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 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT