There is no doubt that Paula Deen has permanently stained her public image, and more important, her usage of the N-word in the past is morally wrong, regardless of the context. With that being said, I think this public reaction speaks volumes about the American psyche, and I opine thusly:
Part of the fury over Paula Deen is just people wanting to feel better about themselves. There is an American tradition of making villains out the same people that we so obsessively spent our attention, time, and money to make famous. We celebrate our nation's famous like so many living Gods, until they are revealed as human, and the righteous anger that follows is like a sudden fundamentalist dogma. All it takes is a flaw to incense the self-righteousness of public opinion, and then, we string up our former beloved celebrities like piñatas, dressed in colorful plumage, to be batted down for our pleasure. We are too well accustomed to this cycle, and I find it troublesome.
The famous people who have been accused of racism are no small part of this cultural practice. This Paula Deen narrative ring bells back to Michael Richard’s infamous N-word laden rant, does it not? B list celebrity uses the N-word, people are shocked and appalled. Ostensibly, given the rather damning video footage, it is safe to say that Richard's controversy is far worse. So given the comparatively flimsy accusations against Deen, why else would we care so much about this story? A hatred for intolerance cannot be the only force that compels us in this situation.
To put it lightly, the United States of America has a difficult history with racism, especially as it pertains to African Americans. Artistic endeavors like Kanye West's Yeezus or Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained stand as recent objects of the zeitgeist, and they make it loud and clear: slavery and racism should be a permanent mainstay of the national conversation. However, for the people that rant and rave over a person allegedly using a racial slur, clearly no reminder is necessary. The wounds from a racially divided America have not healed, and all it takes is an ignorant comment, or, in the case of Deen, a single word to rip them open.
I must admit, there are two sides to this coin. This first is a positive indication of the open ramifications of free speech abused. Indeed, all of the fury is better than the government repressing hate speech, as we see in countries where racist comments are a punishable offense, or worse, nobody doing anything at all, which also happens in other places. However, the other side of this reaction is schadenfreude, and a temporary emotional cleansing of what some have called "white guilt."
This issue I take up with my countrymen for their unchecked righteous anger is not only recognizable in controversies over anti-black racist comments, but also in controversies over any number of taboo issues aired out, like rape or homophobia. For those of you who react to the prejudicial or taboo with vehement fire and brimstone, I ask you this: do you fashion yourself a brave person for shouting into an echo chamber? It makes you feel good, doesn't it, to deride somebody for saying something uncouth? Do you think you are setting a positive example?
If we actually lived in a post-racial society, people wouldn’t feel the need to unequivocally, deeply reprehend an ignorant line of speech every time somebody is accused of saying a racial slur. Moreover, when the engines of public discourse (news networks, opinionaters, tastemakers) run on high to blast a racist, or a Todd Akin type, or the Westboro Baptist church, or any other ignoramus, we are inadvertently laying the groundYwork for other idiotic voices to take an undeservedly large platform to spew garbage to the masses. And that is last thing we need on either side of the argument: more trolls. Racism is bad, but so are witch hunts.