Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Recipes for Racism

I don’t really watch television, but my grandmother was a big fan of Food Network, and she and my daughter were devoted watchers. I would sometimes go plunk down in my grandmother’s king-sized bed with the two of them and have a Food Network-fest. Chopped was probably their favorite, but Paula was definitely on the short list. (True fact: I actually have Paula Deen’s autobiography sitting on my bookshelf—one of the few personal possessions my grandmother left behind when she died.)

I confess that I’ve always liked Paula. She reminds me of a lot of older Southern women I know—women who always know how to make you feel comfortable, seemingly without effort. As a die-hard butter fan, I was never put off by her cooking, as so many of the Health Police seem to have been. I always figured that no one was forcing anyone to follow her recipes. Take what you like, ignore what you don’t, and move along.

And then came the revelations.

There has been a ton of ink spilled about the whole fracas, and the only reason I’m writing about it now is because I’ve been astonished to see people who are normally incredibly attuned to racism defending Ms. Deen. This has been so confusing and bothersome to me that I’ve dropped a much bigger set of blog posts that I’m working on (more on that later this week) to write about this.

Racism is an issue that should be confronted anywhere and everywhere—yet, somehow, it seems to have become a worse sin to call someone a racist than it is to be a racist. Here are the arguments I seem to keep running across—and they strike me as recipes for racism:

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We shouldn't fault Paula Deen for being racist because there are so many other, more important issues in the world.

Playing “Rank the Terrible Issues” serves only to ensure that all the bad “-isms” will continue—because the “-ism” that limits or destroys one person’s life is "no big deal" to another.

Plus, calling Paula Deen out for racist speech/behavior has absolutely nothing to do with any given individual’s involvement in “other, more important issues in the world.” If we can't call out individual acts of racism, how in the name of heaven can we call out systemic racism? (The quick answer is: We can’t.)

The fact that I’m blogging about Paula Deen’s dramatic fall from public grace, rather than the Supreme Court’s abominable decision in Shelby County v. Holder on the Voting Rights Act (VRA), doesn’t mean I don’t care about the VRA. That will be a boots-on-ground involvement for me, involving contacting elected officials, attending Moral Monday protests, etc.

But here’s the thing—it is the Paula Deens of the world who make that invalidated section of the VRA so important. It is the everyday, casual racism of people like her—and those who defend her—that is the bedrock on which legislatures across the nation will build voting roadblocks for people of color.

To sum it up: If you care about the VRA, you damned well better be calling Paula Deen—and any other person in your life, including yourself—out about racist speech and behaviors, because those are the manure in which systemic racism grows and thrives.

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We shouldn’t fault Paula Deen for being racist because she’s a product of her time and place.

I find this rationale for letting Paula Deen off the hook to be deeply, DEEPLY offensive. I can’t believe I’m going to quote Republican speechwriter Michael Gerson about the “soft bigotry of low expectations”—but it fits:

Please don’t give me a pass on racism because I’m a native, white Southerner.

There is simply NO EXCUSE for racism. Not geography. Not age. Not anything. There have been plenty of white people across time and space who refused to engage in racist acts or speech. It is currently impossible for white people in this nation to avoid benefiting from a racist social structure, but it is critical that we not excuse individual racism. Being/acting racist is a choice.

If you want eliminate your own racist behaviors, there is an entire Internet out there just waiting to educate you. [Warning: some of those links contain language that is NSFW.]

Doing so will, of course, require you to listen to people of color as they recount their experiences of racism.

It will also require you to learn to sit quietly with serious personal discomfort and to put down your instinct to be defensive. If you feel the urge to argue, don’t. The first step in dealing with your own internalized racism is to be humble and LISTEN.

If you are serious about it, uprooting your own racism will force you to de-center your experiences, thoughts, and opinions, and to give pride of place to the experiences, thoughts, and opinions of those who are constantly wounded by a system that routinely denies them the legitimacy of their own lives.

If you choose to engage in that hard, but rewarding, work, you will fail. Repeatedly. I know, because I’ve done it. It is humiliating and humbling to realize that your good intentions are not enough and you’ve messed up.

But the way you handle failure is not to turn yourself into a martyr and tell people to “please take up that stone and throw it as hard as [you] can and kill me”—like you’ve got Jesus on your side.

The way you handle failure is to say “I’m sorry.”

No excuses. No faux-pologies. No “I’m sorry if you were offended.” No ifs, ands, or buts.

Say “I’m sorry”—and then never do/say that thing again. Hard and easy—both at the same time.

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We shouldn't fault Paula Deen for being racist because she's innocent until proven guilty.

This one is nonsense. Paula Deen has convicted herself. The transcript of her deposition in the lawsuit against her and her brother is there for anyone to read. And anyone can watch the video of her interview with the New York Times.

My opinion was formed by her sworn legal testimony and by the words that came out of her own mouth. I don’t need a court of law to know that she has said racist things and done racist things.

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We shouldn't fault Paula Deen for being racist because we've all sinned and fallen short.

Using the “logic” of this argument, we can never call anyone on ANYTHING. Not sexism. Not racism. Not homophobia. Nothing.

That is not a world in which I want to live.

If I say or do something racist, I really hope someone calls me out. I hope they do it kindly—but they aren’t doing me any favors by excusing my behavior.

Not so long ago, it was almost unthinkable that a white person would say overtly racist things in public. Within their family or friend groups, sure—but not to the world at large.

But Barack Obama's election/re-election seems to have dealt a death-blow to the long-held convention that one shouldn't be OPENLY racist. In our supposedly “post-racial society,” the election of an African American president blew the lid off the festering racism in our country, and now the entire nation is covered in the poisonous spew. [Again, some links are probably NSFW.]

That is why, personally, I am glad to see anyone being held accountable for saying racist things that no one said in polite company just five years ago.

And here’s the thing—for better or worse—people who are on the public stage know (or ought to) that they are under scrutiny. I loathe and detest our “celebrity culture” because I don’t think that one gives up a right to privacy just because zie happens to be on television, in the movies, etc. But I’m not in charge of the culture, and anyone in the public eye ought to be smart enough to know that EVERYTHING zie does will be analyzed and criticized. That’s the price of fame in our culture.

