January 03, 2014, 02:42 pm

‘Duck Dynasty’ vs. ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ and ’12 Years a Slave’

Common culture does force us to confront some pretty fundamental values.

This holiday season I went to see the play, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a remake of the 1967 movie with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier, and the harsh movie “12 Years a Slave.”

Confession: I have never watched “Duck Dynasty.” But you would have to live in a cave to have avoided the controversy surrounding the comments of the patriarch, Phil Robertson. His comments on race, gays and lesbians, and marriage have been widely reported.


What strikes me is the extraordinary juxtaposition between these examples of what we consider part of the “American experience.”On the one hand, you have a historic tale of a man, with a wife and two children, kidnapped and sold into slavery. A successful black man living in upstate New York in the 1800s is forced for 12 years to work as a slave on plantations in Louisiana. The life of a slave is so powerfully portrayed in the film that hardly a minute goes by that you don’t flinch.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a film classic, set in San Francisco in the 1960s, where an interracial couple are introduced to their respective families, with much drama. The real drama of the time occurred when a Supreme Court decision on June 12, 1967, Loving v. Virginia, overturned state laws that prohibited interracial unions. At the time, 16 states had laws on the books that banned such marriages.

It is hard to imagine that people were prosecuted, threatened with jail time, or that a married couple like Mildred and Richard Loving found their home invaded by police as they slept, after a “tip.” Now, 1 in 12 American marriages, 4.8 million, are interracial, an all-time high. That’s about 8.4 percent of all marriages, up from 3.2 percent in 1980.

What was acceptable to some in the 19th century is now abhorrent to everyone: slavery. What was unacceptable to many until very recently — interracial marriage — is now common.

Sadly, people like Robertson seem to exhibit a series of attitudes on race, gay rights, interpretations of Christianity, that are embraced by those who fail to embrace a tolerant, open, egalitarian society.

Robertson was asked what was sinful and replied: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality …”

When asked about race he said:

“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 guess my only response is that Robertson must have missed the 1950s and 1960s entirely and been blind to nearly everything that was going on around him. I get that he is playing a role and I get that his “white trash shtick” is earning him tens of millions of dollars, but I hope he and his clan show more understanding and tolerance in the months to come. The popularity of their empire and the publicity from these latest comments should be a lesson in the clashes of common culture.

The days of Jim Crow are over; the days of gays in the closet are over; the days of laws that discriminate are over; the days of prejudice and hatred toward those who are different should be over. It would be truly Christian if the Robertsons used their millions to advance a future of tolerance and reconciliation, not fanning the flames of out-of-date prejudices.