The recent comments of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson have ignited a storm of controversy due to some remarks Mr. Robertson made that expressed some unfortunate language on the topics of homosexuality and people of African descent in the South. It reminded me of the feather sermon that every faith group has embraced where a person who has committed slander is asked to gather up the consequences of their words like a feather pillow that when broken in the wind disperses feathers to all the corners of existence.
Disclaimer: It’s not my responsibility to express outrage just because I happen to be both Black and gay. That’s not quite the rationale here…so bear with me.
Just in case you haven’t been up to speed here’s the deal. From a quote shown in an article by Jonathan Merritt of the Atlantic: 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. It was not peace, love, godliness, happiness or satisfaction that silenced the voices of protest among Black sharecroppers and other people of the Jim Crow South. And since when did Black history jump from just the cotton field to the welfare office? It was the gun, the rope, the whip and the torch. I’m already furious. Did he not go see 12 Years a Slave? Cough–that was Louisiana once upon a time too…
Then a Louisiana man named Homer Plessy–a very very mixed man of color and a Republican, became the test case for what would become the “separate” but totally unequal Mr. Robertson was born into.
But wait…let’s go over to Huffington Post: “Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong. Sin becomes fine,” he later added. “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. 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.”
Jennifer Kerns says “We are all Phil Robertons now.” In her Washington Times piece she writes, “In fact, (gay activists) have become precisely the rabid, hateful mobs they claimed they were fighting against.” The feathers keep spreading. You would think a gay slave rebellion was about to break out–Lordy Lordy is she full of it….
The Westboro Baptist Church says they love Phil Robertson…With friends like these, Mr. Robertson…but the feathers keep spreading. Bobby Jindal, Bill O’Reilly, The Family Research Council, Sarah Palin; Avinu Malkeinu, please save us from the feathers!
HuffPost in a piece by Cavan Sieczkowski brought out words from a 2010 sermon in Pennsylvania: “Women with women, men with men, they committed indecent acts with one another, and they received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions..” “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless. They invent ways of doing evil. That’s what you have 235 years, roughly, after your forefathers founded the country. “
Wait a minute, I’ve never murdered anybody. I try not to envy and hate others because those are negative behaviors and thought patterns that produce really bad energy that’s counterproductive. I’m a heartless, faithless, ruthless, senseless, evil G-d hater? I won’t even spell out of G-d’s English name out of respect. So what does that really mean? There are lots of GLBT people who have a faith or end up struggling with it–or killing themselves—thanks to nonsense like this; just as there are people who are GLBT who choose not to have a religion and btw there are way more heterosexuals who have no religion–and that has nothing to to do with their essential moral character. Every house of worship I visited in the Deep South had at least several GLBT people right there; and sorry as long as the taller the hair the closer to G-d there will always be GLBT people of faith in the South and all over the world.
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell…””That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?” I’m equal to a drunk or a terrorist? I see. Nice sympathy for people who struggle with substance abuse and a terrorist? Honey if my pinky pride ring I got in the Castro offendeth thee and maketh thee think that I am a terrorist because I love glamour, removeth the eyeball which it offendeth…I guess I’m writing this to put my own skills to the test. If I am all about the three r’s–reclamation, reconciliation and (human) racial healing then how do I, we or any of us really comprehend the severity and complexity of this situation in terms of American cultural discourse? Is it all about words? Is it about policing thoughts? We have a cultural rule inspired by the letter of Constitutional law that freedom of speech is a fundamental right, hedged in only by boundaries of public safety and the discretion of the body politic; and yes we are free to express but we are not totally free when at the mercy of corporations and market forces. This part of our culture is a check on democracy in more ways than one and always has been. The defensiveness of some of the talking heads mentioned above over Mr. Robertson’s freedom of speech rights gives me some pause. Whose to say that certain types of speech aren’t the cultural equivalent of keeping the fires burning?
What is even more difficult for me is what this means in terms of the Southern family. Gay people are not cultural outliers who live on the American coastlines awaiting G-d’s natural judgment. The GLBT South is an old South indeed. I found the comments above to be personally exhausting and soul-crushing as a gay man. I have only recently begun to re-open the closet and peek outside of it to discuss my orientation as part of my identity and culinary outlook and comments like these make me feel the opposite of safe and whole. Forget the Black part—and much of the media has–oh man—happy, singing, godly, (Negroes) who worked hard and didn’t complain–and never got ahead, and never got to live the American dream and who were consistently punished with being placed on pain of death for fighting for equality?? Offensive? Is that word deep enough? What happens when you are tired of pursing your lips and shaking your head? What happens when the call in your heart to love your fellow human being and engage him in dialogue is more irresistible than letting old wounds fester? This is where I am…simply fed up.
To that end, I want the people beneath the Mason Dixon line–from its contested Border states to its former Confederate heart to know each other as one branch within the American family within the larger human family. It is only here, where the American original sin began and terror and fear once ruled the night and coercion and abuse the day, that we can most effectively keep at the repair work desperately needed to keep us indivisible. That vision includes people of every color, people of faith, people who have no religious affiliation, people of every ability, people of every orientation, and class, creed, and gender. We are not going to go back to the days of the Old South. It was not a better or simpler or happier time. Those days were the birthpangs that almost killed us all. The real South to me is not luxuriating in the myths of better times past or in passe archetypes or the thrill of the kill…whatever that kill may be.
The real South is the white 4-6th generation cousin who just wrote me on Ancestry happily responding to my email that not only do we share a genetic connection but names and places in our Alabama family tree across the color line. It’s my life-saving pie brigade of white ladies and one white man at the Stagville dinner. It’s the children of all colors and faiths I saw playing together in the shadow of slave cabins that same day. It is Black people returning to the South like Jenga Mwendo, Dana Jewell Harris, Mark Bowen and Fenwick Broyard and other Southern urban farmers ushering in a green revolution–a reconstruction if you will–to heal a people and a region one bite at a time. It’s Korean American chef Edward Lee of Kentucky and Brenda of Brenda’s a Vietnamese Southerner from Louisiana whose representing the South all the way in San Francisco and her friend Bryant Terry, the Afro-Vegan chef from Mississippi too! The real South is Latina cookbook author Sandra Gutierrez AND Jewish food scholar Marcie Cohen Ferris AND the fabulous gay actor Leslie Jordan and The Prancing Elites of Mobile and genius lesbian writer Dorothy Allison and Muslim comedian Aziz Ansari. It’s Heather Whitestone the first deaf Miss America and its my grandfather Gonze Lee Twitty who had the guts to come back and fight for the Black farmer and integration. It’s so many good people that it brings me to tears to think that this is flashpoint is what the rest of America thinks we are–because believe me you it is a shared burden. The South has no monopoly on racism or prejudice let me be crystal clear! But this don’t help and the rest of the country should know we Southerners of moderate stripe no matter where we fall on the spectrum–don’t like this at all. What A&E should do is present a real dialogue between Mr. Robertson and fellow Southerners or Louisianians who are GLBT and/or of African descent. This is the real must-see TV.
Would Mr. Robertson say these things to a gay or black person’s face if he had to look them in the eye? Would he react with compassion if in that moment the person responded with compassion for him? Would he accept their tears as the truth melting down their faces? Would this cause some change in him by which he could open up his eyes and heart just a little more so that he could open his ears and hear another side of the story? Could we see the repairs being made in front of our eyes that would inspire the rest of us to right action? Or would that be just too much like right in an age where uncivil discourse and bad conflict resolution seem almost celebrated over the open and honest meeting of minds. It might just mean that sweeping things under the rug is easier and using keywords like family and faith with no real action are the way we keep the veneer alive that “everything is satisfactual.”
Newsflash: It ain’t satisfactual.
What we do unto our fellow human beings we do unto ourselves. What we do unto others is ultimately emblematic of our respect or disrespect for the Creator. GLBT people, African Americans, other fellow human beings–lend me your ears, and when you open your heart to teaching people who we really are and why these comments hurt, please start telling our truth. The generations are changing–these sentiments are dying and this cultural war isn’t fun anymore-it never was. It’s healing time. Now.