Paula Deen worked really hard to get herself and her sons out of poverty—and I can, and do, admire that. But there are many people who worked just as hard and were not lucky enough to get the opportunities she was offered.

She seems to have forgotten that, from those to whom much has been given, much is expected.

She could have learned a lesson—those who use their celebrity well can make a powerful difference in the world. That she didn't speaks volumes about where we are as a culture.

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We shouldn't fault Paula Deen for being racist because we are supposed to forgive people.

This one is aimed specifically at Christians.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for our actions. I wish someone could explain to me why people equate “forgiveness” with “obligation to allow Ms. Deen to retain her position as a cultural icon and to keep filling her already overflowing coffers.” Because I just don’t get it.

First of all, the only people who truly have the right and power to forgive Paula Deen are the people she has directly injured with her words and actions. Those would be her employees, first and foremost, and then people of color in general.

We all make mistakes—but until she shows that she has the least clue about what she did wrong, recognizes the harm she’s done, and stops playing the martyr because people have called her on it, it seems to me that she isn’t really all that interested in being “forgiven.” It seems more like she’s rushing to get to that “forgotten” place—and there appear to be a lot of folks who are anxious to see her get there without any accountability.

I wonder if that's because most white people know they have uttered racist words in their past, and they feel guilty about it. Could they be excusing Paula Deen as a way of expiating their own behavior?

I don't know. But I do know this—in the past, I have said racist words and told racist jokes—and, yes, I feel guilty about that. But I don't think that gives me license to excuse Paula Deen—or anyone else (including myself) for racist behavior.

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We shouldn't fault Paula Deen for being racist because Alec Baldwin is an emotionally abusive homophobe (or because Other Men do bad things and don’t lose their reputations, endorsements, etc.)

This is just a variation on the first one—and it’s just as much a non sequitur. Ms. Deen and Mr. Baldwin should both be called out. They have both behaved badly. They have both hurt people with their words and actions. I believe that both of them should take themselves out of the spotlight and do some serious personal work to change their behaviors and work to repair the harm they have done.

And I would add several other names to that list. I’m sure you could too.

Some people seem to want to excuse Ms. Deen because they believe she’s being treated more harshly because she’s a woman. I agree that’s part of the calculus—but, at the same time, I always come back to the fact that we should be calling out anyone who makes racist/sexist/homophobic/xenophobic/etc. statements.

No passes. Period.

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Every one of these rationalizations is a recipe for racism. And not a single one of them holds up to scrutiny.

Let me be clear—I don’t want to see Paula Deen drawn and quartered. Sadly, I know that what she did takes place millions of times every day—she is not alone. And THAT is the problem.

What I want is for people to take this moment and this conversation seriously. I want people to understand that every one of us has an obligation to be aware of our words and actions and to change them when they hurt others.

I also want people to understand that racism is like cancer. Without vigorous treatment, it spreads. It causes incalculable suffering and it kills.

Let’s stop making excuses for it—whether it be for Paula Deen or ourselves. We can do better than this. We can craft our own recipe for a world that values ALL people equally.

And that recipe can—and should—involve honesty, humility, and a willingness to listen and change.

And butter. Lots and lots of butter.

Update: I wanted to add a comment that I got on my Facebook page from a friend and former colleague who is a 20-something Asian American man. He raises a number of issues that I, as a privileged white person, didn't even consider. I am grateful for his thoughtful addition to the conversation.



Apparently talking about Deen's racist actions "steals" attention from other issues, as if we live on a TV set with limited time and breadth? Apparently Deen's racism isn't symptomatic of the larger issue, including being related to "higher priority" issues of racism or racist culture like those things spouted by proud racists and issues like VRA? I've had people who argued that Deen's only sin was being accused of using a racial slur that can't be substantiated turn around and tell me I'm oversimplifying the issue by claiming that the real problems are the racist and sexist behaviors she and her brother have ACTUALLY admitted to in their depositions.

It is INSANE that people would invoke punishing people like Palin, Perry, or Gingrich ("true racists") in the same breath as claiming that Deen deserves leniency. If we really care about racism being called out (as well as other -isms) then it means that Deen deserves what she's getting and that these other people need to feel the same, not that we need to lay off of Deen.

But one other argument that annoys me to NO end is the claim that this is just a way for liberals to feel good about themselves and their race issues (see: every liberal Deen defender, Bill Maher, and probably every conservative looking to tear down a liberal who is against Deen's actions as reference). First, this assumes that all liberals are white people who have no personal stake in the racial climate of our society that they can afford to tackle issues like this "to make them feel good". People of color confront these issues because they are part of the reality of their lives and they're tired of it going ignored. When they bring it up and debate it, they're not doing it altruistically. Are we really going to suggest that people of color are only raising hell about this because they want to score anti-racism brownie points from one another? The "feel good" argument is entirely white-centric. It's racist and the irony is palpable.

The second issue is that it assumes that white people have no personal stake in fixing a racist society. White people do not live in a vacuum. They benefit from a racist society, but that doesn't mean that every white person is fine with it that way. White people have family and friends who are people of color. They also have a fundamental sense of morality and ethics. To make this "feel good" argument suggests that the fundamental issue of inequity being inherently "wrong" in this society is non-existent to white people, and that idea applies to other -isms: sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Minorities always end up carrying the burden of fighting for equality, but it also requires that people who don't experience those inequities sincerely wish for change as well.
 

34 comments:

Diane said...

thank you. and it's much much more troubling than the first set of conversations that I was hearing about.

IT said...

This is a sorry episode all 'round but I am THRILLED that it has brought back your impassioned voice for justice and honor and integrity to the blogosphere.


Ann said...

Thanks Paige for writing this out - all the points exactly what I needed to hear.

Ellie Finlay said...

This is good, Paige.

Thank you.

Vanessa Baker said...

I think the point that everyone is missing is that her words are a reflection for what is in her heart. People are casting stones and publicly shame her for her WORDS. But it does nothing to change her deep seated beliefs, which are what really need to evolve. In fact, I would guess that the public lynching only hardens her heart.

