Phil Robertson Relates To Black People Cuz He ‘Hoed Cotton’ Too

Phil Robertson of A&E's "Duck Dynasty".
Phil Robertson of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty”.

When GQ released their interview with the “Duck Dynasty” clan they had to know it would be controversial. Heck, they titled it “What the Duck”. It wasn’t long before social media erupted in faux and real anger over both the homophobic words of the show’s star, Phil Robertson, and his subsequent?suspension?from the show. What seemed to go largely unacknowledged, even unnoticed was his comment on pre-Civil Rights era race relations.

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.

Whoa! Let’s unpack this a bit.

Phil does shed light on something many people aren’t aware of, that indeed many poor white people were sharecroppers or tenant farmers. Yet it is a bit amazing that simply by the act of doing farm work with black people Mr. Robertson feels entitled to speak for them. He has to know that even in the tenant farming system there was a racial caste system. He seems oblivious to the fact that in the pre-Civil Rights south a black person complaining about a white person treating him or her badly meant he or she was literally risking his or her life. Lest we forget the KKK killed white people who worked for equality and they thought even less of killing black people. The swamps and back roads of the deep south still bare silent witness to lynchings and beatings we will never know the full truth about. That terrorist violence was a way to rectify perceived slights against white people in the “good ole days”.

During the”Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare” era as he put it, it was routine for land owners and local lawmakers to withhold federal food aid to all blacks under the belief that if black people, young or elderly, were given food help they wouldn’t work.?I’m happy that Mr. Robertson is willing to bestow a certain standard of godliness to poor suffering black people, but the truth is that during that time many poor black farmers died of starvation every year because of the lack of food assistance. If that’s what is needed to be a godly black person I’ll pass.

Apparently, according to Phil Robertson, black sharecroppers were all happy field hands singing and smiling without a care in the world. It’s amazing that black people ever got all upset and fought for equality at all. When Phil says, “they were happy; no one was singing the blues,” it makes me wonder where he thinks the blues came from? (Hint: the roots of the blues is in field work songs and spirituals, and no they weren’t happy.)

For those who choose to see Phil Robertson as an uneducated backwater redneck it is easy to write his comment off as some fringe belief. Yet his belief that it wasn’t that bad for black people before Civil Rights isn’t that uncommon. In fact it’s a belief that fuels the belief that white people are now more discriminated against than people of color. His view is not one just held in the South or by people of a certain age. I have no doubt that Mr. Robertson believes his whitewashed version of pre-Civil Rights history. I am also sure he is very invested in holding on to it as an example of how the South isn’t really the way people think it is. I too like to correct people’s perceptions of the South, but not by using lies. It is his right ?to say these things; he should just know that others will be coming along to correct him.


Edited by DH.

Laurie Bertram Roberts is the president of Mississippi National Organization for Women, a feminist activist, full spectrum doula and writer in Jackson, MS. Her family suspected she was trouble when at age 8 she preferred reading weekly news magazines over girly magazines. Her early fascination with liberal ideals, women's rights, was not quite welcome in her conservative fundamentalist Christian home. She is incredibly passionate about reproductive justice and fighting all forms of oppression. When not speaking truth to power she is likely hanging out with her children watching sci fi or doing other nerd like things.