Duck Dynasty, Hip Hop and Our Failure to Communicate

The reactions to Phil Robertson's comments illuminate America's unwillingness to listen.

Kevin Coval is a Chicago poet who has made waves for helping to integrate hip hop and poetry scenes into something new, thrilling and empowering for millions of Chicago's youth. I read something of his yesterday that seems applicable to today’s Duck Dynasty dust-up.

Coval tackled the subject of another rising Chicago voice: a young rapper who goes by Chief Keef. Keef's waves are of a different variety—his music, according to Flavorwire—"glorifies killing ...and routine hoodlumism, walking a thin line between authenticity and straight-out illiteracy." Keef recently came under fire for proclaiming that his album would raise the murder rate in Chicago—a city already riddled with gun violence.

A Tortured and Tormented Song

What Coval says about Keef is interesting for its sensitivity and eloquence. "Chief Keef is Chicago's son, in its full boy-man Glory and horror," Coval writes. "He and the conditions that surround his neighborhood and populate his rhymes are currently—and in part because of him—more visible than they have ever been to folks outside of the neighborhood. The conditions on which this young man is reporting and referencing are not of his own invention." Coval goes on to say,

[Keef] sings a tortured and tormented Chicago song. A song only a Black boy-man can sing. It's a song we need to listen carefully to. And hear, and talk about. The time has come to engage in open and bold conversations on how to radically change the gruesome conditions of which he speaks.

Now, whether or not Chief Keef is interested in jumpstarting an important conversation about violence in the inner city, Coval has a point. Keef, and many rappers like him, is a product of a place and society. While our first instinct upon hearing troubling lyrics is to either recoil or ignore, it should be to thoughtfully engage. We should condemn any glorification of violence or misogyny in music, but it should not be a knee-jerk reaction. We should instead seek to understand the society these young men and women were raised in, understand our role in it and seek thoughtful, open conversation about where these things are coming from.

Predictable Outrage

Our culture has never been very good at such dialog—curious, given how readily means of it are at hand. Social media was supposed to start a glorious new age of cross-cutural communication, but it's generally only served to make the battle lines a little clearer. That was made particularly clear Wednesday night, when word leaked that Phil Robertson—the grand poobah of Duck Dynasty—had made his views on homosexuality plain in an upcoming GQ article.

No matter what side you find yourself on in the debate on homosexuality, there's no doubt that Robertson's tact left something to be desired. His use of Scripture was unfortunately undercut by comparing homosexuality to bestiality, and a very anatomically graphic explanation of why, in so many words, he didn't get homosexuality's appeal.

The quote spread like wildfire and, these times being what they are, he was swiftly suspended from the show. "His personal views in no way reflect those of A+E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community," the network said. "The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely." (Notably, Mr. Robertson's other words to GQ— “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?”—was not brought up.)

Outrage quickly flared on both sides. Sarah Palin called it an issue of free speech. GLAAD called the comments "vile" and said they "fly in the face of what true Christians believe." Huffington Post called the interview "shocking." Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler said A+E's actions sent a clear message: "Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality." Who knows how anyone was able to get an "I Stand With Phil" website up so quickly, but they did.

And, sadly, there are no Kevin Covals to come say that Mr. Robertson sings a tortured and tormented Louisiana song. Nobody suggesting that he is saying something we need to thoughtfully engage and listen to. There is no call for more dialog on this issue. There is only swift condemnation or reactionary culture war-mongering.

Opportunity to Understand

To be sure, there is no moral comparison between Mr. Robertson's comments to Chief Keef's. Whatever Mr. Robertson may be guilty of, openly praising wanton violence he is not. However, his comments and Keef's are similar in that they both come from cultures foreign and fascinating to the mainstream. The reason behind Duck Dynasty's popularity is that it shines a light on a deep streak of America that most of us are not privy to. Likewise, hip hop like Keef's exposes a very different part of this country—one society at large scarcely understands. In both cases, the opportunity is being presented to learn something. To thoughtfully critique, not with knee-jerk bluster, but open invitation to further conversation. In both cases, that opportunity is nearly always squandered.

By putting Mr. Robertson into a timeout, A+E has wasted just such an opportunity. What could have been a chance for them to engage has instead become just another chance to point out loony rednecks and their backwards beliefs. Imagine how different things may have gone if they had instead acted like Shane L. Windmeyer, an LGBT advocate who has struck up a friendship with Chick-Fil-a owner Dan Cathy. They talk about their differences. They seek common ground. They learn from each other.

Instead of responding with equal rage, this is an opportunity for Christians to respond with kindness and respect. To say, "Yes, the way he said what he did was hurtful" and provide some much-needed context—speaking the truth in love.

As a matter of fact, that attitude has already been struck, for anyone who has the interest in modeling it. It's been provided by Mr. Robertson himself, who released a statement saying, "We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

50 Comments

Steve Cornell

218

Steve Cornell commented…

On many issues the public largely feels like we are given a choice between agreeing with a set of politically approved ideas or being labeled intolerant, irrationally phobic or even a hateful bigot.

I am grateful to live in a country that has largely moved past the days of racial and gender sectarianism. We must protect people from discrimination based on matters of nature beyond their ability to control or change. I am not suggesting that we are completely victorious in these areas, but, like most people, I am tired of those who refuse to celebrate our advances out of a desire to be seen as victims to whom society is in debt. (See: Duck Dynasty Alert, http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/duck-dynasty-alert/)

Alexander Jeans

19

Alexander Jeans commented…

"Also, let's claim that no part of the Nazi party was a Christian when history proves at least 40-50% of those who identified with the idelogy professed to be protestants (not the leaders of the party, but yes, the followers)."

The Nazi's were never professing Christians but Hitler created the worship of an Aryan Christ, i.e. without jewish roots, but was denounced by the Pope and the Barmen declaration among professing Protestants. Get your facts straight!!
Just because someone calls themselves Protestant does not mean that they are "Christian".

As for Phil Robertson, I can't understand why he should be banned for voicing his opinion. Democracy entails that anyone can voice their opinion, no matter how loony it is. But of course he's banned, because TV is all right vs. left politics. So honestly, who cares if he struck a sore spot, it's never going to be taken seriously by people, other than the Clampetts, who aren't exactly rocket-scientists. (that's a reference to the Beverly Hillbillies btw). This will be forgotten in a day.

Keith Hamilton

18

Keith Hamilton replied to Alexander Jeans's comment

A&E suspending Phil doesn't really bother me. I don't have any animosity towards them. I don't think it was a good idea on their part, but they are a private company with their own culture and can fire whoever they wish if they think it's in their best interest.

What bothers me more is the large-scale vilification, hyperbole, and hysteria around what he said. And some of that is being displayed here. Considering how the family is standing up for him, I'm sure that vilification, hyperbole, and hysteria will spread to them, too—kids and all.

Tia Beattie

9

Tia Beattie commented…

A&E have the right to do whatever they want. What bothers me is that organizations like LGBT or GLADD are able to use the media to twist, distort, and hyperbolize a situation to strong-arm anyone that disagrees with them out of the publics eyes or ears.

Even if you disagree with Phil, or rather his tact, he made sure to add that he would never disrespect someone simple because they live differently than him. We are called to show love and I'm concerned as to when "love" inferred that you MUST agree with everything the subject of your loves believes in. I have friends that are gay, black, Muslim, etc. We might not agree on religion, life-styles, or even food choices! But I still love them and they know that. We have an open dialogue with one another because we know that we can be sure that no matter what is said, we will always respect and love each other.

Keith Hamilton

18

Keith Hamilton replied to Tia Beattie's comment

Organizations like GLADD (and I'm including activist organizations of ALL stripes) thrive on controversy. They focus on one word, one sentence, or one paragraph with laser focus; put their spin on it; and go crying to the media or their constituents. It gets them in the news, keeps them relevant, and probably helps with donations. Imagine, if these activist organizations really got what they wanted, their leaders and staff would lose their power and be out of a job.

The hysterical discourse permeating so much of our culture these days will probably ensure they will have plenty of controversies to keep their families fed forever. GLADD and their ilk will probably continue to "monitor" the Robertson family to see what else they can milk out of them.

Sam Hakes

4

Sam Hakes commented…

It never leads to discussion, but always justification of one side or the other? Ugh, this debate is crazy stressful, both sides want the whole world to acknowledge the truth of their beliefs and cast stones upon the other. Me included. I swear I only read these articles to tickle my self justification and see if the things I believe have won the cultural battle of data driven popular opinion. Wasn't one of David's biggest sins taking a poll to see if God's promise to make Israel a great nation was fulfilled? Is our desire to see our selves justified in the media an evil one? Because before God we don't stand justified except by Jesus.

Caleb Cline

2

Caleb Cline commented…

Not a bad article, makes some good points, but just because Phil was extremely straight up and uncensored does not mean he was in the wrong, or being "hurtful." We like when most public figures take a stand and just tell us how it is, so why are we saying Phil was being distasteful? Shouldn't we be glad that Christians and conservatives have someone in our corner in the spotlight, who is making a bold stand for what he believes, and who isn't holding anything back?

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