I agree that racism is still rampant and needs to be eradicated. But I don’t agree that public shaming is the way to do it. It polarizes people without any movement toward love, understanding and acceptance.

You, yourself admit to using racial slurs and jokes. Please tell us who your employer is so that we can all start a campaign to get you fired. Please tell us your real name so that we can start Facebook pages denouncing you for things you said in your past. No? Do you think that admitting you once used racial slurs in your past is any different than Paula Deen’s situation? Does the confession absolve you, but not her? The only difference you point out is that she has built a successful cooking empire. Does that really make you less accountable than her?

I assume from what you have written that you have moved away from your past racist attitudes. How did you accomplish that? By being publicly shamed and humiliated? When you are guilty, you don’t make yourself less racist by shaming someone else. You make yourself a self righteous hypocrite. Instead of deriding her why don’t you help her along the same path you took?

Let me be clear - I am not defending Paula Deen. But I am asking you some questions. What do you think public shaming accomplishes? Do you think it is an effective way to have people soften their hearts? Do you think there might be better ways to achieve racial harmony, equality and understanding? Do you really think that a public lynching is an effective way toward removing “the manure in which systemic racism grows and thrives?” I don’t. In fact, I’d say that your position and behavior does more to feed racism than to eradicate it. But I’m sure it makes the white apologist in you feel better for having written it.

And by the way -

I AM a Black, Lesbian, Jew and I am most assuredly offended by your ‘trying to look hip’ description of G_d on your other blog. It is not funny. It is not cute. It is offensive. Deeply offensive.

Forgiveness is NOT, as you say, “specifically” Christian. Forgiveness has been the very root of Judaic, and other traditions long before ever Christianity appeared. (Now your religious elitism is also showing.)

So yes, as you have asked, I am calling YOU out. You should take a lesson from many of the great civil rights leaders around the world. Anger and shaming and finger pointing and humiliation are not the way to teaching peace and harmony. Maybe you should take a page from your own book and stop telling other people what to do and start listening.

JCF said...

"I is what I is, and I'm not changing!" {self-pity tears}


It's not my position to forgive/not forgive Paula Deen (I haven't been on the receiving end of racism). But the above incident (performance?) is where I lost any sympathy I might have had.

Jim said...

Very, very well said. I think my use of the fabled "n word" is a lot lower than Paula's but I do not care, more than zero means you have work to do. Even in those long ago days when we changed the legal system by riding buses, using restroom, and registering voters, I am sure I offended someone unnecessarily.

It is a cheap truism that we, "have all sinned." That is not at issue. What we do when we come to understand our sin, that matters.

FWIW
jimB

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Vanessa Baker--thank you for your comment. Here are my responses to your points:

I think the point that everyone is missing is that her words are a reflection for what is in her heart. People are casting stones and publicly shame her for her WORDS. But it does nothing to change her deep seated beliefs, which are what really need to evolve. In fact, I would guess that the public lynching only hardens her heart.

I agree that racism is still rampant and needs to be eradicated. But I don’t agree that public shaming is the way to do it. It polarizes people without any movement toward love, understanding and acceptance.

First of all, I find it deeply disturbing that ANYONE would use the term “lynching” for this fiasco—especially someone who identifies as black, as you do below. That term has specific, deadly, and racially charged meaning for African Americans.

Paula Deen is not being “lynched.” She is being held accountable for her words and actions. Those are very different things.

Second—as a white person, I can attest: far too often, we have no clue that the things we say and do are racist. That is one of the key parts of white privilege—we don’t have to pay attention to how our words/actions affect people of color.

Paula Deen has apparently lived in a bubble of so much white privilege that she thinks that the “N word” can be said in a “not mean way” by a white person. The fact that she has lived to be 66 years old and does not know that there is no way on the face of this earth for a white person to EVER utter that word in an acceptable way is telling. No one told her—or if they did, it didn’t make an impression.

There are a lot of Paula Deens in this world. The only way they are going to learn that what they are doing/saying is wrong is to be told--in no uncertain terms. I’m not sure that can be done in a way that isn’t painful—and Ms. Deen’s education has come in a particularly painful and public way. But I’m not sure she would ever have gotten the message otherwise.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I assume from what you have written that you have moved away from your past racist attitudes. How did you accomplish that? By being publicly shamed and humiliated? When you are guilty, you don’t make yourself less racist by shaming someone else. You make yourself a self righteous hypocrite. Instead of deriding her why don’t you help her along the same path you took?

I moved away from my past racist attitudes because education—and knowing people of color—changed my perspective. But I have indeed been publicly called out. I still cringe when I think about some of the mistakes I’ve made. But I am glad that the people around me cared enough about me to do that.

I’d be happy to sit down with Ms. Deen and talk about my experiences. If you know how to get in touch with her, please let me know.

Let me be clear - I am not defending Paula Deen. But I am asking you some questions. What do you think public shaming accomplishes? Do you think it is an effective way to have people soften their hearts? Do you think there might be better ways to achieve racial harmony, equality and understanding? Do you really think that a public lynching is an effective way toward removing “the manure in which systemic racism grows and thrives?” I don’t. In fact, I’d say that your position and behavior does more to feed racism than to eradicate it. But I’m sure it makes the white apologist in you feel better for having written it.

How does my calling another white person to account for racist words/actions make me a "white apologist"? I'm truly confused...

As far as feeling better...to be honest with you, I'm sick that I had to write this at all. Because the spur for it was seeing so many of my white, liberal friends excusing Ms. Deen's words and behaviors.

And by the way -

I AM a Black, Lesbian, Jew and I am most assuredly offended by your ‘trying to look hip’ description of G_d on your other blog. It is not funny. It is not cute. It is offensive. Deeply offensive.


Well, so far, you are an N of one on this one—but that does not invalidate your criticism.

For the record, I use that description of God for several reasons. One, it is profoundly de-centering for fundamentalist Christians. The idea that God is not a Old White Guy sitting on his cloud up in heaven waiting to throw thunderbolts is often quite shocking—and I believe it is important to challenge those ancient, racist, patriarchal conceptions of God.

Second—the story of Christianity is that God came to earth in the body of a Jewish man from 1st century Palestine. That group of people was—and is—one of the most profoundly persecuted minorities in the history of the human race. Jesus was Jewish—a fact that a whole lot of Christians seem to conveniently forget. (Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian tradition, I honestly didn’t even realize Jesus was Jewish until I was in my 30s…). I think it is important for Christians to remember that the Gospel we revere was brought to us by a Jewish person. Jesus was not a Christian.

By describing God as having the characteristics of some of the groups that face the most discrimination (women, black people, Jews, LGBTs), I am refuting the traditional way of thinking about God. When I think of God, that is how I see Her.

I’m not sure how/why that is so offensive—especially since most people WANT to cast God in their own image (!). I’d be interested in hearing more—and since you’ve raised the issue, I will be asking other people of color, LGBTs, and Jewish people if they find this offensive.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Forgiveness is NOT, as you say, “specifically” Christian. Forgiveness has been the very root of Judaic, and other traditions long before ever Christianity appeared. (Now your religious elitism is also showing.)

I didn’t say that forgiveness is specifically Christian. I said that the arguments I have seen about forgiveness in this context were AIMED specifically at Christians. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear.

As for "religious elitism," I had to laugh. I am a universalist--so I don't think it matters whether you are a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan, atheist, or something else I haven't thought of for this list. If there *is* a God, I don't believe She cares how you affiliate (or not.)

So yes, as you have asked, I am calling YOU out. You should take a lesson from many of the great civil rights leaders around the world. Anger and shaming and finger pointing and humiliation are not the way to teaching peace and harmony. Maybe you should take a page from your own book and stop telling other people what to do and start listening.

I don’t know the surefire way to “teaching peace and harmony”—but I do know that allowing people to continue saying and doing racist things is not the way to get there. (And for someone who declares herself so devoted to peace and harmony, you sure seem angry. Just an observation….)

Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t exactly popular for telling “moderate” white pastors that they were a greater roadblock to equality than their openly racist brothers:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.—Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Finally, I believe I AM listening. As I have tracked the reactions to this situation from bloggers of color, the overwhelming response has been "Oh look. A Southern white woman says/does racist things and even the white liberals fall all over themselves to defend her. What a surprise."

If I have to be wrong, I will be wrong on the side of the oppressed and marginalized. Paula Deen is not in that camp

Wormwood's Doxy said...

FYI--I just got a back-channel question about my comment on "an N of 1." For those who aren't familiar with statistics-speak, it means a single example. "N" = "number"

Wormwood's Doxy said...

It is a cheap truism that we, "have all sinned." That is not at issue. What we do when we come to understand our sin, that matters.

And Jim managed to say in two short sentences what it took me four pages to say.

Thank you, friend.

(You too, JCF!)

Tull said...

Well Paige (I take it that's likely your name), I absolutely congratulate you for allowing Baker's comments to stand and for answering them. Yours is actually the first feminist website I've seen where a dissenting or adverse point of view has ever been allowed. Hell, over at Shakesville Baker would have enjoyed a fine as kicking followed by an "all in" pile on. Such is the penalty there for even the very slightest disagreement with Liss or the any of her acolytes. By the way, I have never posted on that forum and, therefore, have no ax to grind. In fact I find the wierd cultish mentality eminently amusing. Creepy...but amusing. I digress. So, although I really don't give a damn about what Deen said or how anyone feels about it, and therefore have no dog at all in this fight, I truly do honor you for at least allowing a rather scathing post without simply deleting it or dismissing it by way of a "rules violation". Maybe Baker has a point. Maybe you do. I'm sure that in all reality I must honestly say I don't really care. Point is, you didn't use your power as website proprietor to simply silence her. Shows one Hell of a lot more courage and conviction than your "social justice" colleagues.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Tull—thanks for commenting.

I don’t mind people expressing points of view that differ from mine. (Obviously I’d like to convince people to agree with me, or I wouldn’t bother sharing my opinions!) I won’t post abusive comments (and I do get them), but I appreciate respectful disagreement.

Having said that, however, my blog is *my* space. I consider it my online living room. That means you are welcome as long as you follow the rules of the house. If I would show you to the door in my home for bad behavior, I’ll do it here too.

I believe your criticisms of Melissa McEwan are off, BTW. Melissa is quite clear that her blog is a safe space and that potential commenters are required to have read her Feminism 101 section before their comments are welcome. As she notes quite frequently, if you want to find a space where people are free to say whatever they want without monitoring, there’s an entire Internet for you to visit. Neither she nor I are under any obligation to allow people to monopolize our personal spaces with hateful/hurtful comments.

Melissa routinely gets rape and death threats simply for being A Woman with Opinions. She’s probably heard every misogynistic argument that could be made on any given subject a million times—I don’t blame her for heading those off at the pass. Life is short, you know? I applaud her for what she does—and for her courage in doing it—even if I don’t always agree with her.

Again--thanks for stopping by.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

This response will have to come in two parts because of size limitations on your blog.

It's pretty clear to me that my FB post about Paula Dean inspired you to write again. For that, I am well pleased. You are a good writer, Paige and I'd love to see you do it more often than you do.

To be clear - again: I was NOT - am NOT - defending Paula Deen. At the time, I had read her deposition and saw far more things that she tolerated in her organization (from her brother) that were horribly sexist and misogynist. Where was the outrage at that? At least a protest or two in the media would have addressed my concerns.

What I was addressing in my FB post was the media feeding frenzy and the ensuing liberal tyranny that was dragging on and on and on and on and on. I am cynical enough to believe that the prosecution team is rubbing their greedy little hands at this "trial by media". They have already won their suit. Enough! I said then. Enough! I say now. This has become less about prejudice and more about money. In fact, it has become, in my opinion, more about using the controversy over racial prejudice to make money.

