Quackers in Context

Now that all the fuss has died down about a certain “reality” television show, it’s worth noting that there was some interesting commentary rooted in a historical perspective … although just how historical (and sociological) these commentaries are may be in the eye of the beholder.

Start with this interview that started the whole mess. Then wander on over to read what Ta-Nehisi Coates has to say about the head hunter’s view of the African American experience. Finally, at That Devil History, Jarret Ruminski reflects on one understanding of white southern manhood in a time of change.

Next week: the Kardashians and the transformation of American culture.

15 thoughts on “Quackers in Context

  1. jarretr January 2, 2014 / 10:13 am

    Thanks for the Devil History mention Brooks!

    • Lyle Smith January 2, 2014 / 2:02 pm

      Professor Ruminski,

      How is it you’re not able to refrain from calling Phil Robertson a dumb ass or a ding-bat? Has Phil Robertson called you or anyone else any names?

      • jarretr January 9, 2014 / 9:11 am

        Technically, I uses those terms to refer to his comments. But if the shoe fits…

  2. Lyle Smith January 2, 2014 / 11:00 am

    Why did Ta-Nehsi Coates bring up events before Phil Robertson was born? Phil Robertson wasn’t asked about what had happened to blacks in 1935 or before, but what he saw when he was a kid growing up in north Louisiana. He can’t speak to that in Ta-Nehsi Coates’ mind? When Robertson was growing up things were changing rapidly in race relations, and many whites were already acquiescing to civil rights changes. The State isn’t different today because people clung real hard to what once was in the 1960s.

    Maybe an intelligent journalist will actually ask him about the history of blacks in Louisiana and then we can find how much he really knows about black suffering in Louisiana’s past.

  3. rortensie January 2, 2014 / 1:56 pm

    Is the Confederate flag really the Kardashians’ after all?

  4. Victor January 2, 2014 / 2:07 pm

    That’s the biggest problem I had, Mr. Smith. While I’m not defending Mr. Roberston’s comments, I think the media has done a bang up job of getting people riled up about this. The GQ writer was the one who mentioned anything about Jim Crow, it’s entirely possible and likely that Mr. Robertson was just attesting to what he saw, likely in relation to a question about welfare or something, not Jim Crow. In that context it doesn’t surprise me that a self-sufficiency advocate like Phil Robertson would say what he did. I didn’t find it particularly racist, just an anecdote about his experience that re-inforced his idea that people are happiest when they’re working on a farm or doing something else rural. It reflects more his anti-city, anti-modernity outlook than anything racial, I think.

    I don’t know where Phil Robertson grew up, but I imagine it was a small, rural area, and it’s entirely possible that in his area African Americans weren’t treated poorly. I don’t think Robertson was talking about Jim Crow or the African American experience. I just think we can’t know the intent or context until we know the exact question he was asked.

    Again, not defending his comments, just trying to keep things in context. As historians, we need to be especially careful of an author’s intent or manipulation of words. The fact that I don’t remember Robertson saying anything indicating he was talking about the black experience overall makes me wonder if this is an example of removing a statement from context.

  5. Victor January 2, 2014 / 2:11 pm

    Just for discussion’s sake, this is the bit from the interview: “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.”

    I took that from: http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson#ixzz2pHHT0OQG

    Upon re-reading I think even more he’s referring to welfare, which fits with his conservative political ideology. Which, by extension, does neglect the African American experience by pretending that government caused this problem (welfare) while neglected that the Federal government was the biggest protector of black rights during their struggle for equality. So yeah, it’s insensitive, but I doubt he put as much thought into it as historians who study this stuff and can draw these conclusions.

  6. M.D. Blough January 2, 2014 / 2:23 pm

    In addition to the events Mr. Coates discusses, there’s the Liberty Place attack and the White League’s role in it was long celebrated and sanitized in Louisiana history. Often portrayed by Lost Causers and other White Supremacists as valiant resistance against the horrible carpetbaggers and other demons of Reconstruction, it was actually an attempted coup d’etat by the White League that was part of its reign of terror that included the Colfax Massacre. I found an excellent blog post about the controversial monument to the “battle” at Liberty Place. http://lagniappenola.wordpress.com/2012/11/17/an-unwanted-monument-the-controversial-liberty-place-obelisk/

  7. khepera420 January 2, 2014 / 2:59 pm

    Robertson is probably damned right when he says that he never heard a black person speak out against white oppression. Few, if any, would have dared in the hearing of a white man in that time and place. His defenders cry foul about his alleged mistreatment by those who “weren’t there.” By the same token, Robertson “wasn’t there” when blacks suffered the more outrageous fruits of white racist behavior.

    What he says he saw, or didn’t see, isn’t what’s so offensive. The offensiveness lies in his code phrases, “pre-entitlement,” “pre-welfare,” and his disingenuousness regarding race relations in Louisiana during Jim Crow. They speak eloquently to his attitudes and culture-blindness.

    As for ” . . .how much he really knows about black suffering in Louisiana’s past,” I doubt it’s much, if anything. Good luck with that.

    • Victor January 3, 2014 / 7:13 am

      The idea of “code words” works best when studying Reconstruction, or the anti-civil rights leadership. I don’t know Robertson, but I’ve seen the show and have a hard time believing he is a raging racist. I highly doubt he knows he’s using code words. Doesn’t intent matter when contextualizing statements?

      I still maintain he was blinded by his dislike of the “entitlement state” and didn’t mean what people think he meant. But again, I don’t know him, I just like giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially when they’re not historians or political theorists who carefully think through ideas.

      • khepera420 January 4, 2014 / 11:53 am

        Victor, I don’t believe that Robertson is a “raging racist,” nor did I say he was. As to whether or not he knows he’s using code words, the question is irrelevant. Maybe I should have called it a dogwhistle statement. You say that you don’t think he meant what people think he meant. What do you think he meant?

  8. Charles Lovejoy January 2, 2014 / 7:09 pm

    Any body ever consider this is all about ratings? Guess I’m cynical, but my take on stuff like this is “Money”. The better ratings the more A&E can charge for adverting time. I think the person on the show said some controversial things and some smart people at A&E figured out how to spun it around to keep the show on and not loose on their investment and have another season to sell advertising. My candied observation on this whole thing is, those that seem to be so supportive of the person Phil on the show are the same people that patronize conservative talk radio.

    • Brooks D. Simpson January 2, 2014 / 9:19 pm

      I believe some of us have considered it. Certainly A&E looks foolish.

    • Thelibertylamp January 2, 2014 / 10:17 pm

      It’s like they mixed Sarah Palin with a Kardashian and stuck them in camo with a long beard.

      It’s the new 15 minute sensation on minute 14.

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