A few years ago, Toronto's York University led a study indicating incredible tolerance towards racism. The indifference exhibited by those who saw racist behavior suggested that people are actually more racist than they think they are.
"People do not think of themselves as prejudiced, and they predict that they would be very upset by a racist act and would take action," said lead author Kerry Kawakami, a psychology professor in York's Faculty of Health. "However, we found that their responses are much more muted than they expect when they are actually faced with an overtly racist comment."
Enter the Paula Deen racial slur problem. Most of us reading about Paula’s antebellum nostalgia for a “very southern plantation style wedding” are obviously appalled. Perhaps, even more so to hear that she used the N* word, which is never ok, even at gunpoint. And just to note, wouldn’t gunpoint be the worst time to use that word?
Every single time I read something about Paula Deen and her alleged racism, I am a little more convinced that she is clueless that she has unconscious racist tendencies. Her lineage, in this video, clearly defines how deep racist attitudes existed in the south. Her grandfather killed himself after the war, losing his son and servants. The story is about being robbed of a life that he had created while robbing the lives of others. Paula tells the story in such a sweet way; it’s easy to miss what the real message is. Later in the video she brings a “black man” who works for her, whom she insults — again probably without knowing. She makes an obvious reference to his skin color; I’ve never heard anyone say this to a white person, “Can’t see you standing next to that white wall....”
Today’s racism is subtle. Less directed–making it nearly impossible to understand how someone saying something nice can be making a horrible comment, but there is always a nice way to say something mean. I’m sure Paula is a nice person. The fact that she hired an African-American to be her bodyguard doesn’t really mean she is not racist.
Having ‘black’ friends or ethnic diversity among your friends doesn’t immediately eliminate you from being a racist either. Kindness towards one does not eliminate negligence towards all.
Paula Deen’s racist slurs are not the only problem in this whole equation. Not fully acknowledging the dark shameful history that plagues this country is the massive elephant in the room. Human beings were overtly treated like sub-human objects. If a person comes from a particular background that endorsed such behavior, my guess is that person ought to be extremely cautious and conscious about what they say and do. In an idealistic world we can hope that we will not be judged by the sins of our fathers, but unfortunately that is not always the case because often the apple doesn’t fall that far from the tree.