The "conversation" in the media was not about educating ourselves or linking Paula Deen's words with what happened with the VRA. It had become an electronic media "lynching". Yes, I'm using that term again. Thank you, SCOTUS Judge Clarence Thomas for coining that phrase. Lynching is not only what happened to African Americans. It happened during the Salem Witch Trials. It happened to LGBT people in the 40s and 50s. It is happening all over the world. It is an act of mob violence. What happened to Paula Deen, after a week of media frenzy, in my opinion, was an electronic lynching. What I saw - and, that was my opinion at the time and remains so today - had also become a mob of liberals beating up a "sinner" even as we were beating each other up with who was "more right" about what was racist.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Part II

You don't have to agree with that. You can even feel offended by it. I do not mean to "break your rules". Sometimes the difference in each of our dearly held beliefs and truths can be offensive to others. I am offended by what I felt was an electronic media lynching of a woman who has clearly fallen short and is paying dearly for that. My sense of being offended does not make me right and you wrong or visa versa. Different things will make different people feel "offended".

I am deeply offended by - and, you will excuse the analogy here - the "black and white" thinking of the segment of liberalism which has become known as liberal tyranny. Books have been written about it - by liberals.

There is something between being "a racist" and "working on one's own racism", no? Are you a 'racist' when you "occasionally slip" and you think or do or say something that reveals your white privilege? No, I don't think so. Neither am I.

I think it means that you, like me, are human and live in a culture where the toxins of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other sorts of prejudice float in the air like pollution. We breathe it in every minute of every day. The toxic levels are higher in some places than others. No excuse for it. It's just the reality of life in our culture. It means we have to work that much harder on our own interior stuff. As has been pointed out so often as we come to the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, in many ways, we are still fighting the Civil War.

Yes, Paula Deen - like any of the rest of us, but especially public figures - ought to be held accountable for saying derogatory, demeaning prejudiced words. I want her held accountable for what she said. What I was saying - and am saying - is that I think she has been held accountable. I think it went on too long. Suddenly, the topic reached a tipping point and it was no longer about something she said or did or "dreamed" but something that said more about us as a culture.

It reached the point of the Theater of the Absurd when WalMart dropped their endorsement of her products. WalMart? Really? Like, they have room to claim the higher ground? I don't think so. THEY - and Food Network and all the others former endorsers of Paula Deen's products - ought to be exposed for what they are really about: not racism but greed. So, yes, let's boycott those companies for their duplicity and hypocrisy. You can disagree with me about that, too.

What I have been saying and am saying and will continue to say is that we do not do ourselves or people of color or our work to eradicate prejudice from our midst by placing a Scarlet Letter on someone and parading them around the country so we don't have to do the harder work on our own White Privilege.

You don't have to agree with me on this. I'm sure you don't. But, please don't say that you don't mind people expressing opinions that are different from yours and then dismiss or demean or devalue what they say.

And, yes. I do want us to look at how we rush to "shame and blame". Our first impulse ought to be to find the path toward forgiveness and reconciliation.

I may have offended you in this. I hope I haven't "broken your rules". I don't believe I have, but I'm sure you'll let me know if I'm wrong. I deeply respect your right to your opinion. I hope you can find a way to express your disagreement with me in a way that does not dismiss or devalue or demean.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Elizabeth--it is true that your comments on Facebook were one of the major drivers for this post, but they weren't the only ones. I saw plenty of others making the same arguments you did.

I regret that people seem to be missing my main point which is this: Racism should be called out EVERYWHERE.

I don't care who does it. I don't care what the mitigating circumstances are. I don't care if calling those people out looks like a dog pile or a "lynching"--and I still find that characterization of this situation shocking, because, IMO, it's not remotely accurate.

Paula Deen isn't dead. She isn't physically injured. She's still living in her mansion and, by all accounts, has millions in the bank. In my view, it is deeply offensive to compare what has happened to her because of her own words and actions with the wanton murder of people just for being black or female or LGBT.

Paula Deen got caught in the cross-fire of our deeply conflicted attitudes about race in this nation, but the more important issue is that people who should know better made excuses for her.

There simply are no excuses. Not for her. Not for me. Not for ANYONE.

I am a racist. How could I not be? I grew up in a pathologically racist culture--as did any white person who grew up in the United States. I will spend the rest of my life fighting to rid myself of the racist stereotypes and images that were instilled in me as a child.

But I don't give myself a pass or excuse my internalized racism. I have an obligation--as a Christian and as someone who is simply trying to be a decent human being--to work to eradicate the poisonous views that were handed down to me.

I think we ALL should be wearing "scarlet letters" until there is no more discrimination in this nation. And I think we SHOULD be ashamed of the racism that we allow to go unchecked in our country.

From my POV, white people are the ones with the responsibility to end racism in the United States. That means holding ourselves accountable, and calling out *every single racist utterance we come across*--whether that's Paula Deen or Grandpa Joe or our next door neighbor.

Since I apparently haven't done a good job of making my own argument, maybe this one will resonate better.

Ann said...

Only when we say - yes -to being called out on our racism will the vast reach of discrimination begin to recede. In case you think Paula Deen is an isolated case - here is a story from this 4th of July.
http://www.salon.com/2013/07/04/the_n_word_on_the_4th_of_july/

Vanessa Baker said...

First of all, I find it deeply disturbing that ANYONE would use the term “lynching” for this fiasco—especially someone who identifies as black, as you do below. That term has specific, deadly, and racially charged meaning for African Americans.

I do not need a white woman to school me on the meaning of the word lynching. I know full well what the word means to whites and what it means to blacks.

I'm sorry if I misinterpreted your use of lesbian black and Jewish people as what YOU imagined G-d be. Perhaps I made that mistake because on your blog it says. "On the faith thing: I'm pretty sure that God is a black, Jewish lesbian with a wicked sense of humor.”

Well, so far, you are an N of one on this one—but that does not invalidate your criticism.
I’m not sure how/why that is so offensive—especially since most people WANT to cast God in their own image (!). I’d be interested in hearing more—and since you’ve raised the issue, I will be asking other people of color, LGBTs, and Jewish people if they find this offensive.


I wonder just how many black, lesbians Jews you know to ask? I only know a handful myself.

And no, Jewish people do NOT cast G_d in their own image. (Maybe that is a Christian thing?) If you had any knowledge of our religion you would know that we hold G_d in such reverence we would never use the name with such disrespect.


