This whole Paula Deen controversy is bringing up some very interesting arguments. I’m hearing people say that she shouldn’t have been fired because she’s from a different time, or that people from the South have a different culture, and free speech and all sorts of stuff.
First, if you don’t know, here’s the quote that’s gotten her in a load of trouble. It was in regards to her brother’s wedding that she was appointed to handle catering for. And when Deen was asked what the servers should wear, she dropped this:
“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little n***ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. Now, that would be a true Southern wedding wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”
Ok, n-word, yeah, bad move. But that’s totally not the worst part of that statement. Let’s dress up little black people and make them perform for us. Holy. Shit.
Now to poke holes in the “that was a different time” argument… This was a quote from 2007. Six freaking years ago. She might as well have said it an hour ago.
And the whole “she shouldn’t have been fired for it” argument… The Food Network is not a political entity. They’re a private, for-profit company that is driven almost entirely by its public personalities. You know how you lose your job in that setting? You lose your job when people don’t like you anymore. So when she said something that made people all over the country really, really dislike her, then yeah, this is the sort of thing that happens. So this one’s on Deen, not the Food Network. She wasn’t fired because she made a racist statement. She was fired because she pissed a lot of people off and cast the Food Network in a negative light that would hurt their profits.
But the whole different culture thing… My wife mentioned a comment she saw on Facebook this morning where someone asked: “When can we stop making excuses for the South?” And that’s an excellent damn question.
Yeah, there was a different time. But saying that is an awfully nice way of saying “Slavery used to be a thing.” So, when someone says something like this, when your argument is “she’s from a different time,” you might as well be saying “she’s from a place that was ok with owning slaves.”
They owned slaves in the North, too, guys, so we’re all from a place that was ok with owning slaves once. And regardless of the real politics behind The Civil War, people eventually realized that slavery was wrong. And we moved on. While we have a long way to go, our country has made great strides towards equality since then.
Quotes like Deen’s are not nostalgic, they’re regressive. When a public figure says something like that, they deserve to be vilified for it. The federal court has no place in this argument at all (legality is NOT a question here), but the court of public opinion should be all over this. So no, of course you don’t throw her in jail over this kind of crap. But you do talk her out of her place as a public figure. You do make certain that the modern, mature, evolved American citizen doesn’t think it’s ok to say that they want to dress up n-words in little suits and bowties and make them tap dance.
I totally agree that it’s from a different time. It’s from a time that we’ve left behind. It’s from a time that we’ve all considered ill-advised and wrong. It’s from a time that we remember because we’re ashamed of it.
And you know what? It’s totally appropriate to expect us all to be adults about this, mature grown-ups who continue to learn from the years we spend alive. The people who grew up during this time should be the people who pass down to the next generation how it was wrong. That’s how we evolve.
So the question is apt: When do we stop making excuses for the stereotypical “South”? If we’re all mature adults wherever we live, then we should have dispensed with the excuses long ago. Making excuses every time something like this happens is exactly why there was still a Mississippi High School that had segregated proms until 2008! Racism isn’t a thing of the past yet, guys! And more people are perpetuating it probably without even realizing it. It’s regressive. It’s not enough to say that my wife’s dad remembers having to use colored bathrooms, it’s that people are still trying to live that way now, and Deen’s quote is just obvious, public evidence.
The same goes for confederate flag-waving, IMO. Yes, technically the confederate flag (specifically the Battle Flag) can be used to symbolize southern heritage. The swastika also technically means “to be good” or “being with higher self” in Indian religions. But does that make it ok to put a swastika on your car? Or on your hat? No, because historically, the symbols take on the meanings of those who wear them. You’re never going to disassociate the swastika with Nazis, and you’re never going to disassociate the confederate battle flag with violent racism and slavery.
So don’t give me any “free speech” arguments on this one. Of course it’s legal for her to spew idiotic things. It should be. Just like it’s perfectly legal for the rest of the country to stand up and tell her that it was an idiotic thing to say. And flash that confederate flag all you want, but you’d better be aware of what it says to onlookers (hint: it isn’t “southern heritage”).
So no, personally, I’m not making excuses for these people anymore. It’s 2013. Grow up.