Knowing Even More: The Paula Deen Controversy Continues

After reading a couple of essays and completing further research, I'd like to add to my comments about Paula Deen.  I tend to be an optimist and one of my (many) mantras is, “Maybe there is something I don't know.” I applied this to Deen’s comments and opted for grace over criticism. I still default to grace, but editorials written independently by Michael Twitty and Daryl K. Washington have caused me to consider the whole thing in more depth.

Michael W. TwittyIn his "Open Letter to Paula Deen." Culinary Historian Michael W. Twitty “speak[s] to [Paula Deen] as a fellow Southerner, a cousin if you will, not as a combatant.” Also a Southern chef of considerable acclaim, Twitty is more frustrated by systemic racism than by Deen’s infamous remarks. He describes at length the incessant bias written into culinary history. It’s fascinating; it’s also unsettling and provocative, making me wonder how many of our language patterns are rooted in racism. For that reason alone, you should read it. But it’s this comment Twitty makes to Paula Deen that redirected my thoughts:

Some have said you are not a racist.  Sorry, I don't believe that…I am more of the Avenue Q type—everybody’s—you guessed it—a little bit racist.  This is nothing to be proud of no more than we are proud of our other sins and foibles.  It’s something we should work against.

Now understand, part of my very identity, right up there with being Baptist, is my intolerance of ethnic prejudice. So I chafe at the idea that we are all racist, even me. But Twitty gave me pause for thought, and I have to agree that I have definite biases—not in regard to ethnicity, but still . . . . Twitty says, I “should work against” the intolerances I hold, not defend them. I think he’s right. Paula Deen should do the same.

Daryl K. WashingtonDallas attorney Daryl K. Washington expressed his concerns in an editorial on blacklegalissues.com. In his opening, Washington says this: “For one, many people have been making this incident about the ‘N’ word only, but it's much more than that.” He doesn't defend her use of this slur (and please note neither do I), but he simply states that there is more at issue here than bigoted expressions. The case brought against Deen is less about speech and more about practice. Read Washington’s summary to understand more about the accusations. (Oh, and while it really should not matter, the plaintiff--accuser--is a white woman from Georgia, just like Paula Deen.)

Washington explains what caused him to review the Deen case in depth: “When I learned about the major companies dropping Paula Deen without being demanded to do so, I knew it was deep.” See that’s something I had not considered. (Here again, there was something I didn't know. So often that's the case.) Washington studied the court documents and found appalling claims. In my opinion, if she’s guilty of even half of them, she should not be allowed to run a business without strict accountability. These allegations—made by a woman who, demographically, could be mistaken for Deen—are absolutely abhorrent. Read more about them here.

Aileen MItchell LawrimoreSo here’s what I think:

  1. When we are in relationship with people, we say things that may sound offensive to outsiders.
  2. No one should ever say the N-word. It’s vulgar. (An issue, by the way, that Twitty and Washington view differently. Twitty says you can use racist slurs within your race, Washington, not so much.)
  3. Name-calling is mean.
  4. When you employ people, you are bound by anti-discrimination laws. When you break those laws, you pay the consequences.
  5. Paula Deen should make restitution for her wrongs.
  6. My parents, white folk raised in South Georgia, are in their seventies and they don’t use the n-word. Just sayin’.
  7. It’s easier to point at the mistakes of others than to examine my own. I'd rather make blanket statements about the sins of others. It’s much less convicting. It’s also wrong.
  8. Worship Paula Deen if you want. I'll stick with Jesus.

 Resources used:

Michael Twitty, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen,” http://afroculinaria.com/2013/06/25/an-open-letter-to-paula-deen/

Daryl K. Washington, “The Paula Deen Incident; You should know all that’s being alleged before defending her,” http://www.blacklegalissues.com/Article_Details.aspx?artclid=7dfdbe0461.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination Questions and Answers,” http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html

Additional resources:

Sadiq Green, “Paula Deen case is not solely about how she used the N-word,” http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/353435

Fran Jeffries and Wayne Washington, “Paula Deen Scandal Continues As Employees Tell Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Of Alleged Discrimination,” http://tinyurl.com/nx6lw3b.

 

About the Author Aileen Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.

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