Saturday, June 22, 2013
Fry a Little Tenderness
I just wanted to take a second to follow up on the whole Paula Deen miasma, which culminated yesterday in what had to be Deen's worst day ever. In a period of less than ten hours she bailed on the Today show, posted a bizarre, rambling apology on YouTube, took that apology down, put it back up, and lost her home at Food Network after executives there decided they weren't willing to take the heat of keeping her around. You have to have a lot to feel the excruciating pain of losing a lot, and yesterday Paula Deen lost a lot. I get the impression that she'd love to figure out a way to just make the whole day go away entirely.
There are a lot of people gloating right now over Deen's downfall and I fully admit to not being a fan of hers at all. I also admit to gleefully taking part in the hilarious Twitter pile-on both yesterday and Wednesday when this whole thing first broke. Having a somewhat good-natured laugh at pain, even someone else's pain, is what we human beings do; there's just no way around it, I guess. But believe it or not there truly is a part of me that feels a little sorry for Deen. Obviously, she's still got a giant bag of money she's sitting on and there's no way in hell this controversy is going to sink her entirely, so my sympathy is tempered quite a bit. Still, Paula Deen's brand of racism, while potentially far more insidious in the big picture, isn't the same as the brand that shows a true internal hatred for people of color.
Yes, an argument can easily be made that it's casual, inadvertent racism that allows for the more blatant, in-your-face kind, but as I often say when someone gets in deep shit for saying or doing something the masses find reprehensible -- rightly or wrongly -- you have to consider a person's intent before deciding what punishment to mete out. If Paula Deen truly didn't understand that what she was doing could be construed as incredibly hurtful and that it both enabled and perpetuated the problem of racism in America -- certainly in the South -- does she deserved to be publicly eviscerated and lose a substantial portion of that for which she obviously did work pretty hard? It's absolutely fair to refuse to tolerate racist behavior or language of any kind, but I'm genuinely not sure Paula Deen had any idea what the hell she was doing. If that's true, isn't it better to give her a hand to hold rather than one that beats her over the head?
It may be tough to see it as a legitimate excuse, but Deen's apparently blithe attitude toward racist language really is a product of her surroundings. That kind of crap still goes on all over the place in the South and I'm certainly not condoning or suggesting we let it slide. Far from it, in fact; I generally hate the fucking South. Deen is a hugely popular face of that region and its sometimes intransigent beliefs, though, and rather than trying to take several pounds of very fatty flesh, would it possibly be a better idea to reach out to her in the spirit of the understanding we all purport to crave and let a public conversation with her on race and racial issues perhaps be an example to those who look up to her? Of course we all know that there's a part of her that's crying more for herself than anything or anyone else when she pleads for forgiveness, but that doesn't mean her transgressions can't serve a useful purpose for everyone.
Maybe it's a bitter pill for all of us who seek to eradicate racism to swallow -- and maybe it's easy for me to say because I'm a white guy -- but if creating an open dialog by showing a little kindness and compassion to somebody like Paula Deen furthers that cause, maybe it's worth it.