But now I understand - it is okay to offend people as long as YOU don't think it's offensive. For instance, on your other blog you call out someone for using the word cunt by calling him an asshole. You did not think it was hurtful, offensive language to call a human being an asshole? I would have. And I would not have to poll other people to figure that out either

As for "religious elitism," I had to laugh. I am a universalist--so I don't think it matters whether you are a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, pagan, atheist, or something else I haven't thought of for this list. If there *is* a God, I don't believe She cares how you affiliate (or not.)

And yet you just assume that the arguments about forgiveness are only directed at Christians? That is where I see you elitism.

I agree that the likes of Paula Deen need to be accountable for their words. But I also know that curbing what people say does not control what's in their heart. So yes, you can control the window dressing through public shaming and punishment if you want, but what have you really accomplished? Someone politically correct on the outside yet still a bigot on the inside. No, it takes understanding, forgiveness and communication to soften a heart. I am willing to forgive her, as almost everyone I know in the Black community is. Why aren’t you? My guess - is because she IS you.

I imagine you think yourself quite the advocate for the marginalized, as you like to call us. (Do you not think THAT is offensive?) I think there are two kinds of people - those do advocacy by building relationships and bridges, and those who like to stand on their soapbox and point fingers and yell at people. And if you truly think that Dr. King was latter rather than the former, you obviously do not know much about the man.

Reading through your blogs - and I have read it ALL as part of school project- building relationships and bridges is apparently not your strong suit and I know already how much you participate in name calling and public shaming. I suggest if you want to make a point about hurtful language that you find someone less prone to offensive and insensitive language than yourself to make your points.

Me, angry? No, I just don't suffer hypocrites very well.

So at this juncture I will agree to disagree with you and pray that the number of people who forgive and seek healing will always outnumber the people who like to throw stones.

(I think Jesus had quite a few things to say about this - but then again, he was Jewish)

Vanessa Baker said...

I just read the comments of Elizabeth Kaeton. Thank you, thank you, thank you Ms. Kaeton! As a Black woman who has suffered the sanctimonious "do-gooders" far too long, I do appreciate your practical sense of the problem, and it's solution. I would gladly stand shoulder to shoulder with you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What continues to astound me is the increasing evidence of liberal tyranny. The use of the term "media electronic" is a marvelous example.

Of course, Paula Deen is not dead. Insulting my intelligence does nothing to make your point.

I never said that racism should not be called out. That is so typical of the black-and-white thinking of liberal tyranny. I am saying, however, that it went too far. Indeed, it is my opinion that it went past the point of a "teachable" moment, moved past racism and became about money and endorsements and greed.

You are a racist? Fine. If you need to identify yourself in that way, fine. I've heard some people with the disease of addiction insist that they be called "alcoholic". Others insist they be called "recovering alcoholic". Whatever best describes your own reality is fine with me.

I'm not a racist. I truly believe that I have not ever been a racist. Oh, when I was a little kid, we had a game where we selected team members for our softball game by saying "Ennie meanie, miney, mo, catch an n-word by the toe". That didn't make me a racist. That meant that I was a child who was being very carefully taught. When I first met a person of color, I immediately, IMMEDIATELY got it. I have been struggling with racism - personal, cultural, systemic, etc. - ever since.

But, I'm not a racist. I struggle with racism, but I'm not a racist. That doesn't make me better than you or you better than me? No. Although, that's what I hear as implicit in your remarks. That, because I don't think like you or agree with you on all things, I'm not as good a liberal as you.

To me, it's all part of that either-or rigidity of liberal tyranny. It's as rigid as any conservative, fundamentalist. It's just the opposite end of the spectrum, is all. "All guilty" "All ashamed".

Do you hear yourself, Paige? I wish you could. You really don't sound any different than some of the folks who think ALL people of color are ...... fill in your least favorite stereotype.

Oh, and for every article you can refer to me, I can send you one on the other side of this. My favorite, however, is by Dr. Paul Smith, You can find it here:http://blog.revdrpaulsmith.org/2013/07/02/when-the-devil-is-in-the-detail.aspx. He's a civil rights veteran and student of Howard Thurman. Oh, and he happens to be my Spiritual Director.

Let's see: If an African American man, a civil rights veteran, and I agree, does that make me "more right" than you? No. That makes me different from you. Does that make me a "better liberal" than you? No. That makes me a different kind of liberal than you.

Want to see examples of real, raw racists? Just read what has been written about Rachel Jeantel in the Travon Martin trial. No one is wearing a white hood over their heads but you can still tell a racist from someone who is still struggling with racism - any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Well, I can.

I hope yo are able to take a deep breath, take a few steps back, and see the wider picture, Paige. Or not. Do what you will do. Just please stop insulting my intelligence, dismissing the validity of my opinions and devaluing my positions. It's really not flattering of you at all. You're a better person than that.

JCF said...

The focus on bullying has brought attention to the link between verbal violence (hate speech), and actual violence (other- or self-inflicted).

That said, I'm uncomfortable w/ any words being described as a "lynching". Lynching is "Strange Fruit hanging under Southern trees". Lynching is what happened to Emmitt Till. Lynching is what happened to Matthew Shepherd. Lynching is physical violence on a person, as a member of a specific, hated group.

Clarence Thomas did not face a "lynching" in the U.S. Senate. And, whatever her condemnation via the media, neither has Paula Deen.

[FWIW, I think you were WAY gentle on Vanessa Baker, vis-a-vis her dissing of your "description of G_d on your other blog". You, me, and the postman can describe can DESCRIBE GOD/G_D HOWEVER THE F#CK WE WANT TO. Be gone, theocrat! You have no power here.]

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Elizabeth--I am really surprised that you are taking all of this so personally. As I noted, you were only one of a group of people who I perceived were making excuses for Paula Deen.

I think it was your calling to boycott Wal-Mart (and others) for dropping her that threw me the most. I haven't shopped at Wal-Mart for years because of their unfair labor practices and their gaming of the U.S. tax system. Obviously, I think those are legitimate reasons for boycotting them--but you won't find me boycotting Home Depot, which has supported gay rights, because they dropped Paula Deen.

And I really don't know what to do with your use of the term "liberal tyranny." The only people I've ever heard use a term like that are Rush Limbaugh and the Fox "News" talking heads.

