What it Means to Defend Paula Deen

I am a bit of a Facebook whore-ette.  (It’s not a vulgar word if you add ‘ette’ to the end of it, don’t you know.)  Many of you already know this.  I love to share and I love to be privy to the details of others’ lives and I love feeling connected to the outside world since, ironically, motherhood can often be an isolating experience.

Lately, I have seen many of those silly Facebook images getting passed around with a photo of Paula Deen and the question, “Should Paula Deen be forgiven for something she said 27 years ago?” “Yes = Like”

Mind you, ’27 years ago’ is bolded in a bright color.

In related news, I have been screaming at my computer screen a lot.

Here’s the truth, I have plenty of friends and family that are quite conservative, despite my personal liberal leanings. (Okay, the word ‘leaning’ is being used…liberally.  Made myself laugh on that one.)  I still love or care about these people.  I don’t find it necessary to delete them from my Facebook feed or my life and surround myself only with those who feel exactly the same as I do on all topics.  I do mostly scroll quickly by many of their posts or links, sure, but I can usually tolerate a difference of opinion, even when I believe very strongly in my differing opinion.

However, these Paula Deen posts are entirely maddening to me.  Their tone and ultimate message may not be any more conservative than other things posted by people I know, but it is the complete dumbed-down simplicity of the issue that has me yelling at the computer.  My husband isn’t on Facebook, but he reads a lot of newspapers and speaks with many people each day.  (Other common ways of communicating and figuring out what’s happening in the world if you aren’t a Facebook whore-ette like Yours Truly.)   Last night he mentioned to me that this whole ‘in support of Paula Deen argument’ was driving him nuts.  “You mean the ‘so she said one stupid word 27 years ago‘ argument?”, I asked.  (I didn’t mention that I had seen it on Facebook, as I have to admit that referencing my Facebook feed as an example of information-gathering to a man who won’t even be in the same room with reality TV makes you feel pretty silly.)  YES!, he responded.  Then we both kind of erupted with the same exact points at the same exact time.

We may have differing opinions about Facebook, but I love being married to a man who I can easily debate about many things, while knowing that on heavy, important topics we almost always get each other and are on the same page.

So, as I sat here fuming at my Facebook feed for the past few days, willing myself not to type something furious and snarky to any individuals, I thought to myself, “But however can I speak my mind without directly attacking those who are posting these silly things?”

Oh, that’s right, you have a blog, ya big dummy!  Use it to speak – not just about Mommy Sobbing and recipes with feta and urine (God, why is there so much urine?) – but about things that matter to you, about points that you want out there swimming around on the internet, giving counterpoints to memes that make you want to scream.

So, here is the thing guys, this whole ‘Paula Deen thing‘ isn’t about one stupid word she said 27 years ago.  People want to say that many others have used a word they regret many years ago.  This is probably true.  But guess why all of those people aren’t having it brought into the glaring light of 2013 in a printed transcript while on trial?

Because they aren’t on trial for being racist and sexist in the workplace. (These kinds of statements are the kind that deserve to be in bold, for future reference.)

Paula Deen is not watching her empire crumble because she used the n-word 27 years ago, as if someone randomly mentioned that fact and then Walmart decided to cut ties with her.  An employee of her and her brother’s restaurant brought a lawsuit against the two of them with multiple specific examples of racism and sexism in the workplace that they run and in several cases, enacted directly by Paula and Bubba to their employees.  It was during this trial about current examples of racism and sexism that it came to light that she also admits to using racial slurs in the past.

To clarify: The trial is not about a racial slur she used 27 years ago; The racial slur she used 27 years ago became one fact that supported the case against her regarding her offensive behavior today.

Beyond the frustration of hearing so many people simplify and water down this complex situation into a tiny spec of truth, twisted to make it seem insignificant, is the disheartening argument of  ‘everyone says (or has said) offensive things like this in private!  What?  Are we all racists?!’

Hmm…

I went on a date during my bachelorette days in Baltimore.  As we were driving home from the movies my date suddenly exclaimed, “Uh oh.  We are passing through n-ville!  Lock your door!”

I’m sorry, what did you just say?

“We are driving through n-ville.  This whole neighborhood is full of n-words.  Lock your door.”  (he didn’t censor himself, even the second time).

I was in shock.  Sure, I had seen tons of subtle racism in my life and had heard people tell jokes that were offense or make statements that left me uncomfortable.  But this was extremely blatant…and on a first date. This guy had no idea where my views lied and he felt comfortable throwing out words like that, assuming that because I was white I would be okay with it.  The little he did know about me was that I was a teacher in Baltimore and had spoken about how much I loved my students.  So I guess if he had half a brain he could have figured out that some of my students were black and that if I cared about them I probably wouldn’t want to hear that word.

My first response was to tell him that he was gross for speaking like that and that I wanted him to just take me home instead of out for a drink.  Now, he was the one in shock.  We had a heated discussion the whole drive to my place, during which he told me that I was being too sensitive and that this was how all white Americans spoke and felt.  He went on to tell me that he was positive that everyone from random cab drivers to my own father all spoke this way, whether I wanted to admit it to myself or not. Why he felt the need to bring my father – whom he had obviously never met nor knew anything about – into it, I have no idea (except I guess he was trying to convince me that all white people felt the same as he does), but it only made me that much more furious.  By the time we were near my home he asked, “You sure you don’t want to grab one drink?” Oh dear, this guy was a racist piece of crap, condescending and clueless. YES, I am sure! He then told me I was making him feel like some sort of monster, even though he was still sure that he was in the majority and I was the over-dramatic one.

