On Paula Deen’s Use of the “N-Word”
There’s been a lot of backlash surrounding the lawsuit against Paula Deen and the Southern celebrity chef's admission that she used the “N-word” when (among other instances) describing an incident that took place when she was a bank teller and got held up at gunpoint. Ms. Deen said in her sworn deposition that she used the racial slur when recounting the event to her husband.

Although I feel for Ms. Deen being a victim of such a terrifying crime, I am not sure how these extenuating circumstances justify her use of a racial epithet. What her admission proves is that a "closet" racist’s true colors are exposed in situations of extreme stress (just as offensive opinions are often expressed when someone is angry or drunk). That Ms. Deen thought of her attacker as a "N_____" is rather telling. Even in a traumatized state, she could have labeled the guy a “thug,” “S-O-B,” “bastard,” or any number of well-deserved expletives that didn’t emphasize his race.

So, Ms. Deen has been justly “outed,” and the debate rages about whether she deserves to lose her Food Network contract because of it. Indeed, many white folks simply don’t "get" what all the fuss is about. Deen's supporters are quick to point out that Black rappers, comedians, etc. use the “N-word” all the time. But while it may be empowering for the Black community to neutralize a racially-offensive label by embracing it in this way (think of how effectively homosexuals have defused the words "fag," "dyke," and "queer" by taking ownership of them), this does not change the fact that the historically-laden term is considered obscene and incendiary when used by white people. (Silly me; I wouldn't have thought this required an explanation.)

Reverend Jesse Jackson has offered to “rehabilitate” Deen, saying she shouldn’t be turned into a “sacrificial lamb” over the issue of racial intolerance. Perhaps her lawyer should be “rehabilitated” as well. He claims that Lisa Jackson (the plaintiff in the case) lacks standing to bring the suit because she is white. I, for one, don’t think you have to be Black to recognize how offensive and damaging racist talk is to people of all races, having been privy to it my entire life. Perhaps if more white people stood up and spoke out when subjected to small-minded, insider "white talk," the more ignorant among us would get a clue. But, sadly, too many white folks still think it’s okay to use the “N-word” in “whites-only” circles, or “not in a mean way.” Huh? You mean, as in Deen’s describing her “dream Southern plantation wedding,” where a “bunch of little N______s wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties"? Please. The word isn't cute or quaint, and I have yet to understand how a white person might use this perjorative term in anything but a disparaging way.

I am glad Reverend Jackson wants to help enlighten Ms. Deen, but by the same token, I have no problem with The Food Network making an example of her. Personally, I think it only fair that a celebrity forfeit his or her "media darling" status when racism is brought to light. I imagine Deen has made gazillions off her high-fat, artery-clogging food empire, and her career has been helped along immensely by the people in her employ—many of them members of the racial group she so readily maligns. I say kudos to The Food Network for dropping her. Racism ought not be rewarded by an ongoing stamp of media approval, and people of bad moral character should rightly take their punishment in the wallet, where we're all grudgingly capable of learning life's hardest lessons.

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  • Kate Powell

    My gut is to agree with you 100% regarding Deen, and the telling moment for me was the plantation wedding.  

    It is also true that my mom has friends who are in their 80's who are liberal left-wing democrats but were raised in the deep south (and the black sheep -- no pun intended -- of their right-wing families), and while their views are not racist by any means, I notice they still call black folks negros (and my mom, raised in So Cal, corrects them.)  If Deen had simply said this during an armed robbery, I might b willing to say, "reverting back to her childish language -- but then there is that whole wedding issue . . .  so, I agree, can her.