Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Insidious Nature of Racism--On Paula Deen and Personal Experience

The firestorm surrounding Paula Deen.  How can I not comment?  Frankly, easily.  I have never seen her television show.  I have never borrowed or even looked at one of her cookbooks.  I haven’t even been tempted to buy her cookware.  It had nothing to do with Deen, herself.  More, I was not interested in eating foods that were high in fat and not the healthiest choice.  When it came out that she was diagnosed with diabetes, I was more surprised that anyone didn’t see it coming than by the vulgarity of her choosing to confess the truth after knowing the truth for many months, if not years, shortly after she signed an agreement to be the spokesperson for a diabetes drug.

And now everyone is shocked that she used the N-word.  I know.  It must be shocking to people to imagine a woman raised in the south (and not just in The South but the very belt buckle of the Bible Belt) would ever have used the vulgar word.

I am unsurprised.  I’m sorry but I’ve heard the word used by southerners and I’ve seen it implied by others. 

Example:  When filling out the children’s paperwork every year for school, one of the things I had to tick off was the race of my children.  Given no other options, I inevitably chose Other.  The next year, the school would conveniently send home a packet of paperwork, the same forms I needed to fill out, only this time most of the content was filled in.  This would expedite matters.  I merely had to change anything that had changed from the previous school year.  Had we moved?  Did anyone have a new telephone number or job? 

Year after year, I would have to change one thing even when nothing  in my life had changed, I would have to change my children’s race from “White” to “Other.”  Now, I have a peculiar urge to never self-identify as “White” but I will always self-identify as “Caucasian.”  So if my only choice is “White,” I tend to choose “Other.”  However, for my children, the choice was the only one available as they are multi-racial and did not fit into a single definition.   Eventually, the school system would add “Multi-Racial” as an option, far better than “Other” in my opinion, but for many years I had to change my children’s race because some fool of an administrator looked at them and/or me and decided I was being disingenuous.

Example:  Someone I know had used their DVR to record a beauty pageant.  (Either the Miss America or Miss USA.  I can’t tell a difference and don’t care either way.)  As we watched, the person would fast forward any time the woman on the screen, the pageant contestant, was clearly African-American.  I said nothing, although I thought these women as beautiful as any other.  I didn’t say anything to the person with the remote.  Why?  I don’t think my saying anything would have led to an epiphany.

Example:  My separation occurred concurrently with the O J Simpson case. I never would have connected the two incidents had one of my friends not asked me if my husband had ever hit me.  But a well-meaning friend asked me if my soon-to-be-ex had ever hit me.  I was so blindsided by the question that I asked her, “Why do you ask?”  Her response was simple yet implicit.  “Well, the news talks about what O J Simpson did to his wife and I just wondered.” 

I assured her, no, he had never.  Inside, however, I couldn’t help but be disgusted by her obviously lumping all “black men” into one.  If O J Simpson is abusive, then the implication is obvious—all African-American men abuse their wives.  Ridiculous.  But reality is often ridiculous.

Example:   Some of my best-friends are . . .  well, the truth is they are.  My childhood friend, Love, is multi-racial.  My dear friend Pia, reunited as we were in junior high, is African-American, as is Kanika, my walking buddy.  And obviously, or so it should be by now, my ex-husband.  He was a handsome man.  A gentleman.  A gentle man.  And an alcoholic. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I refuse to say “I don’t see race.”  It’s a foolish and ignorant statement in my mind.  How could I are to be dismissive of something as essential as the race of anyone?  Would that not be like my saying I don’t notice a person’s gender?  Their hair color?  Perhaps that is how it ought to be.  Why should I notice a gender?  I certainly don’t care about sexual orientation, and I live for the day when someone’s “coming out” is not significant enough to be important to anyone.  (One day, I hope being homosexual will be no more necessary of statement than someone’s being heterosexual.  I don’t hope to olive to see the day but then I didn’t think I’d live to see the day an African-American would be President even if he is multi-racial.  You know, like my kids.)

