Everyone who knows me, also knows that I am an outspoken opponent of bigotry in all forms. Yet I have sympathy for Paula Deen. I don’t know her, nor do I watch her cooking shows. I have only the basic knowledge of her as a famous southern cook who is on television. I do, however, understand completely how a person can be a racist simply because they were raised to be one and yet grow to reject bigotry.
Growing up in my small hometown in East Texas in the 70’s and 80’s, that hated word was how most white people referred to black people (when no black person was present). While our schools were integrated, we had, for the most part, segregated ourselves. On the outskirts of town, across the tracks, was the “quarters”, which included remnants of the old “black school”, a dilapidated park, and a close-knit, all black community.
We all went to the same school and interacted through academics, clubs, sports, band, and riding the school bus together, but we usually kept our social lives separate. There were a few white girls who were ostracized for dating black boys though. When one of those girls was also one of my best friends, I began to see things differently. I realized my narrow view from “my side of the tracks” was wrong. We were not only not better, but not very different. However, culture and peer pressure are powerful things especially with the insecurities of being a teen.
Eventually, I grew up and moved away. I now adamantly object to the use of that word and all bigotry – racial or otherwise. I sincerely apologize to society for spending my first 18+/- years believing successful, white, straight Christians were somehow superior members of the human race. That is my most shameful admission, but it is the truth. While I can’t change those years, I am no longer that person.
I don’t know Paula Deen – the person or the celebrity – nor do I know that she is currently a racist. It is neither hard to believe or understand that at some point in her life she may have been racist. She didn’t choose to be born into the racially segregated south, and the reality is we know what we are taught. I believe I should be judged on the person I am today – the person who eventually rejected the bigotry.
Not that it matters, but I judge Paula Deen on her honesty about her past and how she chooses to handle this very important conversation. Children are still being raised to think in this bigoted way. We need look no further than Jackson, MS for proof. Even if Paula Deen is currently racist, we should reach out to her and teach her. If she is not, I encourage her to use this opportunity to have a meaningful conversation about the reality of racism in America.