But if you think I'm off the mark, I'm willing to concede that you could be right. I don't think I have the answer to everything--I just know that I don't believe in letting racist remarks slide.

I guess I'll have to leave it at that.

Ann said...

Just one correction - Matthew Shepard was not lynched - he was beaten and propped up a fence post and tied. But it was not a hanging. That said it was a terrible horrific thing and he died later in the hospital. His uncle, who is a friend -was there.

john said...

There appears to be two conversations running here. One about the past and one about the future. There does not seem to be much dissent about what happened in the past - what Paula Deen said and did, even within her cultural context, was wrong and hate filled. Everyone seems to agree. The split in opinion is centered on the future - where do we go from here - shame and blame or heal and reconcile?

I find it interesting that Vanessa Baker - a woman, who has probably suffered more oppression than your white, straight, upper middle class, Christian self could ever even imagine - made a comment that she doesn’t feel that your shaming and blaming a confessed bigot (a person she has every right to hate) is the way to heal racial discrimination, and your response is to argue with her? Sorry Doxy, based on your tribe’s record on racial matters, I don’t think you have any standing to argue. Your only response should be to listen. Of course, it is difficult to hear anyone with a differing opinion from the altitude of a high horse.

I have read your blog. Your tendency to control and humiliate or shut out those you don’t agree with, or that you have a more advantaged position over is what does beg attention. It grows from the same ugly root as other forms of bigotry that you so vehemently oppose in others, but apparently do not see in yourself. The Paula Deen incident should serve as an example of how destructive ANY put downs of our fellow humans are.


In the unlikely case that you are interested, my class commented heavily on your Black, lesbian, Jewish image of God. A few found it offensive, some thought it juvenile, most thought it bizarre - a rich straight white Christian woman trying too hard not to look so rich straight Christian and white. They also noted that if you could look around this world and think God has a sense of humor, you do not live in the same world they do. But then again, my classes are mostly populated with minorities who live in a world far below your high privilege. They fail to see the humor in it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What is it going to take to have you understand that I was not "making excuses" for Paula Deen? My post was that it had gone on too long - long enough that it was no longer about racism but about corporate greed. THAT'S why I called for a boycott of those companies who were dropping their endorsements of Deen. Please! It was not about racism. It was about corporate profits. Get it?

I think I'm done discussing this here and will write a blog on Liberal Tyranny. Good liberals - not Tea Baggers - have coined that term. I think it's important to re-educate ourselves in the last few years of Obama's administration.

It's not about my thinking you're off the mark but my sadness that you - and, often Ann - insist that everyone stand on YOUR mark or they are somehow either racist or not liberal enough or not a "good liberal".

That's very personal to me.

klady said...

Thank you, Paige, for writing this. I have missed your blogging and am ever amazed at the clarity and precision you bring to thinking and writing about topics that you feel passionate about.

First, let me say that I'm late to this story. I had only seen headlines until the other day when I heard the end of a piece on the radio (NPR?) in which someone was saying both that Deen should have been called on her remarks and that her losing her job and endorsements were counterproductive, that more learning for Deen and for those supporting her could be accomplished by keeping her in the public spotlight.

I realized then that I had no idea what the controversy was all about -- whether Deen had let the N word slip in an interview or some semi-public setting or what. So I googled and found the deposition transcript and a little about the lawsuit that compelled her testimony. whatever else one wants to say about it, it was a heck of a lot more than a slip of the tongue. It was what she was saying under sworn testimony in defense of her words and actions. In other words, what we got was what she said after some reflection and with full awareness that her words could be used against her in the lawsuit.

Obviously, she miscalculated and misunderstood what might strike others as being not merely offensive but deeply disturbing. But the tragedy in all this was not simply her lack of awareness (or, as some might say, her innocence of what it might take to protect her reputation and livelihood), but the kind of deeply ingrained ways of seeing and thinking that many have long suspected were lurking under the social taboos against expressing them that have been more or less enforced in public for several decades. I took that as at the heart of what Paige was addressing here.

We, as a nation, need to engage in listening, thinking, and conversing about those subtexts -- especially now, as Paige points out, the lid has come off in many ways as a result of Obama's presidency. Just this past week, my Facebook news feed was full of the most virulent remarks trashing Obama and his 4th of July speech as anti-American and denigrating veterans and those in the armed forces. I hadn't heard the speech so I pulled up the video and was (somewhat) amazed that everything he said was perfectly in line with the "patriotic" sentiments expressed by my (church) friends and their acquaintances. I just posted the link and said I did not see what they found wrong with it. I'd long given up responding to such remarks or trying to remind people that disagreeing with a U.S. President (as I do profoundly with this one, more and more, day by day) is not the same as saying things like "We haven't had a U.S. President since 2008." I don't have to read anyone's mind or heart to know that there is deep racism lurking behind such comments, but I don't begin to know how to address it productively. What is especially disturbing is that as we get closer in time to the end of the Obama presidency, these kinds of remarks are getting more rather than less frequent.

(Part 1 - TBC)

klady said...

Part 2

But back to Deen. I did not read Elizabeth's FB post and I only read what she wrote here once last night (hard to review it all with the narrow columns in the formatting here). I gather, however, that part of what disturbs Elizabeth so much is what has happened to Deen as a result of both the lawsuit and her testimony being exposed. A number of us Episcopalians know all too well stories and personal experiences of clergy and church staff whose livelihoods and lives have been destroyed or nearly destroyed by hastily uttered words and/or not reading or adhering to, for lack of a better word, church social norms. The much publicized (locally) account of the fall of woman priest in a large Wisconsin parish comes particularly to mind.

I appreciate Elizabeth's compassion for those who find themselves in those circumstances or anyone else who sins and faces retribution out of proportion to the sin and/or is shamed to the point that they are devalued and shunned in a way that no one should be. [Brene Brown in her TED talks and writings about shame is instructive on this]. I can also see the point made by the NPR commentator on how the entire Deen controversy might have been better handled by her employer and endorsers.

The question of whether the consequences are disproportionate and/or counterproductive is, however, as Paige ably explains, cannot and should not change what needs to be said, understood, and talked about concerning Deen's words and conduct. There are no excuses, period.

