Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Americans Respond to Racism, Media & Paula Deen

Well, Paula Deen can't stay out of the news. From networks and corporations dropping her to panels discussing her Today Show appearance, people have strong opinions. In a media started fire that was fueled by social media (where tweets try to outwit each other with humor), I decided to reach out to people across the country to hear their thoughts. I submitted this to Huffington Post where I have been blogging the past 8 months, and for the first time my piece was rejected. Maybe it was too controversial to have such different opinions or maybe Huff Po was saturated with stories. In any case, I wanted to share the opinions from a cross section of Americans from those working in healthcare, teachers, and the arts. People from different ethnicities, genders, and educational backgrounds. Basically -- people that make up our country and are not simply hired to give sound bytes in the media.

I appreciate each of them for taking the time to respond to me and wanted to make these opinions heard. 
"I remember being younger and cringing when I heard "that word". Growing up in the South, you hear it. I vowed that I would not pass that to my children. I found myself in a class Sunday morning at church taught by a black man who I have known the past 5 years. When he mentioned Paula Deen briefly, you could see pain in his eyes. I heard him say "we hear people say, 'get over it, you were slaves "400" years ago, move on!' But, every time you see movies, re-runs on TV, songs - it's like you can't get away from it". Seeing it from a 60 year-old grown man's eyes made it clearer. It is about putting another down to elevate self. It makes me want to really evaluate what I say more. Would I want what I say in private to be broadcasted, tweeted, face booked, and talked about on talk shows all day? So it has made me look at what I say, and think about another." - Julie Ann Potts - Preschool Teacher, AL
"I've always been a tad bit suspicious of Paula Deen because she has often struck me as being inauthentic, despite her story: abused wife, single mother, had to raise two boys, sold bag lunches. But I admired her story and so I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But I also liked John Edwards' story too. People in leadership positions have more accountability but Americans have short memories." - Stephen Kitsakos - Professor/Writer, NY/FL
"2002. Paula Deen and I were new Food Network hosts meeting TV critics in Los Angeles. Mark Fuhrman was also in the building to meet press. We say the term "the N-word" because of his testimony in the OJ Simpson trial. Paula said the N-word. She apologized. So did former "Seinfeld" actor Michael Richards after he was caught using the N-word. Don Imus apologized for calling female college athletes "nappy-headed hos" on his show. Paula was afflicted with the blindness of privilege and definitely showed racial insensitivity, an insensitivity that should've been checked earlier. In a 2012 New York Times Talk interview, she defended her great grandfather who was devastated after losing the Civil War. He lost 30 of his "workers" who'd been on his books. He couldn't take care of the plantation by himself. Had I been the on-camera interviewer, I would've interjected that "workers" meant slaves. Had I worked in the Food Network press department, I would've told Paula to quit talking like that in public while under contract. I think she'll have a new gig in six months to a year. Mark Fuhrman used racial slurs. He went on to TV news and radio work. Michael Richards will be on a sitcom this fall. Don Imus is still making big money. Paula? Heck, I was angrier at Donald Trump for racially disrespecting President Obama -- and Trump remained a prime time NBC reality show host. It seems like privileged people who make racially or sexually insensitive comments can bounce back and eventually move on to new privileges." - Bobby Rivers - TV Host/Actor, CA
"Yesterday I watched a performance of "Hairspray" the musical that deals with racial integration in 1962. The villain Velma, doesn't consider herself as a racist, she only wants to keep her television show pure by not allowing white and blacks to dance together; while the heroine Tracy wants all kids to be able to dance together every day. While watching it one can easily feel that things have changed a lot in 50 years, but the recent stories about Paula Deen prove that we haven't come as far as we want to believe we have. As a Southern transplant to the Northwest I have seen racism in many forms: the casual, blatant racism of the South and the hidden, equally harmful racism in the Northwest. Paula Deen may want to sugarcoat her racist words and deeds the way that she sugarcoats her food, but like Velma, she can't hide her truth. I don't want to vilify Paula Deen, but like Tracy I want everyone of all races to enjoy the same opportunities. No one should have to work in an environment which demeans them. All the butter in the world won't make the "N word" be something I can swallow." - Dayna Childs - Admissions Officer, WA
"Why are we so quick to judge a person based on sound bytes of a media we don't trust? Do I think some of the ideals in regard to Ms. Deen's restaurant absurd and insensitive? ABSOLUTELY! But that, in my mind, doesn't make you a racist. Mind you, I'm not defending her because I DON'T KNOW HER! Black folk, I have heard the 'cracker' conversations from some and you know that if judged based on answers to the SAME QUESTIONS Paula was asked, some of us would not only lose our jobs but be in jail. And white folks, please stop apologizing for the actions of Ms. Deen and for any other white person you feel is embarrassing the white race. You don't see me apologize for Flava Flav! Is Paula Deen a racist? If she is, she'll have to live with it. But if she's not, what damage has been done to this woman? Think for a minute...if I got to select 2 sound bytes from your life, would you want to be judged by that? And would people be surprised? I deal with closeted racist every day. Those are the ones I worry about." - Denise Lee - Actress, TX
"What is most interesting to me with the Paula Deen situation is how significant social media played a role. From Twitter comments to Facebook posts to Deen herself apologizing for her actions on Youtube, it wasn't traditional, but social media sites that were the go-to places for breaking news, conversations and updates on the issue. If there was any doubt in the minds of celebrities, agents, producers and the public about how important a role social media plays in the lives of everyone, and anyone, this should be the textbook example. Whereas just a few short years ago, this story would have been broken by print days, even weeks later, thereby slowing down the onslaught of anger and surprise of viewers. Now it catapulted around the globe in mere minutes. Because of this instant accessibility, a career can be made from one brief action or performance ~ as in the case of Susan Boyle ~ or destroyed, as we've witnessed this past weekend." - Elizabeth J. Musgrave - Columnist, IN
"I absolutely abhor racism. I have no tolerance for hatred. I do not knowingly associate with people who do. That being said, I am bothered by the manner in which Paula Deen has been treated by the media in the days since she confessed to having once used a racial slur. She stated she did so after she'd been robbed at gunpoint: a time she would likely have not been in her usual frame of mind. I don't believe this constitutes labeling her a racist. I think her biggest obstacle here is being Southern. People still rather freely apply the term 'racist' to Southerners and I find that unfair. Racism is indeed still alive and well in this country but it's not exclusively Southern. Dehumanizing Paula Deen for one mistake is akin to condemning her without a trial. It's just not the right thing to do." - Carey Parrish - Healthcare Professional, GA


  1. Excellent post, as always. I think the media loves this kind of thing. Keep the fires burning and people will continue tuning in.

    Personally, I think it's become less and less about what she may or may not have said and may or may not have done. Now it's just a witch hunt with Paula painted as the token racist to rally against.

    If this is all true, she should be ashamed of herself, and I think she is. Instead of continuing to beat her with the blame, why aren't we looking at how we can move on? Paula Deen still has a huge audience. Wouldn't it make more sense to use her mistakes as a way to bridge the gaps that still divide us? Imagine the influence she could have across the South and the rest of the world.

    Let's stop demonizing her and enlist her help in changing the attitudes that led to these "slip ups."

  2. What would have "made sense" to Rick's point, and even garnered some respect, is if she had come to the realization that having used the n-word as part of the everyday vernacular she was raised with was wrong, that she was ashamed of herself, and that it was an ugly, hateful word to use in whatever era you grew up... And if she acknowledged that she could understand why both white people, and black people, and probably even a few Chinese people might have found her plantation themed party, at best, in very poor taste... If she had just come out ahead of all this and spoken from the heart and admitted how sorry and ashamed she was and how she'd like to make up for that -- maybe start a scholarship for kids of color to attend culinary school for instance -- well then she would have found favor and forgiveness with/from many, myself included. Even her network and her sponsors could not have disputed how her heart had evolved. But her mea culpas of late are clearly those of a woman who is not sorry for her behavior. These were not "slip ups." Are we really to believe she used the n-word once when she was held at gunpoint 30 years ago by a black man and never again? Please... She's not sorry for who and what she is. She said it best to Matt Lauer -- "I is what I is." She's merely sorry for being exposed and called on it, sorry her reputation has been destroyed, and sorry she's being stripped of millions of dollars because of it. I'm happy that in that sense, "the market" has spoken, and that we live in a country where racism and even insensitivity to the history of racism in America is not tolerated from people of power and privilege. So do I feel sorry for Paula Deen? Not for a second. I still feel sorry for those 30 "workers" on her granddaddy's plantation though! And don't get me started on the whole diabetes thing! She had already proved she was duplicitous and self-serving with that debacle! She should have come out the day she was diagnosed and said "ya'll need to slow down on the sugar and the butter and the deep fryin' or you're gonna have it too ya'll!" But no, she continued to peddle her high fat high sugar "everything tastes better with butter ya'll" schtick and waited until the deals and the endorsements were all in place, and then she shared the news in a blaze of well choreographed publicity stunts. I mean I saw her make a bacon hamburger using 2 glazed doughnuts as a bun!The woman was a menace!!! So with all that said... She had it comin' ya'll! I hope she melts away like a stick of butter on a hot griddle.

    Michael Byrne

    1. Thanks for sharing your views, Michael. While I actually went to people for this blog prior to her ever showing up on The Today Show (as this was submitted to Huffington Post last Monday) - you make such valid points in how her lack of self realization on that appearance only added to the situation she had already placed herself in.