Paula Deen Racial Slur: What John Roberts Can Learn From Paula Deen

As a son of the South (born and raised in Houston, Texas and both my parents are from Virginia), I didn’t find Paula Deen’s casual relationship with the “N” word as shocking as my Northern friends did. Oddly enough, reading the leaked deposition that caused this controversy, I was reminded of the Saturday Night Live sketch from 1984 staring Eddie Murphy in “white face.” While the sketch outlandishly jokes that when white people are alone “they give each other things for free” it makes the valid point that holds true today: that there are two Americas, not a black and a white America, but an America that represents our hopes and wishes of a truly post-racial society and the other America of warring tribes, cultural isolation, and racial resentment.

Let me be clear, I do not think Paula Deen speaks for the South nor do I expect a celebrity chef and Crisco enthusiast to elegantly discuss the complexities of Southern race relations while deep-frying butter. What I find disturbing about Paula Deen — and her fans rallying to her defense — is the longing desire for and promotion of antebellum Southern culture while categorizing anything that criticizes this culture as “political correctness” run amok.

My favorite defense from her fans is one commonly heard, "I don't know why it's ok for black people to say it to each other and not for whites." I refuse to believe adults are that naive to not understand context then again every Halloween I see at least one white person employ the magic of black-face to bring Michael Jackson back to life or to complete the Ghostbusters (the worst vice is advice but if I may suggest, portray Michael in his later years and get at least one black friend it is the 21st century for God's sake).  

The election and reelection of the nation’s first black president is a clear example of shifting attitudes in society and is often highlighted by opponents of Affirmative Action and the Voting Rights Act, chief among them is Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts who has a history of attacking these programs and provisions as unnecessary. This explains today’s 5-4 court ruling gutting section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that according to Business Insider stopped a slew of repressive voter restriction laws from being enacted during the run up to 2012 election. NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice has compiled a frightening list and map of the 180 restrictive bills introduced since 2011. Without a functional Congress that can agree on how best to use federal oversight of elections, the Supreme Court allows states the freedom to suppress specific voters to the benefit of those already in power.

Despite countless studies documenting the successes of the VRA and negative effects of various "voter ID" laws on minorities, the elderly, and the least represented group in Congress — the poor, there’s an attitude I’ve seen in both the South and the North that views protections extended to minorities such as the Voting Rights Act as privileges given to one group at the expense of another. In the absence of outright bigotry on a scale equal to the early and mid 20th centuries this attitude turns into resentment that is evident in Fisher v. The University of Texas, the other race related case brought by a white student who claims she was cheated out of admissions to the University of Texas by the school’s affirmative action policies. (As the Chicago Tribune shows the plaintiff, Ms. Abigail Fisher didn’t have the grades to attend)  

Deen references a horrific story of being held at gunpoint by a black as her defense of saying the N-word in the leaked deposition. Justifying the continued use of a word that was traditionally used by whites to dehumanize an entire race because of one bad experience should indicate to John Roberts that we still live in a multi-racial society, not a post-racial society.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Jonathan Smith

Resides in New York City. Works for Viacom International.

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