Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Thoughts on the Deen Controversy

Like everyone else it seems, I've been listening to the stories about Paula Deen. Unlike most of the reactions I've read, this is not a condemnation. Truth be told, I am a fan. I enjoy her effervescent personality and many of her recipes, particularly her chocolate bread pudding--mmmmm. (Evidently the Food Network hasn't erased her from their website yet.

But her butter-drenched recipes are not the reason for her present problems. It's her use of the "N word"--a word so offensive we now have this shorthand substitute. When she was asked, under oath, if she had ever used that word, she replied, "Of course," and people gasped. What else did anyone expect? If any 60-something person raised in the South had answered, "No," that would have been laughable. Of course, she used it THEN. 

True confessions here--I have used the word. When I was growing up in the bluest of states, I learned eeny meeny using that word. I had no idea what it meant. Ironically it was my friend Kay who told me her Alabama-raised mother had taught her to use tiger instead. I didn't know why THEN, but I learned. I learned as I watched the frightening images on my black and white television of angry white people yelling at innocent children walking to school. I learned as I saw peaceful marchers being beaten. I learned the hate contained in that word. 

And I learned that hatred was not confined to the South. At a Methodist Youth Fellowship meeting back then, I was expounding on my horror at what was going on in Little Rock, when one of the mothers there, in her sweetest tones, warned me that if I kept talking like that, people would call me a n----lover. Wow, I remember thinking, bigotry exists even here. 

I do not know if, as Deen insists, this is not a word she uses now. I hope so. But I do know that most of us have learned a lot in the last 50 years, and I do know that racism then and now is not confined to one 6-letter word.


  1. Thank you for sharing, Jane. I too learned eeny, meeny that way. I don't know when I learned the "tiger" way, but am thankful for whoever guided me in that direction. I do know that I was fully aware of the "n" word when my grandmother used it at the nursing home referring to her "n" friend as she walked by in the lobby. I was appalled, but her friend then came over and sat with us to visit. I had no black friends then... maybe my grandmother was less racist that I was at that time. Hopefully we have all moved to a better place. I'm certain we all have a long ways to go. By the way, this is Cathy Mac. I'm commenting as anonymous because I don't know what any of the others are :(

    1. Same here...only we said Doggie instead of tiger. What if no one had taught us a different way? I feel shame and pity for's just sad.

  2. Well said. So much has changed in our lifetimes, to be condemned for something that happened so long ago just doesn't make sense.

  3. I once taught "The Ransom of Red Chief" to my middle school students. However, it became clear that O. Henry's reference to a "n-head rock" (he spelled it out) was racism buried in a standard teaching story, so I dropped "Ransom" from my curriculum.

    As for Paula, it seems the punishment is far more severe than she deserves, given her age and honesty, as well as the time and place in which she has lived. In contrast, will Alec Baldwin lose his endorsement deals and fall from favor after his latest anti-gay, bigoted rant? If not, what's the lesson here?