And that is what I keep thinking as people try to support Paula Deen with claims of ‘But we have all said things like this at some point!”

Um, no, I don’t recall every dreaming up ‘slavery’ as one of the possible design themes of my wedding.  Sorry.

I have comforted a white friend immediately after she was held up at gunpoint by a black man.  Guess what word she never used?

And I know many people who have managed to run businesses for many decades without ever hearing complaints of racism or sexism from their employees.

It is 2013.  Enough is enough with trying to say that racist comments are no big deal and at the same time claiming racism is dead.  (Because somehow it seems to be the same people saying both things.)

Racism isn’t even close to being dead.  And the only way we have any chance of killing it is if we all admit that it is still peeking it’s ugly head around many corners every day.   Instead of trying to make yourself feel better by including all of us in your ‘we’ve all done it’ defense, how about you work on changing yourself instead?  How about we all make sure that our kids never hear us speaking disparagingly about other groups so that we can finally raise a generation that comes closer to actually being able to say racism is done.

Because when your kids hear you defending actions by a public figure like Paula Deen they become ingrained with the idea that those words and those ideas are okay.  If your kids are white that means they will continue to treat others that way and feel just fine about it.  If your kids are not white, it breeds the kind of self-loathing that is hard to undo.  (Because yes, not everyone posting things in defense of Paula Deen  is white or has white children.)  They are either learning that it is okay to treat others badly, or that it is okay for others to treat them badly.

Either way, we shouldn’t feel okay about teaching our kids those lessons.

And how about, when discussing something as deep and life-affecting as racism we use some intelligence and factual evidence, rather than a simplified meme that doesn’t even begin to touch upon the real point.   If you’re going to perpetuate racist behavior by defending racist behavior, at least do it with some intelligent dialogue so that others can feel comfortable responding with their own fact-based opinion, rather than resorting to shaking their fists at a stupid Facebook meme.

Or writing lengthy blog posts in order to lower their blood pressure.

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9 Responses to What it Means to Defend Paula Deen

  1. anon says:

    /slow clap

    WELL SAID!

  2. Kristin Shaw says:

    A – freaking – MEN! My parents are about Paula Deen’s age, and I’m nearly positive they’ve never ever used the N word, and therefore neither did my sister and I. Nor did we ever dream up any kind of racist crap like that. Thank you.

  3. Your mother says:

    Good post, Annie. I too am so offended when some people say “everyone has used racist or bigoted language” at some time in their lives. This IS NOT True! Your parents never did.
    Even if this were true for any individual, it is no excuse to continue or accept terrible behavior. Plus, if I waitressed somewhere and there was pornography up on a computer in the kitchen I think I would be sick before I threw my apron at it and quit. There were a lot of very offensive workplace situations testified to in her lawsuit. There also might be good reason for not supporting her when she knowingly promoted diabetic poison for years while hiding her own diabetes until she got a deal to promote a diabetes drug. She does not deserve trust or respect.

  4. Nichola says:

    I LOVE this post! Thank you for writing it. I completely agree that it is maddening when complex and important issues are simplified and reduced to tag lines and memes. It’s crazy when it becomes a matter of taking sides instead of looking inward, as you pointed out as well as looking at our legacies and contributions. Conversations like this one can help! I feel my blood pressure lowering a bit :)

  5. Anon – I am not sure I have ever before received a slow clap. Thank you. ;)

  6. Kristin -

    Exactly. I keep hearing about things being ‘generational’ or ‘geographical.’ But that is offensive to others in that generation or from those locations who never made racist comments, even if people around them did. And is even offensive to those who maybe did use words in the past that they now wish they could erase. Both of those situations differ greatly from ‘c’mon, we’ve all done it, it’s no big deal’ protests.

  7. Mom,

    Thank you. And yes, this whole trial and situation is about much more than one word from 27 years ago. It is about continued racist behavior in multiple ways, situations and years. It is ALSO about sexist and misogynistic behavior in a work place. Paula participated and/or looked the other way (on her brother’s behalf) for all of it and she needs to face that. Of course she is falling harder than the average restaurant owner would in this situation, but that comes with the territory of building a huge public persona.
    And you’re right that her deceptive manner of handling the combination of being known for BUTTTTTTTER and then having diabetes already left her less than trustworthy or admirable.

  8. Nichola –

    Forever eloquent and thoughtful in your opinions. It’s true that all of this should make everyone look inward, rather than simply choosing sides based on taglines and simplified portions of a huge issue.

    xo

  9. Grand Kate says:

    You go girl! (I suppose I should say You go Woman / Mother, but you know what I mean. I had never heard of Paula Deen before this week (tells you what I don’t watch on TV) but am appalled at this whole thing. Your analysis and passion are right on – and extremely well written. We do not all use racist and sexist language and we do not condone it.

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