When Sarah Palin tastelessly invoked slavery into a critique of the federal debt, MSNBC commentator Martin Bashir suggested that the failed vice presidential candidate would do well to experience some of the more barbaric aspects of pre-Civil War servitude, referencing an especially revolting practice.
The remarks created a stir and Bashir, a British journalist of Pakistani background, apologized for them. But before long, the veteran journalist was suspended by the network and he resigned.
Just days later, another controversy brewed, this time involving Phil Robertson, the star of the reality show Duck Dynasty. In an interview, Robertson expressed his revulsion to gay sex, likening it to bestiality. Not content to stop at offending one segment of the population, he went on to say that African-Americans were far happier in the days of segregation, a period when he insists “no one was singing the blues.”
There was no apology from Robertson for offending anyone. Instead, there was a rush from a wide range of right-wing commentators and politicians to defend his right to speak out. While A&E suspended the program and certain stores decided not to sell Duck Dynasty products, the backlash from the right caused all those parties to reverse their sanctions. Now Robertson has been vindicated by the right and he undoubtedly feels free to continue to make more outrageous statements.
Not only was there no apology from Robertson, but there was the further revelation from him that he believes the best age for women to marry is 15 or 16. That controversial position should renew the discussion of whether this is an appropriate character for A&E to feature on one of its programs.
If nothing else, it points to a troubling double standard in this country, one that has been highlighted to breathtaking degrees in this age of Obama.
It is difficult to imagine an African-American figure making disparaging or insulting comments about any particular group without being tarred and feathered by the conservative forces in America. It is patently unthinkable that any Black reality show star would have the same good fortune as Robertson after making statements half as controversial.
History is filled with the high price African-Americans have paid for comments deemed offensive by the larger society. Some have seen their political fortunes fade and their influence diminished.
The significant issue is not Robertson’s right to make senseless comments, as many on the right contend. The issue is that Americans have a right to make decisions about who they patronize and support based on the free speech practiced by citizens. To that end, Robertson and his supporters would do well to focus on the need to shun and condemn offensive comments toward their fellow Americans.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
(Photo: AP Photo/A&E)
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