or oppression: on the contrary, it suggests that there is nothing inevitable about racism or misery, and that even in the meanest quarters of this nation lie the roots of harmony and tolerance.

If that does not fit your narrative, sorry about that.

There is enough racism left in America that it need not be conjured. There are enough racists that it is unnecessary to brand every over-40 white male with right-of-center leanings and a rifle as a closet Byron De La Beckwith. And there must be enough tolerance in this nation to allow a retired entrepreneur to describe his past and his feelings without turning it into a battle in the culture wars.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

The Golden West Review

A Californian Perspective on History, Arts, Land, Literature, and Politics

A Bucket and a Pen

In Search of Life after the Career

coffeesteffi ♡

coffee, art & my brewed thoughts

Sea Scout Ship 9201

Channel Islands Harbor • Ventura County Council, BSA

Troop 234, Boy Scouts of America

Port Hueneme/Channel Islands Harbor, CA

Dirty Sci-Fi Buddha

Musings and books from a grunty overthinker

The Chinafornia Wolf

Gratefully Chronicling a Remarkable Journey

The Thousand Books Project

Reading a Meaningful Life

Cafe Book Bean

Talk Books. Drink Coffee.

Silicon Hutong

Addressing China as it is, not as we want it to be

Maura Elizabeth Cunningham

Historian and Writer

Runningwinegirl's Blog

Colorado Girl Sharing Insights on Wine, Public Relations and Life's Adventures

ARLIN REPORT...................walking this path together


Blue-eyed Ronin

A contrarian who enjoys challenging existing illusions, one truth at a time.


People and Trends

Promoting fair and accurate coverage of Israel

Who Said What

Barton's Blog

To the clouds and beyond...

Coffee Shop Rabbi

Basic Judaism spoken here.

Cami Ryan

Science, society, and life

Pacific Paratrooper

This site is Pacific War era information

______Assessing China / The TEA Collaborative______

Tech, Energy & Ambitions: Assessments at the Intersection of Technology, Investment and Policy

Cliche of Logic

This is the beginning of my writing.

An Ordinary Website

of interest to few.

Der Bananenplanet

Alternatives Informationsmedium

Corey Robin

Author of "The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin" and "The Enigma of Clarence Thomas"

Ragan Communications

The Center Must Hold

The China Story

The Center Must Hold

Yale E360

The Center Must Hold

Xindanwei | 新单位

The Center Must Hold

The Center Must Hold


Freelancing in the Digital Age

FriendFeed Blog

The Center Must Hold


The Center Must Hold

Blog Daily Listings RSS

The Center Must Hold


The Center Must Hold

The Center Must Hold


The Center Must Hold


The Center Must Hold

WebMD Health

The Center Must Hold


The Center Must Hold

Village Voice

The Center Must Hold

Uploads from The U.S. Army

The Center Must Hold


Latest news and trends about tech in China

The Center Must Hold


The Center Must Hold

The Center Must Hold

%d bloggers like this: