I’m not a Paula Deen fan. I’ve never seen the big attraction, but then again I live with the world’s best cook, who makes everything from scratch, so who needs her? However, I have to weigh in on the current controversy.
As we all know, the Southern cooking diva is getting slammed for her “racism” and her use of the N word, among other things. So let me just say this – nigger.
Does that offend you? Why? Are you an African-American who has had that term used to demean you? Or are you a white person who finds any racial slurs offensive? If you are in the first group, I apologize for the fact that people can be ignorant and cruel. But I have to ask you if you are just as offended when rappers use the word in their music? Because if you aren’t, isn’t that a form of reverse racism?
And if you are in the latter group, were you one of the millions who paid money to see the recent hit movie Dhango Unchained? Why does Quentin Tarantino win awards for a movie that uses that word in scene after scene, but Paula Deen lose her job for admitting that she has used it in the past?
Saturday evening the Black Entertainment Network (BET) aired a movie called For Colored Girls (2010) starring Janet Jackson. If I, as a white man, used that term to refer to African American women, I’d be cast in the same racist light as Paula Deen.
The book I am currently writing is set in a small Ohio town a few years after World War II. In one scene the police chief refers to niggers, and the terms Japs and Krauts are used by characters a few times in referring to the war. That’s how people in that place and time would have talked, so I will use those terms. If I don’t, the storyline rings false.
I went to a high school that was 85% black and 10% Mexican. Try being a white kid in that environment in the late 1960s and then tell me something about racism. I heard the black students around me use the word a lot more than I ever heard it from my white friends.
One of my best friends in high school, Ray Lear, was black. I spent many nights at his house and he at mine. We joked casually about the race thing, but it was never an issue on either of our parts.
My favorite teacher in high school was Jim Summers, a man who was also a friend and who had a big impact on my life even today. He was black, and referred to me as his Number One Son. I remember being at his home once around Christmas and he passed me a plate of mixed nuts, among them Brazil nuts. I knew what other people called them, but wasn’t sure what he did, so I asked, “What are the big brown nuts called?” Mr. Summers, enjoying my discomfort, said, “Nigger toes.” Once, when I was in the Army, I called him at home and he was telling me about a terrible snowstorm that had hit Toledo and that he had to walk several blocks to the bus stop because his driveway was snowed in. He said, “I must have looked like a turd on a white linoleum floor!” Was he being a racist, or just being himself, a man with a good sense of humor?
In my platoon, we had two guys, Terry Spahn and Robert Martinez, who were best friends. They referred to themselves as Spic and Span. Was that racist? Some might say so, but who were they hurting? Others would say that it was a different time and place. Just as were Paula Deen’s comments that have raised such a fuss and gotten her fired from the Food Network.
Do I think Paula Deen is a racist? Yes, I do, to some extent. Just as the rap singers are who use that offensive word. Just as Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson are, who all used the word in Dhango Unchained. And just as you and I are.
We are all racists to some extent, and if you deny that, you are lying to yourself. If you are walking down a street at night and see a group of young black or Latino men coming your way talking loudly and taking up the sidewalk, tell me you won’t feel at least a slight tension. Would you rather have your car break down on a pleasant residential street in a small town or on a crowded street on the south side of Chicago?
And that goes both ways. Regular blog reader Stephen Wilson, a middle aged black man I struck up a friendship with a few years ago, once told me about walking to his car one evening in a parking lot in Dayton, Ohio when he encountered three young white men with close shaven heads. Stephen said that the first thing he thought was that they were skinheads, and he found himself growing apprehensive. Then they nodded and said hello and got into their car, and he saw the sticker from the nearby Air Force base and was ashamed that his first thought was that he was seeing racists, instead of three young men serving their country.
Paula Deen is a product of her environment, as we all are. Yes, she has said and probably thought things in the past that could be considered racist by some. Can you honestly say that you never have? I can’t.
Tags: Black Entertainment Network, Dhango Unchained, Food Network, Is Paula Deen A Racist, Jamie Foxx, Janet Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Paula Deen, Quentin Tarantino, racism, rap music, Samuel L Jackson, skinheads, Southern cooking diva