Paula Deen Fired: Is Bill Maher Right to Defend Paula Deen's Racism?
Let's talk about race, reactions and misconceptions.
As most people are privy at this point, Southern celebrity cook Paula Deen is currently dealing with more on her plate than just her delicious trademark dishes. The Food Network has dropped her, and QVC may be next to follow suit. Her fall from grace stems from a recently filed transcript of a deposition where Deen admitted to having used the N-word in the past. Lisa Jackson, a former employee under Deen's watch claims that her work environment was rife with sexual harassment, sexism and racial slurs. In the lawsuit, she even mentions that Deen wanted a "Southern plantation-style" wedding with "n*ggers" similar to the "Shirley Temple days."
The full PDF of the suit and allegations can be read here.
What prompted me to write this article, however, was coming across one where comedian and political commentator Bill Maher (somewhat) defended Deen for her mistakes, suggesting that some leeway ought to be given to her despite her foul. Surprisingly, as I soon discovered, this was not the first time Deen has said problematic things publicly. Why she didn't get this much flak even sooner is beyond me.
Her PR damage control and apologies appear to barely redeem her.
Maher's arguments for banning rap albums because of use of the N-word and Deen having African American viewers entirely misses the point. And while Maher is correct in asserting that Deen has the right to use racial slurs, it also needs to be kept in mind that Deen needs to bear the full weight of the consequences behind using such terms. We do not live in a post-racial society. Any action taken towards allowing terms like the N-word to thrive in the damaging, historical context from where it was born continues to perpetuate racism in the form of incidents such as Deen's. She has set herself out to be a scapegoat for a lesson in intolerance.
The N-word is not for Deen or any other non-POC to use either as a slur or in camaraderie.
The N-word still has a background of being used to subjugate and oppress for centuries, and it will perhaps take centuries more before the non-POC + N-Word equation warrants a less visceral reaction. For me personally, even the sight of it stirs a primal jolt of disgust — but for many African-Americans in the U.S., it's a vital part of their everyday vocabulary. And that is fine — for them, for better or worse.
It's a word that locates blacks as monsters. Blacks who use it are laughing at that idea and perhaps thinking they're defusing it or reclaiming it. Maybe we are. We have argued about whether or not we are for years with no resolution in sight. But still, blacks playing ironic games with the tools of our oppression does not give outsiders the right to play along. Whites who use it colloquially may think they're using it in a non-racist way but the thoughtless, wanton usage does not come overstanding the history behind it, but from willfully ignoring it as if the past is done with us.
This vein of explanation in my experience almost always follows by a cry of "reverse racism" due to the exclusion.
Wrong — reverse racism doesn't even exist. Why? Because racism is compromised of elements that include discrimination, prejudice and power. There is no doubt that black people can have prejudice and discriminate — but they cannot be racist, because the power aspect traditionally falls into the hands of white dominance and privilege.
So instead of ignoring racism, trying to excuse racism, or downplaying discussions about, why don't take time to learn about where this is coming from, why that is and what we can do to make it better.
In conclusion: no Bill Maher, rap music lyrics can't even begin to compare.