Is anyone else bothered by the Paula Deen controversy? I don’t understand this unreasonable expectation of “perfection since maturity” that we seem to have for public figures. Is it possible to think that two facts could exist side by side:
- Racism in any form, especially as evidenced by the use of the “n-word”, is wrong. Period. Looking back in our history, it was wrong.
- Paula Deen was raised in a time, place, and culture in which the use of the “n-word” would have been relatively commonplace, if not openly accepted.
Note: fact number two does not invalidate fact number one. Her use of that terrible word was wrong. But can’t we acknowledge that as a (presumed) product of her upbringing she may have used that word? That still doesn’t make it OK- but shouldn’t we allow someone to acknowledge and apologize for earlier mistakes?
If we don’t, then we place an unreasonable expectation of perfection upon all of us. People are fallible- it’s part of the human condition. I’d argue that the single part of all of us that makes hope possible is our ability to change- for the better- over time.
It does not surprise me that a woman born in the South- let’s be frank- born in America in the ’40s has used the “n-word”. I do not say this out of white guilt. My father- whom I have written about before (really? check out like any of a boatload of my posts!)- didn’t use those terms in our house growing up. But that doesn’t make me think they didn’t exist. I appreciate my parents raising us in a house that was free of prejudice or racism.
racism is a part of our national history.
It was- and is- wrong,
but it’s there.
Today, I think the worst descendant of our historical racism is our discomfort talking about race and racism. I think that is what drives our apparent zeal in punishing any vestige of past racism. Look, I’m not condoning those words or thoughts. But how far back do we go in expecting someone to not have used a word? From the sources I saw, Paula Deen acknowledged using the “n-word” in 1986. At what point are we, as a society, hoping to move beyond race, willing to allow people to acknowledge past transgressions and move forward? I believe that our nation’s past history of institutional racism represents our lowest as a people- and I hope to see us move past it, to a future worthy of the very best of our democratic ideals.
Ultimately, I don’t know what’s in Paula Deen’s heart. I’d argue that attempting to judge someone by what we THINK is in their heart is misguided at best, arrogant at worst. We must hold someone accountable for their actions- which includes the stated and expressed acknowledgement of failings and the desire to atone. You CAN hold someone accountable for what they do next. But holding people to a “one strike and you’re out” ideal serves no one. I think that when we allow ourselves to acknowledge- and thereby regret- our national history of racism, we’ll be able to start treating each other as members of a common race- human.