Saturday, June 29, 2013

Racism and the "N" Word

I'll never forget the day I realized that my parents could do, and had done, really dumb stuff.

Now, I was raised in a very non-racist household in Mississippi.  It wasn't like we had "non-racist" nights at the dinner table or "non-racist" monthly talks, but rather that we lived a lifestyle which was non-racist.  We didn't do or say racist stuff.  The kids in the neighborhood were neither black nor white; they were just kids in the neighborhood.  The kids at school were similarly colorless.  The adults in town, at least from the perspective I was given, were neither black nor white; we were all Corinthians. 

I remember my mom recounting, with a pride that I shared, the time when she'd been a teacher at a public school down in Mississippi and they'd introduced forced integration.  The buses, she said, had pulled up at the school, and they'd let the kids of both colors off, and the news cameras had been stationed there to record the unrest that--well, that hadn't happened.  According to my mother, the kids had all gotten off of the bus and gone to class, and eventually the reporters had gone home without stories, and that was that.

At school I led a similarly colorblind life.  I don't recall there being much in the way of forced political correctness; we just did stuff together, as classmates. Sure, we had all the typical jocks and bullies and stuff, but there wasn't any underlying skin color issue. 

And then I learned, from my father's own mouth, that he'd participated in the Ole Miss race riot.

He defended his actions.  It hadn't been about race, he argued.  A bunch of folks going to Mississippi State had heard of a great big event going down at Ole Miss (right down the road, ish) and they'd been quick to jump on the proverbial bandwagon. It was, he explained, a southern boy's idea of a grand party.


My father's been gone from us for many years, and so for lack of better evidence I'll have to just say that I'm skeptical.  It's true that they didn't have Twitter and Facebook and such back then to tell them what was really behind the "party" at Ole Miss, but they had to have known something about what was up.

All that said, he was a young man, and it was the 60's, and I'm really not in a position to judge the man who later on taught me to accept people no matter their skin color. No matter why he did what he did back in 1962, he ended up being a father who raised a couple of sons who would never consider making judgments about someone based on race.

My grandfather was a different story altogether.  That man was of an entirely different generation, to be certain.  From what I remember, he couldn't speak of a person whose skin tone was different from his own without a epithet containing at least one derogatory word, and the "N" word was his favorite.

You know, that's our history.  Was it right?  Absolutely not.  But all that history taken up together, the fact is that many of us in my generation would rather not even mention the color of a person's skin, less because being Caucasian or colored is an unimportant distinction and more because it's a sensitive issue.  Fact is, I'd never dream of using the "N" word.  Period.

That leads me to the current news regarding Paula Deen. I've been watching it unfold, unsure of how I really feel about it.  I mean, I've always liked Paula Deen's on-screen personality.  And yes, I'm also certain that few of the on-screen personalities are the same as the off-screen ones, on the Food Network or elsewhere.

What I've heard about it has been fairly vague.  She admitted that she'd used the word in the past, years ago.  That, I certainly can't condone--but should something she said years ago make a difference as to whether or not I enjoy watching her cook on television now?

I think the issue is compounded by all the racism accusations flying back and forth in the political undercurrents these days.  Seems like a politician these days can hardly mention that someone is of a certain color skin, or even that someone has characteristics others believe belong to those of a certain skin color, without being called a racist.

Yet they often get to keep their jobs, even when the accusations have some truth to them.

Racism, like most other isms, we don't concern ourselves with until it evidences itself in words or actions.  We don't, for example, look at someone walking down the street and say "I wonder if he's a racist," unless of course he's wearing or saying something that gives us reason to do so.  Paula Deen could in fact be a racist through and through, but none of us would've ever known it if not for the deposition.  She might not be, on the other hand, despite the use of a derogatory word years ago.  I'm sure her close friends know the truth, but frankly I'm not looking to be her close friend.  I just enjoy watching her cook. 

What do I think?  I think she should never have used derogatory words in the first place, of course.  But I also think that her business partners were a little hasty to distance themselves from her over the matter.


1 comment:

  1. I am behind you on this one. She at least owned up to it. Which proves sometimes doing the right thing and admitting your mistakes will win you less "friends" but this is also a time to see who your real friends are.

    I honestly saw a lot of racism growing up, from older generations who grew up from the south using the N word, to the African Americans I went to school with throwing that word around as a way of say whats up friend to a flat out insult with no worries of condemnation. And the largest group that was ever racist to me was the African American kids at my school who blamed me for the past or used it as a get out of jail free card to get me in trouble and save their own bacon.

    Sadly I saw less racism in schools until the African American Studies for African Americans only was taught in public schools. Suddenly people came out of the classes with a victim mentality. I am not saying the class "brainwashed" them but the teachers failed to convey that their fellow friends and students had no say in what happened in the past so don't blame them.