The consequences for Deen are, as Paige indicated, largely the result of Deen being a public figure. Deen, in her deposition testimony, said (before all this erupted) that she understood that there were some things she could not do or say in public because of her position. Yet she believed that she could go as far as having black middle-aged wait staff for the purpose of evoking a historical past and still avoid public censure. [I won't belabor what the whole Southern Wedding incident suggests (as I'm sure it's been written about at length elsewhere) but will note that it is similar to not casting a black dancer in the lead in the ballet Swan Lake (there's a great documentary on the Ballet Russes that has Maria Tallchief, among others, reflecting on a black dancer who was forced to leave the company due to audience response to her presence on stage) and the practice, which continues to this day, of having opera singers darken their skin to play Othello (saw it just last fall at the Met). Conforming to images from the past does, in fact, reiterate the supposedly past view that persons of color are not equal to white persons, whether it be images of beauty and grace or those of grave sinners like Othello.]

As far as Deen is concerned, the consequences she has faced are first and foremost the direct result of corporate fear of loss of sales, image, and market share. They are NOT the result of anything like a "liberal tyranny." Corporations like Wal-mart are not the least bit intimidated by "liberal" thinking -- on the contrary, they are damned proud of their corporate power and the many ways in which they actively use it to defeat liberal causes and interests. In fact, I'm willing to bet that Wal-mart may have anticipated a huge backlash against what happened to Deen and may have even engineered it, knowing that in the end that "liberals" (and with them Obama somehow) would be blamed and that it (Wal-mart) would be seen as a "victim" of liberal Political Correctness, which Wal-mart was powerless to combat and still stay in business.

[TBC]

klady said...

Part 3

Paige's point is not that Deen is undeserving of sympathy and compassion but rather that those who have loudly expressed such sentiments have missed the point entirely as to both what is wrong with what Deen said and did and why it is imperative that she and all others ("us" whomever we may be, included) be "called" on it. What has happened has been that sympathy has been given voice as excuses, as all sorts of reasons why Deen should be given some kind of pass, and, more importantly, in support for the notion that it is o.k. to let people sit comfortably with what they say in private among family and friends, who "understand" that they do not "intend" any harm by it.

While I think that Deen's conduct, both with regard to the Southern Wedding and the way she ran her business, should be kept in the forefront so that people will know that what happened, even by her own admission, was more than a one-time slip of the tongue, I think it is also important to look at some of what she has said. The one, seemingly innocuous exchange in the deposition was this:

"Though she said she does not tell 'racial' jokes herself, Deen said she was 'sure' members of her family have told jokes that contained the N word and that her husband 'is constantly telling me jokes.' Billips asked whether Deen is 'offended at all by those jokes.' 'No, because it’s my husband,' she said."

Note that she was not asked whether she "called" her husband or other family members on their jokes or did anything else about them; she was asked whether the jokes "offended" her. Now I can understand, especially in the context of marital relationship, why one might not make an issue of something that one thinks, for perhaps good reason, will not change one's spouse's attitude or behavior. The problem, however, is that she does not see or hear anything wrong with it herself. If it were me and something my spouse said disturbed me, even while I might think he did not intend any harm by it, it would not cease to bother me every time I heard it.

Maybe that's just me, but the larger point is that every time we sanction private talk like this, we are desensitizing ourselves along with the person who speaks it. One would have hoped that at this point in U.S. history we would be hearing less and less of such talk. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that we should be past "all of that" (which I take as the undercurrent to the decision on the Voting Rights Act), a heck of lot of white folks, "liberal" and "conservative," have lapsed into not just tolerating racist remarks but into not thinking much about what they mean, past and present. The reason for the social taboos is not to enforce a PC code of language but to develop and maintain awareness of past and present racism.

If our genuine sympathies for Paula Deen distract us from the real issues raised by her words and conduct, then we are once again (as well as always have been) part of the problem. To just let this incident pass is to support the increasingly virulent anti-black and anti-brown and anti-everyone-but-us language that is becoming more and more widespread in both our political and social cultures. It is barely hidden from view in talk about Obama and immigration reform. It stems from a deep, dark, ugly place many of us can fall into when we feel somehow victimized or denigrated because of our personal misfortunes or political frustrations. We reflexively want to use private language to escape our fears and embrace selective memories to make us feel proud and whole. But it can and will bite us all if we do not stop, listen, and learn about how to see outside our private worlds and recognize that when we speak we can, in fact, mean what we think we do not intend.

Kathy

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Klady has articulated my points better than I did. She seems to be the only commenter who actually READ what I wrote, so I thank her for that.

I have been accused of failing to be appropriately sensitive to “Vanessa Baker’s” experience as a self-identified black woman—but that criticism fails to take into account the wide variety of voices of people of color whose views helped to form mine on this issue. I’m going to post links to them, just a reminder that there is no one voice on this issue.

Klady has really rounded out all the arguments I would have made in response to Elizabeth, “Vanessa Baker,” and “John”—except for the creepiness of someone having his “students” read all my blog posts and spend class time discussing/critiquing a no-name, backwater blogger’s view of God. For that, I just have this to say—John, you really need to work on your teaching skills. You are doing your students a grave disservice.

Given Klady’s wrap-up. I’m going to close the thread to comments after I post the links below. We are clearly never going to agree on the best response to racism—but I hope we can acknowledge that we are all fighting for the same thing.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Andrew Ti: Yo, Is This Racist?

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Guileless 'Accidental Racism' of Paula Deen

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Imara Jones: Paula Deen, an American Story

Danielle Belton (aka The Black Snob): Paula Deen, N-Word Queen

Wormwood's Doxy said...

NPR's Tell Me More: interview with Danielle Belton, Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club; Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and Bridget Johnson, editor for PJ Media (begins at 4:00)

Jamilah Lemieux: Paula Deen: Keep Your Deep Fried Apology

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Crunk Feminist Collective: Girl, Bye: Why This Moment is Bigger than Paula Deen


Andrea Roberts—Part 1: An Infatuation with Plantation Imaginaries: Paula Deen's Demise


Andrea Roberts—Part 2: Paula Deen Part II:The White-Black Workplace Relationship in Social Memory