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.


Ellie Grisaffi said...

I appreciate your thoughts and honesty but should you have lost everything just because you had more money and power than the black student in your class? That would be the same justice. I'm not trying to only defend Paula for the sake to win an argument but it sounds like you may not know the facts of this case and the true context things took place vs the allegations. You yourself claimed your ignorance in bringing a a piece of American literature into your classroom. Is it not fair to not give mrs deen the benefit of the doubt when she said these things not in a classroom of students but in the privacy of her own home and the only reason these words are public is due to a legal case in which I white person is suing. Mind you the white person who is "fighting"for the right of minorities tried settling out of court for 1.2 million dollars (if she cared about the minority would she have settled?). And on your comment about reverse descrimination- you say it doesn't exist because the minority group has no power. If they had no power would mrs deen have lost her empire? I think not! It's a sad time in our country when our media is nothing but a bunch of tabloid stations! If you want some truth on the situation you should check the facebook page 'who is Lisa T Jackson'. You can read the entire deposition. Since the media is reporting less than 1/3 of this case you should really read through some things before making statements like Deen should lose her empire. Please dont read my tone as argumentative. I just feel strongly that justice should be done and the first step is knowledge... and fixing the wrong the media has done before spreading any more wrong just because Deen has money. We forget that she was a poor woman selling sandwiches to local businesses and build this empire from scratch. Doesn't mean someone should come and take it all away with ill intentions.

Kelly Green said...

Hmm- lots of interesting thoughts here. Thanks for sharing, Ellie. I would have to disagree with you on many of them, however, and that's ok! We can disagree.
First, I'd say that I don't think Paula has lost everything because of this. She's lost endorsements, certainly, but I don't think she'll be destitute on the streets anytime soon.
Second, my ignorance was not in teaching an important piece of American literature, my ignorance was in how I handled a very sensitive word in the presence of a 15 year old girl, especially as she was the only black girl present. My reading the text out loud was insensitive, not racist, so I don't think the parallel between me and Deen can be made.
Third, the case isn't about what Deen did or did not say in the privacy of her own home. The case is about racial and sexual harassment in the work place. While the media may have focused on things that she claims take place at home, the case is not about what she says at home, the case is about how she has conducted herself at her business.
You are right in the fact that I know little about Lisa Jackson. I did know that she was a white woman. If a white woman is challenging a racist, sexist empire so be it. Do I think she should be awarded millions of dollars for it? I tend to think that money is not the answer. The courts will decide on what is just, but props to her if she has a legitimate case and exposes these things. One thing that always bothers me in cases like this, however, is when people start smearing the other side with information that has nothing to do with anything. I did check out the fb page. To be quite honest, the fact that she had a baby out of wedlock, has been married 3 times, and is in a same-sex relationship has absolutely nothing to do with the case at hand. But, you hear this all the time, especially in cases of sexual harassment. Blame shifting. And yes, it's a power game.
Finally, there is a huge difference between reverse racism and what is happening to Deen. No black people are coming in and taking Deen's power. Whatsoever. Businesses are choosing not to support her. My hope is that this is as a desire to lead people toward positions of active nonracism, saying that racism will not be tolerated in our country anymore. That we can change the way things are and do something about it. And yes, I realize this is an idealistic perspective.
My whole point is that Paula Deen has many rich and powerful people in her court, which is fine. If she is guilt free than I hope that comes to light. But, I also know that racism is still an issue in our country and I think it's an important conversation to continue to have. How can we as a nation work toward racial reconciliation?

Ellie Grisaffi said...

Kelly - again it's fine to disagree. Paula hasn't lost only endorsements. Endorsements would I suppose be the drug company but the others are licensees and partnerships. She has worked hard to develop product for these. Not only does she lose this but the companies that she has worked with also lose out. Millions of dollars. The partnerships as well. And all the employees who work for those companies including Paula's own company. She's also lost her television show let's not forget. So there really isn't much left!

Also if you lose 98% of the retail chains where you sell product (really only leaving a few grocers that sell the magazine and online venues) then you have no place to sell product. If you have no place to sell product then the few dwindling licensee and partnerships have no choice but to leave you as well. With a company, employees and bills to pay just like the rest of us, if you have no incoming revenue then it's a big problem.
It is a free country and everyone has the right to their own opinion but it's really sad that so many people who don't know Paula become the expert on the details of her life and what she said and most importantly the meaning and context behind it. It's very sad.

I know I wont change your mind but for a second think if this was your mom. I don't know if you have a close relationship with your mom or some woman in your family but if this happened to them I would bet that you would at least want people to give them the benefit of the doubt. I would.

And if Paula beat someone or if the case had gone to court and she was found guilty then by all means make your opinions firm. But until then it's just not the way things should be. Here... this is a facebook status of an employee of Paula's: I've tried to keep quiet about the Paula Deen situation, but I've seen so much "dirt" being tossed around, I figured I might as well shed a little light.

I've worked at Ms. Deen's restaurant for close to nine years and I'm as "BLACK" as they come. I was never forced to enter through the back door. It's a rule that ALL employees enter through the back door so we don't disturb guest while they're eating. I'm currently a waiter there, which is about as front house as you can get. I didn't have to beg to be a waiter. In fact, I was ASKED to be one. Many of her staff in the front house are black. Young black kids in college. Bathroom usage is for ALL employees, but we(ALL EMPLOYEES) only use the back of the house restrooms during service so that we don't disturb guest. One of Paula's longest working employees, an elderly BLACK woman, was invited to be a guest at Paula's house after this lady had surgery. Paula looked out for her. The restaurant looks out for ALL OF US by providing health and dental insurance and 401 K plans. Not too many restaurants doing that. We're also allowed paid vacation. As a BLACK man who has been with the company for some time now, I'm simply saying don't believe all accusations you're hearing....cause they're just that. Accusations. And no, I'm not just saying this to brown nose my employers. I'm saying this as someone who doesn't believe in casting stones at an individual for making a mistake.

A happily employed and thankful young man.

Be well, people

The guys name is Willie Smith and he works for Uncle Bubba's and worked there during the time the accusations are taking place. He is calling bs on accusations in the deposition.

You make a really good point. The case IS about what she did in her business. So if those accusations are false then why is SHE getting crucified for things that were said in her own home? That is EXACTLY the point. I can see in your tone that you've made your decision but that is very sad. You don't know her. You don't know her business. You are relying and believing accusations from someone who threatened to destroy Paula if she didn't pay them to be quiet.

Ellie Grisaffi said...

If you want some more info from actual employees check out the deposition of a kitchen employee. Maria Cole Bartley. It's on that who is lisa t jackson fb page. I really wish you and others would not make decisions based on accusations alone. Please read all sides. Then you can say if you think it's a "racist, sexist empire".