Deen. As in Paula. I’m sick to death of hearing about her, but not because she confessed to using the N-word. There were plenty of other reasons to be sick of her, way before her redneckish brother’s workplace antics dragged her into the limelight for her alleged racism. Wha? This paragon of cartoonish Southern womanhood wants black folk to dress up like the help at Tara for a party? Shocking. Being a shill for big pharma, while hiding a medical condition likely brought on by the deep-fried twinkies she’s been pushing to the WalMart crowd; that’s good enough reason to despise this low-country Martha Stewart. The fact that she still thinks, at her age, that she’s still the cutest trick in shoe leather is, well, just sad. (Okay, that last part was uncalled-for, y’all.)
You might think all this vitriol aimed at the Belle of the Food Network Ball is jealousy. After all, she’s a gazillionairess. Not at all. I have nothing but admiration for a work ethic like ole Paula’s got. Divorced, with kids and a younger brother to look after, she built an empire. At least, unlike her much more tasteful doppelganger to the North, Martha, she hasn’t gone to jail for lying. Paula told the truth. She fessed up, and she got nailed in the court of public opinion. Or by part of the public, anyway. A huge swath of supporters, or should I say, a swath of huge supporters, rushed to her defense. Paula, as she herself said, was born in a different place and time, when it was okay to treat people of color as if they belonged to you, as if they were somewhat less than human. That was a long time ago.
I grew up in the same time and in roughly the same place as Paula Deen. As a child, the N-word was commonly used. If one considered oneself a bit better bred, it became “nigra.” The inferiority of “colored” people was so assumed to be a fact that it wasn’t even worthy of discussion. Of course all black folk (I’m substituting for the N-word, here) are lazy, lying, stealing simpletons who would just as soon rape you as look at you. They enjoyed being taken care of by white folk and had no ambitions. Good thing, because that made them available to do the crappy-ass jobs we didn’t want to do, for as little money as they had to take. But that was a long time ago.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court, in their infinite wisdom, excised a vital component of the Civil Rights Act. Because my brethren from the South couldn’t be trusted to let black folk vote as expeditiously as their paler neighbors, the federal government decided, way back when, it would be prudent to have certain particularly racist states demonstrate that they weren’t making it tougher on blacks to get access to the ballot box. Those self-same states have now successfully beseeched the highest court of the land with the argument that such oversight is no longer necessary. We don’t discriminate against blacks like we did before the Civil Rights Act, they say. That was a long time ago.
A few nights ago, I watched a PBS documentary called “Hey, Boo,” about Harper Lee and how she came to write To Kill a Mockingbird. To this ole Southern gal, that book was radical, inflammatory, brave, and tragic. I have read it maybe 30 or 40 times and have seen the movie at least that much. On the one hand, it is so real…I can hear the screen door (which was never locked) slam at my great-grandmother’s house, feel the heat and the humidity, remember the collective ignorance. On the other hand, the book is a wild fantasy; no one I knew had the guts to risk reputation, life and limb to stand up for a black person. In fact, there really was no need. Nothing bad would happen to you if you didn’t.
It makes me literally sick to my stomach when our public institutions decide to let a class of people swing, literally or figuratively, because they have been deemed not to deserve the basic freedoms the rest of us enjoy…freedom to vote one’s conscience, freedom to live without fear, freedom to marry the love of one’s life, freedom to practice one’s religion (or not) without being oppressed by that of another. This kind of discrimination is vile and ugly; it is violence done by one group of souls to another. It is theft in exactly the same way as using a gun to take someone’s money. It is the taking of another human’s dignity and worth for no other reason than because the thief wants it. And our government says it’s okay to do that.
No, we haven’t checked “ensure equality” off our list of things we still need to do to uphold our Constitution. Now we’re waiting to hear if the Supreme Court is ever going to get around to deciding that marriage should be a universal right for all citizens. Even if they do, how long will it hold? When the mood of the country turns even more Conservative, will the decision be rescinded? We’re still trying to tell women what they can and cannot do with their own reproductive systems, and now it seems like we’re inviting Jim Crow back. Discrimination with a capital D.
I used to believe in our country’s ability to do the right thing, but that was a long time ago, y’all.
P.S. Save the defenses of Paula Deen, the hateful, uber-conservative rants, and the invitations to go live someplace else. They won’t get approved. This is my country, and it is my honor, my right, and my duty to criticize it. That’s still allowed, at least as of today.