Saturday, June 22, 2013

In the crossfire with Paula Deen

Since Paula Deen's not-so-savory racial tendencies came to light this week, I've seen a handful of people defend her. Some say we've never heard her actually say any of things alleged in the court document, so it's best not to pass harsh judgment. Others argue a more nefarious point — that she's being punished due to a racial double-standard regarding the N-word.

"They can say it. Why can't I?"

I've heard that argument as long as I've been old enough to argue. White people, drop it right now. It's a losing proposition, and one you don't want to win anyway.

The best that can be said about the N-word is that the group once degraded by the term has reclaimed it. You see this a lot among persecuted groups as a form of empowerment. That said, such empowerment only goes so far, and the word has long since lost any positive connotation it might have had. Very few, if any, people say the word with an academic, intellectual connotation these days; it's mostly the province of R-rated entertainers and undereducated thugs. 

Which brings us back to Paula Deen. She's an older, Southern white woman who up until now has not shown a particular affinity for hip-hop culture. But if the deposition is to be believed, she does have a penchant for casual use of the epithet. Her desire to host a minstrel-themed wedding would be inexcusable if it were ironic, let alone as earnest as it apparently was. This isn't someone who based her use of language on what Kanye West was dropping; at best, she's a product of her generation and culture. Even so, she's unflinchingly comfortable with the idea of second-class citizenship, and she's had plenty of time to see the folly of that, as many her age have.

White people who are jealous of black people for saying the N-word overlook that the only people saying it are older racists and young/faux thugs. I can't imagine why anyone would want to emulate either group. But then, I don't understand the burning desire to use the word in the first place. Or the hatred behind it.

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