This whole firestorm surrounding Paula Deen smells of something stinky. And it is not simply racism. Now, before you have a cow (butter basted, deep fried, or otherwise) hear me out. I am not saying that Paula Deen is not racist. She probably is. But I do find it curious that she has become the single person to punish for racism. Here is why.
Paula Deen was called out for using the “N-word.” It is worth noting that this word is treated far more fearfully in just about every form of media when people are fine using the word bitch to describe women, faggot to describe gay men, and a whole variety of slurs to describe Latinos and Asians that no one feels the need to abbreviate… and as a woman who is generally called a bitch when I stand up for myself, I take issue with the allowances given that term – I am talking to you Kanye West and Jay Sean Carter Z…
We all know, collectively, that the “N-word” is not an okay word to use – unless, according to some, you are a black person, though being pretty white, I don’t really feel like I can talk about that, unless we all agree that insider status gives you the privilege to reclaim the power of a word – like I do not mind when my girlfriends use the term bitch/bitches in describing our group of friends… though I am filled with furious rage when women who do not know each other use the term against another, so… hypocrite? I dunno.
So, what did The Queen of All Things Butter say? In response to question in a videotaped court proceeding about whether or not she had ever used the “N-word”, she said, “Yes, of course,” further explaining that it’s “just not a word that we use as time has gone on.” And people lost their minds.
Okay, fair enough. Here is a southern white woman who has done some ridiculous shit ranging from not acknowledging her privilege as a white southerner (possibly forgivable) to organizing a “Plantation” themed wedding reception with all black servers dressed in plantation appropriate attire – so dressing as slaves (clearly less forgivable.) She also (born in 1947) came up through a hugely transitional time in our nation’s history , and who knows how much time she spent outside of Georgia, but I am guessing she was fairly insulated from the real drama of the civil rights movement, perhaps along the lines of how some people in places outside of San Francisco are unaware of the real struggle for equal rights that the LGBT community has been fighting – for years. Further, she clearly acknowledged that it was a common term that she knows should not used anymore.
She fucked up, this is clear. But the public vilification of her, and the absolute demolition of her livelihood has been bothering me. It reminds me of how Martha Stewart – who did do something dumb, (and illegal) – was made an example of when there were thousands of Wall Street men who committed far more significant and egregious crimes of the exact same nature that never even got their wrists slapped.
Thanks to my girl Co who is from Texas (and sends me amazing things like this), I recently found out that the governor of Texas, one Rick Perry (who is on so many of my shitlists I don’t even know where to start with him) owns a property called Niggerhead Ranch. Now, I would like to ask why this man is not being removed from his position of power (which would benefit far more people – women are more than 50% of the population and I cannot imagine there are that many Paula Deen cuisine fans) and being crucified in the press. Beyond being insulated from any scandal this might have to offer, there are articles like this which suggest that owning a property with the “N-word” in it is totally acceptable because of the, say it with me: HISTORY. Whether or not this is an acceptable explanation, according to the aforementioned article:
…hinges on whether the ranch’s title means that Perry is – drumroll, please – a racist. However, Perry did not name the place himself – by the time he was using it, the name was an ancient custom, and not associated explicitly with insulting black people. Here, we must listen to the locals who tell us that the name was simply an utterance to them. “That’s just what people call it,” one told The Post.
So, because it is historical vernacular it is okay. For Rick Perry. But because Paula Deen admitted that she used the word, was basically honest (admittedly under legal pressure) about her familiarity with the term, she is a racist, historical vernacular aside. And while the article quoted above is shockingly ignorant for myriad reasons, I would just like to know where this guy’s defense of Paula Deen is.
There is something about this that seems strange…. but I just can’t quite put my finger on it… hmmmm…. I wonder…. what do these examples have in common….
Huh. I wonder…
I feel like there is something there, but I am just not… wait, I think I see a pattern.
The thing is this: Paula Deen may very well be racist, in fact I am fairly sure she is, but the number of people taking this opportunity to congratulate themselves for not being racist because they are “not like Paula Deen” is ridiculous (the absolute best response I have seen to Paula Deen is this amazing letter: read it here.) The “at-least-I’m-not-Paula” excuse is allowing the perpetuation of what John Fugelsang termed the ignoracist (which Paula herself is). These are people who avoid public acknowledgement of their racist tendencies by saying things like “no offense” after an offensive statement, or “I’m not racist, I have black friends,” or my current favorite, “hey, I’m not racist, I voted for Obama!” All the while these same ignoracists allow a white male attorney to establish that because a young black woman used the “N-word” with her best friend, one Trayvon Martin, the woman is racist, (even though these people already said it is okay for black people to use the term among themselves) and somehow this racism mitigates the cold-blooded killing of Trayvon (by extension, also racist) by George Zimmerman. That is racist. And inconsistent. And god dammed sexist too, which is apparently completely acceptable in fighting for the greater good, whatever the hell that is. (Take note Mr. Perry, this shit is not cool.) I bet a lot of ignoracsists (or ignorsexists) and “at-least-I’m-not-Paula” types also buy Kanye’s and Jay Z’s records, which are littered with the N-word and the B-word (I think they have had to step away from the F-word, but I can’t say for sure.)
It is a wonder any of us can get through the day anymore without doing serious bodily harm to ourselves (or others.) It is hideous. But let’s try to keep the focus on what is real, and try to maintain if not a modicum of decency, then at least some consistency.
Being racist is not okay, and not knowing you are a racist is even worse. In the same vein, being sexist is not okay, and it should be treated with the same outrage we rightfully reserve for racism. When people, or even Rick Perry, say things in a public speech like, “And just remember: the louder the opposition screams, the more we know we’re doing something right,” it becomes clear how those in power perpetuate these gross ills in society, from racism to rape culture.
Hey Rick (and all y’all), when people scream their opposition to something, like Trayvon did, and like the women of Texas did, they mean NO you fucker.