It’s (not) OK.

Growing older has its advantages: senior discounts, AARP membership, a special menu at IHOP. Oh, and apparently you can say any damn thing you want and not be held accountable.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in a bit of a “debate” with a (Christian) family member about the Paula Deen thing. Let me just say that, if she’s indeed guilty and it sure as hell looks like it, then I think justice is in the process of being served. Read the actual charges. Then you can decide.

“But,” you might say as my relative did, “She’s just an old southern lady who doesn’t know any better.”  It’s certainly the excuse that lot of people are using, like conservative Christian Rod Dreher who used to live and write here in Dallas. He says that racism is part of his Southern heritage, so his elders should not be thrown overboard.

“Deen, who is 66, holds to a moonlight-and-magnolias romanticism that is common among white Southerners of her generation. Yes, it is now in questionable taste, and yes, it reveals an impoverished moral imagination.”

But those of us who think she’s wrong have an “impoverished moral imagination,” too, Dreher says:

“These militant culture warriors are placing abstract ideals over flesh and blood reality. That too reflects an impoverished moral imagination. But then, Southerners have long considered that to be the graceless Yankee way. If this Deen episode reinforces odious Northern stereotypes of Southerners, then I assure you the feeling is mutual.”

Excuse me while I puke. I guess people who live in the south don’t have things like newspapers and televisions and history books. Not. True. I lived in the north, and I’ve lived in the south.  I know that while the accents and favorite foods are different, the same books and technologies are available in Georgia as in New York.

This rationale that if Deen had been 15 or 20 years younger, then she would have been held accountable, is insulting to everyone.

If this is a Christian nation, then why the hell are we still judging people by something as irrelevant as skin color, for godssake. Aren’t we all just a bunch of souls trapped in bodies? I find this whole thing hypocritical. And I don’t give a flip who is saying the racial slur(s); it’s never right to use such derogatory, condescending, hateful language.

These attitudes seem to be most prevalent in the most religious areas of our nation. Poverty, religion and racism are all bedfellows. You’d think that would give folks pause. (Please, don’t write me and tell me about your mission trip to Africa. Charity starts here at home.)

I don’t know much. Hell, the older I get, the more humbled I am by how little I know.  But I’ve seen enough to know that we all have to help.

When I was young and naïve and a newly graduated college student living in North Carolina, I really thought I could make a difference. I did. (I know, I know, ego again.) And jobs at that time were hard to come by. I went to work for the county government where I lived, working, at first, to get summer jobs for indigent youth. Yeah, I was going to help poor people.

It was glorified babysitting—I helped teens fill out their job applications, talked to them about good job skills, tracked them down when they didn’t show up for work and talked with their supervisors about their performance. Most of these kids were black. About 95%. I had no idea when I took that job how racially unbalanced the numbers were. Most of the kids lived in the housing projects, and these places were dirty and run down. Some of the girls—children–were pregnant at age 12 like their mothers had been. Most of the teens had been pregnant at some time. There were 16-year-old girls with two and three children. One of the mothers consistently stole her daughter’s paycheck every week.

These kids were growing up in desperation and poverty and with lack of knowledge and role models. Yes, the summer employment program helped them—for a whopping couple of months–until they resumed school in the fall and their lives continued on the same trajectory it was before the summer started. I fancied at the time that I was making a difference, which, of course, I later realized that I was not.

Most of us don’t live in that world. I would leave in my own car and go home to my nice little apartment and my rescue dogs and make dinner for a husband who was working on a graduate degree, while the kids I left behind would be lucky to make it through high school.

Oppression exists in our neighborhoods, in our educational system and in our language. There is a lot to fix.

We cannot excuse people for racist behavior simply by saying, “They’re too old to know any better.” Do I understand that Deen was a product of her environment? Absolutely. Do I think that, having the ability to read, listen and learn, that she should have known that using racial slurs is wrong? Absolutely.  It’s not OK just because everyone has done it this way for years.

We should all be working together to solve all racial disparities, and we shouldn’t make excuses for those people who hold tight to their prejudices no matter how old or how Southern they are, Mr. Dreher.

I know. All this is awfully easy for an educated, middle class, white woman to say, isn’t it?


36 responses to “It’s (not) OK.

  1. I agree with you. Paula Deen should be held responsible for her actions. On a related note, I like what Morgan Freeman said in an interview. In this interview, he made it clear that he didn’t want a black history month. He also said, “I want you to quit referring to me as a black man. I will stop referring to you as a white man.” He then indicated that they should call each other by their names. They no longer recognize a color, but have identified you by using your name. I agree with him. That’s when all this foolish racism bullcrap will end. When we stop seeing color and refer to each other as who we are. I am from KY (not sure if you would call that south), but in dealing with racist family members I have come to conclude that some people will never change.

  2. I agree that it shouldn’t be excused, but I also think there has been far too much attention and negativity associated with it. I guess that’s just one more sign of how divided we are, that people want to make an example out of one person. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I don’t think her behavior was appropriate, but it just seems like the repercussions of her actions are disproportionate to the alleged “crime.” Most celebrities get a pass when they mess up. But for some reason, our society picks a person here and there to make an example of. This all reminds me of the Lance Armstrong fiasco. The divisions need to end or we will just keep building the hatred. But when we tear down one person for something (like racism or cheating), does that really solve anything? It just makes my head spin!

    • @Gina. You are right–there has already been too much attention given to this, and I didn’t plan to write about it. But after the conversation I had and reading the actual charges, I was inspired. I think the dialogue is good, though, and perhaps the awareness this incident brings will help in some way.

      • I didn’t mean to imply that I felt you were giving it too much attention, I am mostly referring to the media bombardment of it. I do think it needs to be talked about, not necessarily the stuff that is put in the media about all of the fallout. The wrongness of the behavior does need attention and we need to find solutions!

  3. “But,” you might say as my relative did, “She’s just an old southern lady who doesn’t know any better.”

    I accept that for an old southern lady. But she is also a TV celebrity, and I do not find that acceptable for her as a TV celebrity.

  4. I guess some people think all of the companies who are dropping her as a spokesperson are piling on, but I think that if I ran a company she was a “face” for, I’d feel I could find someone who better exemplified my company’s beliefs.

  5. While we are on this topic, let me express some optimism about race relations in USA.

    As an academic, I have noticed for years that the races were segregating themselves (voluntarily). Students would walk, eat, etc, with others of the same race. Intermingling was rare.

    For around the last ten years, I have seen an increasing amount of mixing. There is far less race consciousness among the youth. I’m sure that this change was part of what made it possible for Obama to be elected. The youth are the future. Race relations is finally moving in the right direction, though it has taken ever so long.

    • @Neil. That is good to hear. Although, during the elections I also realized how much racism still exists, too. Here in TX, I heard a lot of comments that I cannot even write…

    • LanceThruster

      @Neil Rickert – That is encouraging. It is said that one of the biggest factors in elimating any manner of prejudice is knowing someone of the group in question, whether race, creed, or sexual orientation. The youth are learning in concrete ways that much hatred, distrust, and discrimination is taught and they reject it in favor of the nature of their own experiences.

      I made the acquaintence over the internet of a lady from Raleigh, NC. She was surprised that I got along so well with my (female) boss at the time because she was used to men that did not want to be under the supervision of a woman.

  6. I am 60 this year, I don’t believe age is a get-out-of-moral-responsibility card. By that rationale, I could claim with my Nordic ancestry pushing me, that I should be a neo-Viking and loot at will; or with my Celtic heritage, taking the heads of my enemies and hanging them off my doorpost is similarly ok.

    I’ve lived in the South, before AND after integration. Trust me, they all DO know the difference, some people just don’t like the change and acknowledge it only when forced to do so LEGALLY. And that is what is happening to Paula Deen. I do not feel sorry for her at all.

    • By that rationale, I could claim with my Nordic ancestry pushing me, that I should be a neo-Viking and loot at will; or with my Celtic heritage, taking the heads of my enemies and hanging them off my doorpost is similarly ok.

      Holidays at your place would be completely off the hook.

      • LOL, I do my best in that light….but honestly, those heads would STINK, right? We do brew our own mead and drink it from horns….

  7. LanceThruster

    I understand the outrage but there is a certain ridiculousness to all this too. Mark Fuhrman of OJ trial fame was asked if he ever used the word and denied it, which led to the jurors questioning his truthfulness. Paula Deen’s behavior regarding race and the use of slurs apparently went beyond mere terminology but I find the question needs a little context.

    If you ever used the word the “N-word” represents, then *you’ve* used the N-word. If you’ve ever quoted verbatim someone who’s used the N-word, then you’ve used the N-word. If you’ve read certain Mark Twain passages out loud, you’ve used the N-word. If you’ve ever said the name of the band also known as N.W.A., then you’ve used the N-word.

    I have used the N-word before. Next question?

    • LT Did you read all the charges, not just the “n-word”?

      She’s supposed to be a role model.

      The ridiculous part is that we are still facing these same issues.

      • LanceThruster

        @Deb – I’ve read/heard bits and pieces of it and do not deny that it would be grounds for sanctioning/dismissal by her corporate sponsors and should be denounced by anyone who supports respect and equality for all. Race-baiting right-wingers say far worse using code words and it is tolerated )(Rush is still on the air). Paula Deen will rightfully face the consequences of her actions/statements. I was specifically commenting on the phrase used by lawyers, “Have you ever used the N-word” as a ‘gotcha.’

        • Deborah Mitchell

          LT. Absolutely: “Race-baiting right-wingers say far worse using code words and it is tolerated )(Rush is still on the air).”

          My frustrations lie with friends/family who think this is dismissible and that she should not lose her sponsors. I think this is the most appropriate course of action since she is free to believe and say what she wants.

          BTW. I link to the actual charges above.

  8. While PD lives in a country where her freedom of speech and expression are protected by the Constitution, there are also laws that prevent certain racist conditions, behavior and policies in the workplace. She’s being sued for allegedly violating some of those laws.

    As for her using “The N Word”, that is also protected by the Constitution. However the consequences and fallout resulting from her words are also protected under the Constitution. Companies are perfectly free to sever their relationship/sponsorship with her. People are perfectly free to quit watching her TC shows/movies/whatever. (As I now refuse to see anything with Mel Gibson because of his repeated inability to control himself in his treatment of women)

    Everything is simply following what I perceive to be a normal and legal course. She can say whatever she wants and she can lose all the money the wants because of it.

    Honestly… it’s really none of my concern. Dare I say none of my business?

    I guess I just don’t see what all the hullabaloo is about.

  9. I’m an old white Southern woman myself, and four years older than Deen. But I learned early to respect others, to watch my language, etc. It wasn’t that hard. Deen’s got no excuse.

  10. I can somewhat understand the point your buddy Rod was trying to make with the first part of his argument. If you spent your entire youth (and some portion of your adult life, maybe) in a place where racism is so institutionalized that it takes you until adulthood to even realize it’s there, then your behavior and your mindset are going to be influenced accordingly.

    Of course, I grew up in a rather conservative area, where people threw around homosexual and racist slurs as insults without even batting an eye (we had maybe two black and two hispanic families in the town) … and I think the majority of us grew out of it after leaving for college and realizing that there’s a larger, more diverse world than the one we grew up in.

    Everything else Rod says about “Northern stereotypes” is just false equivalence. That’s like being called a bigot for telling someone they can’t discriminate against homosexuals, no matter how much they think it makes the baby Jesus cry. I don’t care about Rod’s “feelings” or those about anyone else in the “Moonlight and Magnolias” parts of the South. Paula may have grown up in an era when the things she said were considered acceptable … but they’re not anymore. She’s an adult who should have been aware of that for decades now and changed her behavior accordingly.

    • @Jason I agree–Of course ppl are products of their environments. But she’s not young and nave. She’s been out in the world, she has business experience, a lot of media exposure and people respected her. (So I call bullsh*t on the whole Dreher defense.) And I didn’t think pointing fingers at Yankees was appropriate either.

  11. Oh my goodness, Debbie! I could write a whole article about this.
    I am originally from Michigan, and when I was about seven years old my family moved down to Albany, yes, as in Paula Deen’s Albany, GA. Southwest Georgians can be racist at times, and hate Northerners like you wouldn’t believe. Up until the 1990s the city was 60% Black, and I don’t know what it is now. There’s a good size community college there (Darton, I attended there a couple of semesters), Albany Tech, and ASU (A Black college called Albany State University). I would say the number one denomination there, by far is Baptist, among both Blacks and Whites. There’s small numbers of Pentecostals, Catholics, and Jehovah Witnesses, and a few Mormons, and I would say that they’re in that order as well from the greatest amount of numbers to the least. Albany, Georgia is also where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got arrested for his Civil Rights work. If I remember right POTUS Jimmy Carter is from Plains which is just four to five towns away. Albany has maintained a population of around 100,000 people for a few decades, it seems to have plenty of emplyment opportunities in Church, industry, and retail. Phillip Phillips of American idol went to the same high school I did in a town outside of Albany called Leesburg, his family had a business in Albany. I lived back and forth between Albany and Leesburg for many years a child, teenager and single woman. Was it hard for this white northerner to make friends? Yes, but not nearly as difficult as where I am now in a town a tenth of Albany’s size in west Tennessee. You also have to remember that there is a Civil War camp where confederate soldiers held an obscene amount of Union Soldiers captive around that part of the state in Andersonville. You know those Christian films “Facing the Giants”, “Fireproof” (Kirk Cameron) and “Courageous”? Well. all three of those films, and I believe there might be another are from one of the mega Baptist Churches in Albany, Ga.

    Now, hopefully, maybe this will help people better understand some of Paula Deen’s actions, but I still don’t support her if those accusations are true. However, Walmart has no damn business for judging her with all of their MANY, MANY, MANY sexual harassments, and blatant racism against their employees.(I worked for one in Albany two different times). I also want to make something clear about Southerners. Whenever someone lives anywhere for most, if not all, of his or her life,(in the North or South) he or she too can be prejudice as well because he or she has not ventured out of his or her state or tri-state area. Some Northerners hate Southerners, Hispanics, Blacks and Asians. No one can tell me otherwise. Yes, in the midst of the bias I went through in southwest Georgia I still found good Black friends and White friends who were usually transplants because of Albany’s industry. It must also be remembered that T. Roosevelt’s bias against Blacks encouraged Jim Crow laws. that were already in the South, up North too. I have studied enough about the Civil War, and have been to enough Civil War camps, including Gettysburg, PA to know that half of the Union soldiers had slaves.

    I have relatves in Michigan throw around the N word with great disgust. They can’t even watch a commercial with a Black man or woman in it without saying that word! However, my dead grandma from Arkansas lived a rough life, and moved up to Michigan to look for work as a young woman. She continually was belittled for her accent and her Southern roots. I remember one day she heard grandpa and my dad arguing over something stupid like kitchen cupboards. She couldn’t hear well, and came running into the living room sobbing like a baby. She thought that they were talking ugly about Black people and yelled “We are supposed to love Black People! We’re supposed to love all of God’s people!”

    I am sorry to go on like this, I have been reading so much about Paula Deen and it is obvious that we are a country that is divided not only by race, and sex, but also by sexual orientation and North and South from the crazy articles and comments that I’ve read and from what I’ve seen throughout my life. And l wish all the people out there who say shit like “go back out into the cotton fields” or call people “fat lips” or “fat gums” would just stop!

    • LanceThruster

      @Charity – Your mention of the Union Army reminded me of something I learned from PBS’s American Experience program “Death and the Civil War.” It recounted how at much risk to themselves, black residents paid honor to the Union dead by their respectful handling of their remains. It makes me think of the simple humanity shown, and the bonds we share that act expressed.


      In an article titled “The First Decoration Day”, David W. Blight of Yale has written:[3]

      “The city was largely abandoned by white residents by late February. Among the first troops to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st U. S. Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the formal surrender of the city.

      “Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters’ horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, ‘Martyrs of the Race Course’.

      “Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders’ race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing ‘a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.’

      “At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing ‘John Brown’s Body.’ The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens’ choir sang ‘We’ll Rally around the Flag,’ the ‘Star-Spangled Banner,’ and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture.

    • Charity–I know, unfortunately, that racism and sexism are everywhere and, of course, is not limited to the US. And it’s not right to stereotype GA or the entire south as many folks are transients and there are pockets of metropolitan areas where the attitudes are different.(However, having you driven through SC lately?!!) A lot of people have been pointing to these stereotypes though as a way to excuse her, and it just didn’t seem fair.

      You are right–it seems this case is just proof that we still have a way to go in improving tolerance.

  12. LanceThruster

    @Deb – That Rod Dreher article is pretty loopy (I couldn’t get the deposition to load completely on my PC). He’s arguing a strawman as far as I’m concerned, and his examples of helping while feeling superior all the while are laughable.

    What galls about Deen’s treatment is the puritanical zeal that cultural enforcers bring to bear on the complex realities of race, region and history. By implication, it says that all right-thinking people must drive anyone with Deen’s personal history and antique views out of the public square.

    What’s funny about that line is most right wingers push a Puritanical zeal on everything else they can get away with, whether they embrace their racism overtly or covertly.

    • LT – That’s a good point and so true about even the author.

      I also didn’t like that upholding a well-known public figure to decent human values is suddenly “puritanical zeal.” The “antique views” is just a euphemism for racism.

      I wasn’t planning on writing about this topic as it’s already been addressed enough and justice is being served via destruction of the Deen empire. I just got a little ticked.

  13. Awesome post, Deb. So Yankees are tactless for calling out Southern racists for being bigots. The thing is, a Yankee lack of tact doesn’t make old Southerners like Paula Deen less racist. And lacking tact is not a moral failure. However, racism surely is.

  14. The reference in this article to our nation being a ‘Christian nation’ is another of the mistaken views many have assumed. We are a nation of diversity whereby no national religion is established,, nor recogonized, as such by our Constitution. Furthermore our Declaration of Independence reads as ‘..all men to be created equal’, so with this I would say that many people like Paula Dean forget she/they are living in a nation where all men and women are to be treated with respect no matter what your, or they’re belief system or the color of skin. No excuses for Paula Deen…she is much older than our Constitution and ought to know better, so should anyone else who thinks of another person ‘less’ than themselves.

    • @Marlene You and I know that this is a diverse nation, etc, etc, etc. But the majority of folks will tell you this is a “Christian” nation, even the POTUS. Unfortunately.

      • I don’t know that the “majority of folks” would say this is a “Christian nation” But, many remained misinformed…it is more a hard fast portion of the right-leaning Christian community that would like to believe it so, without having proper reference to the U.S. Constitution, nor having gone as far as acknowledging separation of church and state. I simply don’t believe in falsely referencing or perpetuating the notion. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard our President refer to our Nation as a “Christian” nation…though he may have alluded to the fact that a majority of its people are made up of Christians.

  15. You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

  16. Late to the party, but, Amen, Deborah.
    Reading your post, I couldn’t help but also be reminded of how the same arguments are made for slurs against the disabled – like “retard,” “retarded,” “spaz,” etc. As the parent of a child with disabilities, I hear that kind of disparaging language thrown around all the time, and yes, by Christians, and it’s all okay, because nobody means it like THAT. Prejudice is prejudice, slurs are slurs, and our language reflects our deeply-held attitudes about marginalized groups of people and perpetuates oppression and hatred.
    There is just no excuse.

    • @Lisa Well-stated: “Prejudice is prejudice, slurs are slurs, and our language reflects our deeply-held attitudes about marginalized groups of people and perpetuates oppression and hatred.”

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