So is it any wonder, I take little notice of the furor surrounding Paula Deen?  I was more affected by her coming out as a diabetic than I am about her being exposed as  potential racist.  Truth is, I don’t think she is a racist, not in the southern definition of such.  When I moved to Georgia, my mother said that northerners like minorities en masse, by which she meant a “Yankee” would march for, fight for, even fight for the equal rights of a group of people while still moving away from a neighborhood that was “in decline.”  She further explained that a southerner likes a minority one-on-one.  Yes, some of my best friends are . . . why she’s just like family . . . I’m not a racist but . . .

You want to know why Paula Deen is being vilified?  It isn’t because of what she said nor what she may or may not believe.  I’ve no doubt in my heart that she is utterly convinced she is not racist.  She is being vilified because someone like Anne Rice thinks it’s appropriate to say that Deen is being “lynched” never realizing for even a moment that saying such is subtle in its racism.  Paula Deen is offending the populace not because she is racist but because she is a mirror of what we all are and we don’t like what we see.

6 comments:

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head.

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    1. Thank you. No doubt you have more insight in how insidious this is than ever before. Maybe someday . . .

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  2. I would wonder if you have the full story on the Deen lawsuit before addressing this issue. It is of note that she's not being attacked for just one comment, as most of the major news outlets are reporting, but she's being sued for racist practices at her restaurants, that she personally manages, and are also managed by her family members. They hire blacks but make them come in a different door than others. They hire women but legitimately pay them LESS. Like, there's documentation of this.

    This lady is institutional racism personified and to "take little notice" is to say that what she's done is okay. She deserves any public ridicule she gets. She knows what she's done is wrong and has been chastised about it, even by the Food Network, in the past (when she tried to make a Sambo Burger on her show, they nixed it - and for good reason!).

    Is Paula Deen a racist? I dunno, probably. She certainly engages in activities that furthers racism and sexism (against her own gender, no less!) in the United States. I don't think she should be held as a rolemodel to housewives any more than Martha Stewart should be.

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    1. The other day someone posted a meme on a social network that called some men "pussies" and I pointed out that to suggest the use of the word pussy (or twat or dick or cunt or what have you) is a form of sexism. When a seemingly strong woman on a cooking show (Master Chef) insults a fellow competitor by saying he made "a bitch move" there is again that same form of sexism.

      Sexism is insidious, no doubt. Who would you hold up as a rolemodel to housewives? Just curious.

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  3. I'm pretty mad Blogger for eating my original comment to to this. It was much longer and more eloquent.

    Basically, I would wonder if you had the full story on the Deen situation here. It's not just about one comment as most major news outlets are reporting, but over a decade of racist/sexist practices at her restaurants, managed by Deen herself and her brother. Practices include: separate entrances for white and black employees, not allowing women to cook because at a restaurant that's a man's job, legitimately paying women less money, constant usage of various racial slurs by management, etc etc.

    To ignore it is to say it's okay, when it's absolutely not. She doesn't get a pass because she's Southern, she doesn't get a pass because she's old, and she certainly doesn't get a pass because she's famous. She shouldn't be the "model housewife" any more than Martha Stewart should be. She's institutionalized racism personified. That alone should be enough to get her fired from her job and have the public turn against her. She's famous and thus an influence on people and thus important. It matters.

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    1. Blogger didn't eat it. I have all comments set to be approved because of spammers.

      I do have the full story and I am not suggesting that she isn't getting what she deserves. What I am suggesting is that before everyone jumps on the bandwagon to defend or vilify, it might be wise to step back and consider our own more subtle forms of racism. And it's always easier to ignore our own than it is to ignore someone else's, hence my saying that Paula Deen is a mirror and the reason some people are so outraged is because it's easier to point a finger than to look in the mirror.

      Unless, of course, you're Stacy Dash.

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