(ThyBlackMan.com) Paula Deen was, up until about 10 minutes ago, a complete enigma to me. I couldn’t quite figure out if she was a bigot, or simply a misunderstood woman. I can’t pretend that I know what lies in her heart and soul, but I am now forming an image inside my brain of who this woman really is.
To gain wisdom on the matter, I did what most of us should do: I turned to my elders.
My first conversation was with my grandmother. At the age of 42, I have full understanding of just how blessed I am to have two grandmothers and two grandfathers (apparently, my family makes our babies young). I listen to them, even when I don’t agree, because it is only through their eyes that I am able to see and hear the 1960s, 50s and those other time periods that presented nothing short of horrific realities for most of the black population.
When speaking to my grandmother, I proposed the idea that Paula Deen was
But my grandmother cleared things up for me right away, and in her mind, there was absolutely no room for ambiguity: She can’t stand Paula Deen. While I must respect my grandmother by not revealing the details of our conversation (she stills scares me just a little bit), I can say that I saw and heard something in my grandmother’s voice when I mentioned Paula Deen. There was an odd and uncomfortable familiarity that she has with women like Deen, as if she’d been putting up with their nonsense for decades. She had little patience for the tears, the excuses or anything else that might allow Deen to walk out of this situation unscathed. It was as if an old score had been settled, and the help was watching Miss Sally finally get what she had coming to her.
In keeping with my goal of hearing from my elders, I chose to have another conversation. Paula Deen mentioned that she called Rev. Jesse Jackson this week, and I decided to speak to Rev. Jackson too. For the good and bad of it, most of us must admit that Rev. Jackson has seen, done and confronted more on the civil rights front than nearly any of us. You can’t discount 40 years of experience dealing with an extraordinarily broad variety of experiences that pertain to race.
So, without agreeing to agree with him, I wanted to hear Rev. Jackson’s take.
Again, I am forced to respect the privacy of both conversations, but I can openly share my perceptions of Paula Deen, which were influenced by speaking with two people I respect who are in Paula’s peer group. My conclusion is that Paula Deen doesn’t dislike black people, at least not all of us. In fact, there are some that she loves like members of her own family.
But what Paula seems to forget is that there is a big difference between LOVING someone and RESPECTING them. When I hear Paula’s reactions to her black employees (like the man she referred to as being “black as this board”), I envision a southern belle who tries to have a good heart, but is simply oblivious to the depths at which she might be overtly condescending toward people of color. She’s like the little girl down the street who used to play house with me, and also told me that I was “cute for a black guy.”
Being comfortable with someone doesn’t mean you consider them to be your equal. I know people who would die and kill to protect their dogs, but that doesn’t mean they want Fluffy sitting at the dinner table. Paula Deen appears to be, unfortunately, addicted to a racial hierarchy, where black people are loved and appreciated, as long as they know their place. In fact, this attitude has long been common in the south, a place that never really learned that peace can sometimes come with the sacrifice of disrespectful subjugation.
Call me stupid, but I don’t believe Paula Deen to be a bad person. But I do consider racism to be a mental illness (quite a few mental illnesses are created by our environment, like an abuse victim who develops split personalities as a coping mechanism), and Paula has spent her life with an undiagnosed and very serious infection. This illness has caused women like Paula to torture people like my grandmother for centuries, and this behavior cannot be tolerated in a society which at least claims that it’s trying to find its way toward equity. Paula Deen’s children inherit their parents’ wealth and privilege, and are convinced that they got it because their parents worked harder, when the truth is that their forefathers got rich by terrorizing black people for long periods of time.
How this situation pans out for Paula Deen is really up to Paula. Rather than speaking to Matt Lauer and apologizing to white people, she should be speaking to Tom Joyner and apologizing to black people. She should be willing to grow, learn and teach and allow us to sit with her as equals. She must be willing to confront structural heirarchies in corporate America that continue to leave black people oppressed and subservient. She should redeem herself through actions, not just words and tears, for my grandmother ran out of tears back in 1955.
There you have it, Paula Deen has been effectively diagnosed by all of us. At this point, the question is whether or not she’s going to actively embrace her treatment or continue to live in denial. That’s where her true integrity should be measured.
Staff Writer; Dr. Boyce Watkins