Dear white people, please stop defending Paula Deen

Looks like it’s time to talk about white privilege again. I’ve seen one too many “Oh, poor Paula Deen” statuses on my Facebook timeline and I can’t keep quiet about it any longer. People, we need to do better.

Social media has been abuzz with talk about Paula Deen lately, and I’ve discussed the situation with both family and friends. In case you need a recap, I’m leaving this Huffington Post article here, complete with actual transcripts of conversations between Deen and a lawyer. In a nutshell, Deen is under fire because of racist sentiments she has repeatedly verbalized. The use of the n-word is only the tip of the iceberg, although many people seem to think that’s what all of the controversy is about.  In addition to repeated use of the n-word (which she has admitted to), she’s also been accused of permitting sexual and racial workplace discrimination to occur right under her nose. And then there’s that great bit where she talks about the “perfect plantation wedding,” complete with black waiters dressed as slaves:

[W]hen asked if she wanted black men to play the role of slaves at a wedding she explained she got the idea from a restaurant her husband and her had dined at saying, “The whole entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie.

“I mean, it was really impressive. That restaurant represented a certain era in America…after the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War…It was not only black men, it was black women…I would say they were slaves.”

Even racist people are like, “Wow, that’s really racist.”

Here are some excerpts from the transcripts linked above.

On her brother’s sexual and racial discrimination:

Lawyer: Are you aware of Mr. Hiers admitting that he engaged in racially and sexually inappropriate behavior in the workplace?

Deen: I guess

Lawyer: Okay. Well, have you done anything about what you heard him admit to doing?
Deen: My brother and I have had conversations. My brother is not a bad person. Do humans behave inappropriately? At times, yes. I don’t know one person that has not. My brother is a good man. Have we told jokes? Have we said things that we should not have said, that — yes, we all have. We all have done that, every one of us.

On telling offensive jokes that target Blacks, Jews, and gays:

Lawyer: What about jokes, if somebody is telling a joke that’s got — 
Deen: It’s just what they are, they’re jokes.

Lawyer: Okay. Would you consider those to be using the N word in a mean way?

Deen: That’s — that’s kind of hard. Most — most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. I can’t — I don’t know.

Lawyer: Okay.
Deen: They usually target, though a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.

…good explanation there, Paula. If her bumbling defense isn’t enough to convince you that she is, without a doubt, racist (and possibly anti-Semitic and homophobic), then look at the facts. Her behavior and repeated use of racial slurs don’t leave much up for debate, and this is why I just can’t understand why so many people feel the need to defend her. I’m not saying she’s a terrible person, but she’s certainly proved herself to be woefully ignorant.

Alas, I do have some insight into why so many white people are up in arms about Paula’s public “punishment.” One explanation is the racial empathy gap, which explains that white people literally do not perceive the pain of black people as intensely as they do the pain of white people. They have trouble feeling empathy for black people and expect people of color to somehow have “thicker skins” that permit them to feel more pain. White people, on the other hand, are to be pitied.

This is, of course, a completely ludicrous notion. The fact that we cannot perceive all people’s pain as equal just proves that racism is alive and well. Which brings me to white privilege…

Many white people become extremely defensive when other white people are accused as racists, because they are blind to their own privilege. We see this often when people claim “reverse racism” (which is not a thing). The fact of the matter is that white people have privilege simply because we don’t have to think about the color of our skin on a daily basis. We will never be killed or locked up in jail just because of our skin color. So to Paula Deen, using the n-word and telling politically incorrect jokes is funny. It’s a joke to her because she will never have to live as a black woman and actually experience what discrimination feels like.

But, you may plead, she’s not being racist on purpose! But if that’s true, it’s even worse. Being racist “on accident” just proves that you are completely ignorant to your own privilege and to the oppression that black people endure. That is embarrassing, and you really can’t blame the Food Network for wanting to distance themselves from Deen.

So white people, I’m begging you. Can you please stop throwing a pity party for Paula? She doesn’t deserve it. She let unchecked privilege get the best of her and she said some stupid shit. By aligning yourselves with her, you’re displaying the same ignorance and lack of empathy for those who are truly oppressed by racism.

Check your privilege at the door, please.

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4 Comments

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  1. Eileen Kennedy June 30, 2013 — 1:39 pm

    Freedom of speech is for all people. So anything Paula Deen said she has the same rights as any rapper calling me a ho and a bitch, kill cops,whatever.

  2. mayarivirginia June 30, 2013 — 3:12 pm

    But she said those things 27 years ago, in a culture that was different than our is today. Not that the time period excuses racism, but it explains it. She has stated that she doesn’t talk or think that way now. I think it’s ridiculous to make such a public brouhaha over something someone said more than 25 years ago……..when her entire schtick is that she’s a good ole Southern cook. She emerged from her culture, which included Jello pie and racism…….but, now that culture around her has progressed, she is progressing, too. If she said “YeAh I said n…. then and I’d say it again today”, that’s one thing. But she has apologised. She has seen how hatef her attitude was, and she has changed it. Cast the first stone, if you never said anything at a previous stage in your development that might have been hurtful to others…….I won’t cast that stone, because I recognize that I’m human and therefore imperfect but always growing.

    • Actually, what I’m referring to was not 27 years ago. The whole “plantation wedding” thing was recent. Also, what do you have to say for her fostering an environment of sexual and racial discrimination? Her brother obviously seriously offended people with his “jokes.” This isn’t about casting stones – it’s about calling out racism and letting people know that it’s not okay.

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