The Paula Deen deal is another sad episode in certain people’s attempts to dumb down our conversation on race. The usual suspects are trying to narrow the argument down to when and where (and why) she said the word nigger, as if the use of that word is the only way we can tell if someone is truly racist. I agree with a good deal of Charlie Cooke’s post here, especially this:
I have little time for those who can’t see the difference between Kanye West’s using the N-word and a racist’s hurling it at an African American in anger.
This question of “why do black people get to say it?” has been asked and answered so many times that anyone still asking it is being deliberately obtuse.
But this is kind of silly:
In the meantime, is it wise for us to pull her and her brand down because of something she may or may not have said privately in the 1980s?
In the 80’s? That wasn’t that long ago. Does it matter that is was said privately? Doesn’t that offer that window into her heart that people are always harping on? Paula offered her own defense:
“The day I used that word it was a world ago, years ago,” she said. “I had had a gun put to my head, a shaking gun because the man that had the gun to my head, unbeknowning [sic] to me was my customer at the main [bank] office.”
Did this man put a gun to her head and tell her to call him that? What kind of a shitty excuse is this?
But I’m not really interested in why or when Paula Deen said what she said and I’m getting off topic.
Here’s the thing, I grew up around rednecks (their name for themselves), many of who didn’t know that I’m only half white, at least half, non-hispanic white. So their filter wasn’t on and I’d hear this kind of talk all the time. I got used to it. I learned to deal with it. What’s fucked is that I had to learn to control my anger at people making jokes and derogatory about people I am related to. Because getting mad and yelling at rednecks for telling racial jokes was not socially acceptable where I grew up. I had to learn to navigate that world. I didn’t whine about it because no one would have given a shit. The response would have been “get over it.” I don’t really think less of most of those people, that’s just how things were back home.
But the world is changing. It’s not acceptable to make those jokes so much anymore. And certainly not if you’re a public figure. Deen fucked up. I got one thing to say about that- borrowing from George Lopez-
THAT’S HOW YOU LEARN
Paula Deen’s lesson is going to cost her a lot more than mine ever did. But that’s life. The fact is there is no guidebook for these things, just like there’s no real guidebook for picking up members of the opposite sex. You have to learn. Some of us the hard way. I know I have. Like Brad Paisley’s awkward accidental racist song (which, to get really meta, was widely regarded as an example of accidental racism), we’ve all fucked up. It happens.
And there’s no way I’m taking that away. Because when someone fucks up, their reaction to being called out tells you everything you need to know about that person. I don’t really give a shit about Paula Deen and if she gets her sponsors or her job back it won’t make a difference to me one way or the other. If, as Charlie Cooke points out, she’s guilty of what she is accused of in the civil case against her, then she should be. If not, then maybe not. But calls for one set of rules for everyone (why can rappers say it? it’s hypocrisy) are premature. We’re all just going to have to figure this stuff out on our own.