I’m not a fan of cooking celebrity Paula Deen. When I first heard The Food Network fired Deen for using the N-word in the past, I figured she got what she deserved. But part of me feels sorry for her.
Here’s one of three apology videos she made:
According to various news reports, including an item in The Huffington Post, Deen’s troubles stem from her admission that she used the N-word in the past. She said so as an attorney questioned her under oath last month. “Yes, of course,” Deen said. “[But] it’s been a very long time.” Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, are being sued by a former manager of their Savannah, Ga., restaurant — Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House — who is accusing them of racism. From the HuffPost article:
The ex-employee, Lisa Jackson, says she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs. During the deposition, Deen was peppered with questions about her racial attitudes. At one point she’s asked if she thinks jokes using the N-word are “mean.” Deen says jokes often target minority groups and “I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.” Deen also acknowledged she briefly considered hiring all black waiters for her brother’s 2007 wedding, an idea inspired by the staff at a restaurant she had visited with her husband. She insisted she quickly dismissed the idea.
If the accusations are true, Deen deserves the blow to her reputation, because it suggests she’s not being entirely truthful in that she and her family have no tolerance for racial slurs. But many of us would also be two-faced if we took joy in her predicament.
I’ve never cared about a person’s color, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. All that has ever mattered to me is that people be good to each other and live their lives with generous hearts. But as a young and stupid kid, I’d sometimes use the word for sheer shock value. It was the same attitude that made me think it would be cool to walk around wearing a Charles Manson T-shirt.
I went through a phase where I listened to a lot of angry hip-hop in which the artists used the N-word constantly. One of my favorites was Ice T’s band Body Count. This song gives you a pretty good idea of what unfolds throughout the album:
The songs were a reaction to how they dealt with racism, but my attitude was that if they used the N-word, I could. Racism never had anything to do with it.
Back then, I thought it was a big joke. In my drunken moments, I would play the most violent songs on the album (“Cop Killer” and “There Goes the Neighborhood”) and cackle myself blue. My attraction to that album illustrates what an angry person I was back then. I was spiritually adrift.
As I got older and matured, I got over it. Today, I hear the N-word and it makes me sick. I know the pain that word has caused so many good people, and it shames me that I once used it like it was nothing.
Having learned the lesson long ago, I can’t help but wonder if Paula Deen reached the same conclusion at some point — that racist language is intolerable. I hope so. The reaction against her is a sign that our society has become a lot more intolerant of racial hatred. It shows that society has evolved.
But we’re not done answering for the past.
In any event, I don’t her entire career should be destroyed over something she said decades ago, when a lot of us were using the same language.