“Charles! Has your grandmama seen that shirt,” The saying on the shirt was vulgar and far from appropriate for the professional and academic environment we tried to maintain at the community college.
“C'mon Ms. Lawrimore, don't do all that.” Charles spoke to me while ducking his head, not meeting my eyes. He wore his flat bill cap askew and multiple gold chains around his neck, and was surrounded by his peers who were also sporting the gangsta look.
I stepped in closer, standing a full foot shorter than Charles, and pointed up at him. “You go in that bathroom right this second and turn that shirt inside out; do you hear me? And don’t you let me see you wearing something like that again.”
“Oh c'mon Ms. Lawrimore, you don't want to make me do that do you?” He spoke softly, cupping his hand by his face, forming a slight barrier between him and his friends. I pointed to the bathroom; he shrugged to the others then slunk off to do as I asked.
Meanwhile, my boss had been observing the interchange. He appeared anxious and concerned as he approached me. “You can’t talk that way to guys like that, Aileen,” he said. “You don't want to make him mad. It’s no telling what could happen.”
About that time, Charles swaggered over, extended his arms, and turned in a circle to model his inside-out shirt. “Better?” He flashed his pearly whites and struck a pose.
“Yes,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. “Much better.”
He grinned and walked back to his buddies.
My boss had seen the whole thing. “How did you do that,” he asked, jaw slack, eyes wide.
“Oh please!” I said, “Charles knows I'm crazy about him. We're buddies.”
Really, it's just that simple. When we are in relationship with people, we can say things that we wouldn't, and shouldn't, say to those we don’t know.
And I think that—for the most part—is what happened with Paula Deen this week. Several of the comments she has made were made to people she knows really well—people who knew her character, her spirit, her heart. She said things that might sound threatening or offensive to anyone other than those she addressed. But I doubt her words carried the weight that we strangers have attributed to them.
Before this, I've never had much of an opinion about Paula Deen. I still don’t. Well, there is one thing. It’s this: I think some words should never be spoken by anyone. The f-word is one. The n-word is another. Let's agree to cut those from the American lexicon right now, okay? Good.
But you know what? Chef Deen apologized. She seems truly remorseful for the hurt she herself admits she caused. I get it; do you? I have said things that I later regretted. I've had to apologize; I've had to change; I've had to grow. And it's so awesome when people believe me when I say I really am sorry. Their acceptance allows me to become a better me.
So I'm not going to bash Paula Deen on Facebook or boycott her restaurants. Instead, I'm going to offer a little grace, assume there might be something I don't know, and move on. Because really, I have my own lessons to learn. I think I'll spend my energy on those.“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou
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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