John Wayne and offence grave-robbing

The Western star’s racist comments from the Seventies have been dug up by tweeters.

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If John Wayne were still alive, he’d be in real trouble. The Western movie star, who died in 1979, has been hauled over the coals on Twitter for his racist views.

Screenwriter Matt Williams dug up an interview ‘Duke’ gave to Playboy in 1971, in which he held forth on Native Americans, black people and white supremacy, among other subjects. Here are some choice quotes:

‘We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility…

‘When you allow unlawful acts to go unpunished, you’re moving toward a government of men rather than a government of law; you’re moving toward anarchy… We allow dirty loudmouths to publicly call policemen pigs…

‘Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.’

It is racist, reactionary stuff, of course. (There’s a bit of homophobia mixed into the interview, too.)

But one can’t help but wonder why Williams, and the thousands of millennials currently enraged by someone they’d probably never heard of, feels the need to vent spleen about a near-50-year-old interview with a man born in 1907.

It’s not as if these quotes were only just uncovered, either – the interview even caused a stir when it was published in 1971, due to Wayne’s remarkably from-the-hip bigotry.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of what Freddie deBoer has termed ‘offence archaeology’, the digging up of someone’s old tweets or statements or yearbooks to the end of bringing them down and giving people with too much time on their hands a reason to feel good about themselves.

So what’s going on here with John Wayne? Offence grave-robbing? Whatever it is, it’s weird – and needs to stop.