Skip to main content

'Duck Dynasty's' black supporters

By Yolanda Young
updated 11:48 PM EST, Wed January 15, 2014
Jase, Si, Willie and Phil Robertson star in the A&E television series "Duck Dynasty." The popular reality show follows a Louisiana family that became rich through Duck Commander, a business making products for duck hunters. Jase, Si, Willie and Phil Robertson star in the A&E television series "Duck Dynasty." The popular reality show follows a Louisiana family that became rich through Duck Commander, a business making products for duck hunters.
HIDE CAPTION
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
The stars of 'Duck Dynasty'
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson returns in new episodes after controversial comments
  • Yolanda Young disagrees with him but says there are pockets of support for show among African Americans
  • She says some believe homosexuality is a sin; hunters feel an affinity for show
  • Young: Some of my relatives understand, but object to, Robertson's comments on race

Editor's note: Yolanda Young is the author of the memoir, "On Our Way To Beautiful", and the publisher and C.E.O. of Lawyers Of Color. Follow her on twitter @yolandayoungesq

(CNN) -- As "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson returns from his brief "hiatus," he'll do so to the cheers of some surprising supporters — southern blacks. Robertson was suspended from the A&E hit show for calling homosexuality a sin and equating it to bestiality in a GQ profile.

Receiving less attention were his comments that black people were happier before the civil rights movement.

Media have focused on two camps in the controversy. On one side are Robertson's predictable supporters, who include white evangelicals, southern Republican politicians and Fox News. On the opposing team are LBGT activists and progressives.

Yolanda Young
Yolanda Young

But while Robertson's comments have roiled members of MSNBC's black media elite such as Al Sharpton, Melissa Perry and Joy Reid, Robertson has found pockets of support among church-going, middle-class African Americans.

Did 'Duck Dynasty' alienate black fans?
Roundtable: GOP's 'Duck Dynasty' problem
'Duck Dynasty' stars launch line of guns

Though I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, a city a little over an hour's drive from the Robertson's empire in West Monroe, I've spent my adult life in Washington. So when a high school Facebook friend posted a 10-paragraph open letter of support to A&E for Robertson, which was signed "Everyone who isn't a left wing extremist (AKA your former customer base)," I was a bit surprised.

In my view, Robertson's comments regarding both homosexuals and African Americans suggest he lacks empathy and the ability to think critically. To be preoccupied with the "sin" of 3 percent to 6 percent of the population seems as off-base as the idea that a people could be happy with second-class citizenship.

My Facebook friend never confirmed penning the letter he posted, which received nearly 50 "Likes" from other college-educated black professionals and blue-collar types. The comments ranged from analogies, "Where would we be if Rosa Parks had went to the back of the bus. She had rights, he has rights," to concern, "Have you noticed that anything and everything can be said about Christians now. Our beliefs are now wrong and we are outdated."

When two commenters pointed out Robertson's misguided remarks about black people "singing" while working the fields, they were quickly rebuffed with, "From what I heard him say What HE SAW. Are you saying that there aren't blacks who weren't like he said."

Because support for Robertson seemed to be fueled by religious beliefs, I sought some insight from Bishop Larry L. Brandon, pastor of Praise Temple Full Gospel Baptist Church in Shreveport. The bishop explained that though he was "deeply concerned" with how Robertson expressed his spiritual views on homosexuality, he added, "I can't twist scripture to suit a lifestyle ... I speak the truth in love."

Indeed, Brandon's position is held most strongly by the black church. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that while the percentage of white evangelicals, mainliners and Catholics who believe homosexual behavior is a sin has dropped 4, 5, and 14 percentage points, respectively, since a similar poll was conducted in 2003, the percentage of black Protestants who regard homosexual behavior as a sin has actually increased 5 points to 79%.

Many disagree with Robertson's portrayal of Jim Crow-era African Americans. Brandon said: "While I believe Robertson has freedom of speech, I respectfully disagree with his remarks regarding black people. In my humble opinion, while our community has a history of overcoming adversity, making lemons out of lemonade regardless of the difficulty of the situation, one should not mistake our ability to endure with our actually enjoying abuse."

LZ Granderson: "Duck Dynasty" star's rights weren't violated

Not all of Robertson's black support is due to religious convictions. Black hunters share a pastime with the Robertson clan.

While home for Christmas, an uncle who loves "Duck Dynasty" shared his perspective with me on camera. Uncle Michael Smith is 53 and has been a hunter all of his adult life. He owns a home, attends church and votes in every election. He honed his hunting skills watching TV outdoorsmen like Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston. For him, "Duck Dynasty" is an extension of the hunting show genre he loves.

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

Uncle Michael explained Robertson's comments this way: "The way (Robertson) talks, it's old talk ...The new generation is a whole lot different. Everything is out in the open ...The comment (Robertson) made (about homosexuality) probably was taught to him at a young age, but I do believe he just made a mistake. He apologized, so I'm gonna continue to watch the show if it keeps coming on."

S.E. Cupp: Don't reject "Duck Dynasty" family

While my uncle was unfazed by Robertson's comments about black people, some family members were put off. As a child in the late '70s, I had occasion to scale perch, pick bushels of purple-hull peas and use an outhouse. I've heard kin describe what it's like to pick cotton (hot and painful), and they never sounded happy about it, but another story told in my family might explain the "happy" put-on.

Annually, my grandmother recounts my Uncle James' Christmas Day birth, explaining that because the hospital was understaffed and didn't execute his birth certificate until the next day, his birth date is listed as December 26.

As in past years, someone asked my grandmother why she didn't point out the mistake. Her eyes grew wide, and she shook her head violently. "No! You don't understand," she tells us. "I was at Charity Hospital! Those white doctors didn't talk to us, and we didn't question them."

While my grandmother was in labor, her mother and aunt would wait in a closet-size room reserved for Negroes. Once a black child was born, a nurse would enter the room with her back to its occupants and write on a chalkboard the mother's name, the baby's sex and weight, and whether the baby was dead or alive. With a frown, my grandmother added, "The only thing they ever said to me was, 'Guurl, what you gon' name this baby?'"

That my grandmother would not point out such a mistake is unfathomable to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We only know of her strength. To us she is the lifelong domestic who birthed nine healthy babies, buried two grown sons and slept in the bed her husband had died in hours earlier. But in her eyes, when she tells this story, I can see her vulnerability, her fear that "they'd send me home and not let me come back."

Shannan Hicks, a researcher and storyteller who focuses on the Northern Louisiana post-Jim Crow era, is not surprised that black workers shielded their true feelings from Robertson.

"This was the age of black lynchings. A black person would never have reveled their true self to a white person who looked and talked like Robertson," Hicks said before referencing the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that opens with this stanza:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Since my visit home, I've thought a lot about Brandon's last comments regarding what he believed to be Robertson's greatest offense — saying that homosexuals "won't inherit the kingdom of God." The bishop emphasized: "Only the Lord has the right to condemn one to hell or lift them to heaven. God is our judge."

Clearly, the big guy has his work cut out for him.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Yolanda Young.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 8:17 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT