Why Paula Deen’s Racism Matters

PaulaDeen2012Many of you know Paula Deen, queen of buttery and bad-for-you cooking, from her successful TV show or her cookbooks. Yesterday though, Ms. Deen proved herself more than just a health hazard. She became a beacon of ignorance in a 21st-century world that is still not ready to let go of its past.

For those of you who are unaware of what I am talking about, Ms. Deen along with her brother are being sued by a former employee, who cited sexist and racist goings-on in her work environment made her uncomfortable. During this time, it also came out that “yes, of course” (Ms. Deen’s actual words) she has used the N-word before and her ideal dinner involves an all-black waitstaff dressed in white tuxedos… sound familiar? Why yes, it does conjure up images of slavery!

But this isn’t just a post saying, “Slavery is bad, mmkay?” I think most of us have already heard that speech and the ones who haven’t? Well, quite frankly, they’re part of the problem.

These are the facts;

Paula Deen is a 65-year-old woman from the South.

Her former employee lodged these complaints against her, in regards to her workplace.

This is 2013.

Alright, now we’re all caught up to speed?

Honestly, more shocking than the fact that Paula Deen said these things (which isn’t really that shocking at all) is the reaction to it. One person in my newsfeed posted a joke it would be more shocking if the N-word Paula Deen used was non-fat. Kinda funny joke, not really sure if I was ready to laugh about the situation yet… until I saw a friend of his post. Screen shot 2013-06-21 at 8.44.42 AM

Not a big deal? Lemme explain to you why it is a big deal. America has proudly and prematurely declared itself post-racial. We elected a black president, we don’t have a problem with racism anymore, right? Yeah, sorry folks, that’s not how it works. Furthermore, this is a woman who is afraid to go to work for fair of persecution. When did we decide that the comfort of the privileged and the white are more important than anybody else’s?

Well, that’s been the way for quite some time, but it still doesn’t make it right in “post-racial America.”

Furthermore, let’s take a look at the deposition. For those interested, you can read it in its entirety here. She acknowledges that “somebody might misinterpret that.” Well, calling someone racist for racist behavior isn’t exactly “misinterpreting,” but we’ll let that one slide. The fact of the matter is, she knew what she was doing was wrong. She tried to downplay it and even admits that it looks bad. Unfortunately, as is the case with Ms. Deen, sometimes what you see is what you get.

But this isn’t just about Paula Deen. Old Southern woman being racist is hardly shocking, even if it should be. The people who I have seen online telling people to “get over it” or reporting the whole situation is “being blown out of proportion.” One person even cited Paula Deen’s age and upbringing as “the reason why.” Well, I live in North Carolina and let me tell you, that kind of logic? It offends me.

I live in the South and I don’t use that kind of logic. I know plenty of people that live in the South that don’t. Unfortunately, I know enough people in the North that still this kind of logic. Relegating this to a “regional issue” is part of the problem. Racism doesn’t stop or start at the Mason-Dixon line. It’s not something that can be neatly contained for your convenience. It is something that exists today and acknowledging that is the only way we can hope to change.

Honestly, I will confess, my interest in this situation is not entirely selfless. It’s true, I fought and will continue to fight, the online perception that “people just need to get over it.” But allow me to shed some light on the situation. The friend whose Facebook wall housed this debate? He is a gay man.

civil-rights-gay-rightsAs most of you know, I am a gay man. As a gay man, this is my issue. The internet is filled with comparisons between the Civil Rights movement and the Gay Rights movement; most highlight how outdated an issue Civil Rights is by now and that Gay Rights will one day be the same way. If the crusade for Civil Rights is still alive and well, just relegated to the background, how do we as gay men and women, hope to one day find equality, if African-Americans still haven’t?

Paula Deen’s comments should make you mad. They should stir up some sort of emotion, because it is that emotion that breeds change. We, as a nation, still need a lot of change. So I beg you, don’t just “get over it.” Get mad about it. Do something about it.

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