Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Justice and Paula Deen

My first year teaching, my sophomore class read How to Kill a Mockingbird. There were parts of the book that we read out loud, including a section that used the "n-word." I had one black girl in my class. We had discussed the time period in which the book was written and talked about how while this was a story that exemplified racism, it didn't condone it but fought against it. However, all the single black girl in my class heard was the white teacher say the n-word in a room full of white students and it made her feel small. I know this because her mom called and told me.

I felt awful. 
It was far from my intention.
I should have talked to her ahead of time. I should have put myself in her shoes (hello To Kill a Mockingbird!) but the thought didn't even cross my mind. I was just plain ignorant. 

Language is so powerful.
The one who controls the language, holds the power. 
Back in the day, when white people used the n-word, it asserted power over black people. 
It said you are less than me. 
It stole the God-given dignity of another human being.
It dehumanized a whole race of people.

The funny thing about language is how it evolves.
When black people use the n-word with each other, it takes the power of the word out of the hand of the dominant group. Changing the definition changes the structure of power and control. This is why it is acceptable for a black person to use the word while still being unacceptable for a white person to use it. They now control the meaning of the word. That is also why the term reverse racism doesn't make sense. Racism is about power over someone. If you are not part of the dominant group, you can be prejudice towards someone of another race but without power it can't be racism.

The problem is, if you're a part of the dominant group, it can be really hard to notice that the cards are stacked pretty high in your favor while they're not for everyone. It's really difficult to acknowledge that our systems may, in fact, keep others down. And it's really, really hard to consider changing a world when it benefits you if it just stays the same.

This is why Paula Deen's words are important. 
As is the collapse of her empire.

Many say it is unjust. She's just a scapegoat of political correctness.
Why do others get a pass?
Perhaps they're right, but you know what? Paula Deen has ample means to defend herself. I'm sure the lawyers that she's hired are the best of the best. 

I hope that justice is served.
I fully believe in justice for all. 
The rich. 
The poor. 

However, when it comes to justice, there's a theme that runs throughout Scripture about the God that always takes up the cause of the oppressed.

That is not to say that God doesn't care about justice for the rich and powerful. He is a God of justice, all around. However, some have much more means to fight for justice than others. 
Throughout the Bible, we see God fighting for the vulnerable when they don't have the ability to fight for themselves.

It's true that many people share the same attitudes as Paula Deen and are not penalized. Often times life isn't fair. However, if it's a conversation about fairness, we know in what direction the pendulum usually swings. We could see this as an opportunity for positive change. When it comes to the actual lawsuit, the law may fall in favor of Deen. Her loss of endorsements is something else entirely, which doesn't signal a loss of liberty to be any type of jerk you want to be because you have the "right" to it, but maybe it's a signal that it's time to take responsibility towards our fellow man. Perhaps we could turn a corner in the talk about racism and consider that racial reconciliation in this country may come from passive nonracists saying enough is enough and become active nonracists. There is grace enough for every person who has ever looked at their fellow man as inferior. I'm not saying I want to see the fall of Paula Deen. All I'm saying is I want to walk in the other's shoes for a moment.

Paula Deen has plenty of people fighting for her. 
Not everyone is afforded that luxury.