Oh Paula Deen, what have you done? You immerse the world in buttery, comforting, sugary, deep-fried goodness, and then you set your figurative kitchen on fire. Shame on you, Paula, for what you have done.
As I was thinking about the recent upset involving Paula Deen and her associates, I read the statements of a few people who said we basically can’t blame her for her actions because she is simply a result of her culture. However, I cannot excuse Ms. Deen for her actions and words based on that fact.
In discussing the issue with my mother, something occurred to me. My 63 year old mother isn’t racist. My 95 year old grandmother isn’t racist. We’re not from a forward thinking area, either. For all of my mother’s and paternal grandmother’s lives, they have lived in the same small, Midwestern town. To say our small community is far from racially diverse is an understatement, and we are more diverse than we were when my mother was growing up. My mother, from the same generation as Deen, witnessed the same social changes throughout the years as Deen surely witnessed. And for the most part, my mother lived within a similar culture.
Agriculture was prevalent in this area, as was racial discrimination. Decades prior, slave keeping was also not a rarity, although in our area, slaves were called “the help” (In my opinion, that is semantics, but I clarify that point because some will refute my claim by stating no one here “owned slaves”.) . Needless to say, some folks from my area are descendants of slave keepers. Even today it is not an unusual occurrence to hear someone engaged in conversation using pejorative terms and racial slurs, but never once have I heard my mother or grandmother use a racial slur or discriminate against someone. So, I can’t help but wonder how I am supposed to give Paula Deen a pass for her behavior based on being raised in a slave culture when my own mother and grandmother were raised within a smaller, yet similar culture.
Despite exposure to the world at large that comes with the fame Ms. Deen as achieved, her lack of awareness in regards to what is considered offensive is blatantly obvious. Although I have no clue as to her formal education, she has been quite involved with the business world and the public for quite some time. Surely that alone was enough to tell her that using racial slurs is, at the very least unacceptable, even if she never learned hate is wrong.
The charges against Deen and her associates go beyond racial discrimination. They run the gamut from sexual harassment to physical threat of abuse. This behavior is inexcusable. It may well be overlooked by some, but is completely unacceptable in our current culture. So how is it that we Americans are supposed to accept Deen’s made-for-TV apology as a rectification of the entire dastardly situation? The truth is, we cannot, and probably should not, write this off as some woman so lost within her own culture that she never realized she was hurting people with her actions and words.
Another quirky tidbit about the area I’m from is that methamphetamine abuse is rampant. There are meth-lab busts, possession and distribution arrests every da. Is it, then, okay for me to say that it is acceptable for someone to distribute meth simply because that is a dirty, but prevalent, truth within our tiny geographical location? Of course not. No one would so much as entertain the idea that becoming involved in a harmful activity is okay just because a good deal of a culture participates, especially when there is so much effort to educate about the harm involved.
The education about racism is there, too. There are people who work every day to ensure equality for everyone (e.g. The Southern Poverty Law Center and The ACLU). Moreover, this is a woman who lived through the Civil Rights Movement. She witnessed the struggle for change endured by many so all could be equal. Without a doubt she heard people change their lexicons when speaking of other ethnicities. So why didn’t she? Why didn’t she learn hate was wrong?
Truthfully, I can’t answer those questions. There is no way I can put words in the mouth of Paula Deen. What I can do is state that what she did and allowed is horribly wrong. To sympathize with her is to condone her actions and words. I keep hearing “why can’t we let racism go” or “racism is a thing of the past”. We can’t let racism go because there are still people, much like Deen, who still don’t understand the harm they inflict on other human beings with their words and actions. Racism is still alive and breathing. Paula Deen is proof of that.
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!