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Monday, July 1, 2013

How Is It that Senior Southerner Paula Dean Has Corporate America Running Scared ?


Discussions about  1) whether our society is capable of forgiveness and   2)whether folks are capable of change are strategic distractions around TV personality and chef Paula Dean's recent confessions.   We are all a chatter, but not everyone wants to admit that what we are really talking about is old-fashioned Southern style racism.   

What is also interesting in all of this is the quickness with which corporate America is running scared.  Dean is being sued for discrimination and after portions of a recent deposition went public, her corporate partners quickly decided to bail. 

We appear to live in a space and time where anyone who stands outside of public opinion, whatever that may be, is subject to increasing hostility and even banishment.  Public opinion is changing but the consequences of going against the grain are as real and rigid as ever.

But a word about those distractions first:

1) Why can't we just forgive her and move on? Are we so incapable of forgiveness that we are going to judge someone for one little thing they said almost 30 years ago?  We can't let her off the hook so easily because we do not believe she is telling the whole story.   Show me a 60-some year old, white, Southern woman who claims to have never used the "n" word, and I will likely show you a liar.  But Dean admits to using the word.  Show me an individual with the same demographic  markers who claims to have said the word only once, and I will definitely show you a liar.   Based on her botched apology on the "Today" show,  she is obviously distressed about the scrutiny she is under and what it is costing her,  but that is quite different than being repentant.  Forgiveness generally follows a sincere apology.  

2) Now,  for those who are making the argument that folks are capable of change in lieu of confronting the ramifications of growing up in an era where racism was as all-American as apple pie.  YES - folks can change.  Again, we just don't believe Dean falls into that category.   According to her, she doesn't understand that the "n" word is hateful.   She initially didn't see anything wrong with employing a plantation theme (black slaves included) for an upcoming event.   She doesn't get that jokes like the one her brother, Bubba, is said to have told about President Obama where he suggested they send the President down to the Gulf of Mexico after an oil spill so that he could ni**er-rig it is offensive.  

What about this business of the high cost of going against public opinion? I guess that is about as old hat as undercover sugar-coated racism.   The twist is these days those who support public opinion proudly describe themselves as progressive, inclusive and enlightened and everyone else as NOT.  Consider the following excerpt taken from an article written by Dean Obeidallah, a frequent commentator on various networks including CNN where he argues that people can "evolve over time for the better" in connection to the Paula Dean scandal: 

"Certainly if someone is spouting racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic comments today, they deserve the punishment they receive--be it losing their job or being cast from mainstream society to the fringes to wallow with the hate mongers."  

Excuse me Mr. Obeidallah, but people can "spout" whatever they want.  Ever heard of the First Amendment or Freedom of Speech?   Of course, there are some limitations but they do not include spouting racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic comments unless those comments are advocating hate crimes or violence.  In addition, I would be careful about suggesting that those who agree with you are more "evolved" than those who do not. This school of thought has been used for discriminatory purposes too many times to count.  

We have become so insistent on the inclusion of tolerance that we have become intolerant.   Once a sentiment is established as public opinion, we dare anyone to defy it.  That is why corporate America is running in the opposite direction of Dean.  This is a slippery slope.  Don't get too comfortable.  Public opinion is subject to change.  

I know that racism is wrong.  I want it to STOP.  I work to change people's minds and hearts.  I support interracial marriage which was widely frowned upon until the 1990's and illegal at the time of my birth in 1965.   I cannot support ostracizing or displacing people who dare to disagree with me.  What should we do with those who do not support interracial marriage?  Should we see to it they are unemployed and then deny them a place in the unemployment line?    Maybe we should just characterized them as "less evolved" and banish them from mainstream society.  After all, interracial marriage is legal and currently in line with public opinion.  

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. We still have work to do!!!