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Disaster? I’ve Got a Recipe for That

June 27, 2013

Before I get started I want to say the following: Paula Deen is a racist and her use of the N word is completely  5119252678_e9fc06403b_ninexcusable. If you use that word, you are a racist. Period, end of story. To be sure, there are varying degrees of racism, but none of them are acceptable.

I’ve never been a fan of Paula’s, for no reason other than the fact that I am a vegan and a northeast liberal and find her recipes and her southern “charm” completely useless and uncharming.  I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain (who refers to my ilk [vegans] as “hezbollah-like”) and because of his ongoing and vocal dislike of her, much of what I know of Paula Deen has come from his Twitter feed.

So, I’m not a fan of the woman and I really have no interest in the success or failure of her career. What I am fascinated by is the reactions of her sponsors, her network, her fans, and her detractors to she herself admitting to having used the N word in the past. In her very awkward and tearful apologies she has basically claimed that this was an error on her part and in no way indicative of simmering racism. I don’t buy the “I made a mistake” argument when it involves racism; either you are and do and say racist things or you are not and do not say or do racist things.

The fact that, in interviews, she is being asked if she is a racist is absurd to me. She is, but perhaps not by the standards by which many Americans judge racism. I know plenty of people who would also not claim to be racist but who make insipid remarks that prove otherwise. Casual racism in America is everywhere and wholly accepted, while blatant racism is overwhelmingly punished and condemned. Trouble is, the casual insidious racism that exists in all of our institutions is far more harmful than the minority of people who are still openly racist. Being openly racist is troubling. Being a closet racist – and even worse a denier of it – is troubling, confusing, and difficult to deal with.

The truly sad thing is that when Paula Deen claims to not be racist despite her deplorable use of the N word, she undoubtedly believes she is telling the truth. She thinks that as long as she is hiring black people, not lynching them, and is fine with them owning land and voting, that she is not racist. Of course, being in compliance with the basic laws of the land and doing the absolute required minimum does not a non-racist make, and yet many Americans who claim to have nothing against black people or other minorities believe that they have a leg to stand on because they don’t engage in the types of behaviors that were acceptable before the Civil Rights movement.

The other question in all of this is whether or not Paula should have lost her show and her endorsement deals. If I believed for even a second that the Food Network dropped her because they were horrified by her behavior and did not want to provide her a platform to make herself even more wealthy and perhaps to espouse her racist views, I would fully support their decision. Sadly, I do not believe that. I think they dropped her because they feared the backlash of advertisers and viewers if they didn’t. And could it truly and honestly be news to them that she is a racist? I have a hard time believing that after 13 years of working with this woman, they had never seen any other indications of her moral character. Also, she’s a woman from the South of a certain age. Let’s face it: loads of southerners her age are racists. Many are not, but many are.

Maybe, since she did apologize and claimed it was a mistake, the best thing to do would have been to treat her like a person with an illness. What if she was an alcoholic who fell off the wagon? They would have likely insisted that she go to rehab and then fully supported her recovery. What if Paula, instead of being exiled and allowed to now carry on her racism in private, would have had to get educated? How about some therapy? And maybe being on TV through all of this, knowing that people were scrutinizing her every word, would give her the impetus she needs to really look deep within and confront the racism that is so deeply embedded in her being that she can’t even see it.

The fact is, racism is a sickness. It is an illness that is passed on generation through generation and it needs to be stopped. It will never be stopped if it is allowed to continue to lurk in the shadows of people’s minds and hearts, only revealing itself in unguarded moments. If you believe that people are “less than” because of the color of their skin or the country of their origin,  or if you think that using the N word doesn’t make you a racist, you are sick and you do need help. And if you are a wealthy white woman with a sudden influx of time, I suggest you go get it.

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