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Monday, July 1, 2013

Wake-up Call: An Unflattering Observation

It's not often that I use my blog to speak in response to current events, but when I do it's because a topic has struck a nerve and affected me deeply, and one in particular has compelled me to step onto my platform and speak in a different tone than my readers are accustomed to.  For those who take offense to the content in this post, I apologize, not for speaking my mind and not for the way I feel but simply for offending anyone.  This subject can be quite polarizing, but it's not something I can ignore because I find it one of the most inexcusable plagues in humanity that will always counter any real progress we make, technological or otherwise.

I'm speaking in defiance against the illogical, inconsistent, and conveniently ignorant network of loopholes and exceptions made for so many incidents of any behavior to occur while the wrong examples are made repeatedly throughout history.  I will begin with the actions that have been taken against celebrity chef Paula Deen, who has been hastily betrayed by Food Network and a number of companies for whom she has been a spokeswoman for or represented in one way or another.  Upon admission of the use of one word in particular 30 years ago, when questioned about a lawsuit filed against her by a former employee, a swarm of negative press and professional backlash has left Paula alienated and harshly judged.  Most outlets aren't even focused on whether the recent allegations are true or not, but rather the mere fact that Paula has openly admitted to using the word in the past, recalling a specific incident in which her life was threatened, even if passively, while held at gunpoint.

First, it would have to be proven that her accuser did in fact receive the type of treatment described from Paula's staff, but more specifically from Paula herself, in order to uphold the need to take any action against her at all.  The admission of the use of such a word decades ago, in today's world still plagued by racism even under an African American president, says nothing of her character today or what she represents. 
If she truly does not accept racial prejudice in her life or by anyone in her family or business, she's been falsely targeted and used to make an example of for using a word decades ago that millions of Americans use today without having their entire way of life scrutinized and jeopardized, all based on the allegations of a single person.  However, if this suit has shed light on her current state of being and business practices (which I don't believe is the case at all), it could be said that this is the price of fame.  That is the basis of my earlier reference to the inconsistent practice of making an example, as people who aren't public figures behave in the same manner without facing the same consequences.  My earliest memories of hearing about or watching cooking on television started with Emeril Lagasse and Paula Deen and I see them as being fundamentally crucial to the early development of the very network that has now disloyally detached itself from her.

Before I continue on, let me make one thing perfectly clear.  Personally, I find the use of the very word in question (and all it represents) inexcusable and intolerable, as its entire origin is based on degradation and its usage is ignorant, cruel and derogatory in nature.  The word originated as a way of addressing anyone with colored skin in an intentionally degrading manner, so its use is insulting to everyone of color, yet somehow it's become one of the aforementioned loopholes for nearly anyone of color to use it without consequence.  In the world of Hip Hop music and Entertainment, it's often glamorized and sensationalized, passed off as "art", and as long as Freedom of Speech exists as it is written in the Constitution of the United States, the word or its usage is not illegal or unlawful, but regardless of intent or context, only gives empowerment to and fuels the continued practice of racism.

In today's society, this has become the subject matter of jokes, and the meaning (or intended meaning) has become less about the color of skin than it has about the behavior of some people of color.  Immediately, this kind of generalization is not only heinously ignorant but also very skewed as there are people from all races and color who commit questionable or even criminal acts, for which an entire cultural segment cannot be blamed.  Comedian Chris Rock discusses this very topic in a segment he calls "Black People vs. N****s".  As a very smart comedian, he has found a way to make an important point by presenting it in a way that's entertaining but the message is clear, concise, and remarkably accurate and refers to the analogy that the behavior of some ruins the reputation of all, undeservedly.  Comedian/actor Bill Cosby also touched on this subject but received a huge backlash for calling out fellow people of color for being responsible for the stereotypes used against them by discussing the environments that today's youth were being raised in.

In thinking of the world that future generations will inherit, we have children starving, school systems failing, and people who have worked and paid taxes all their lives who are unable to afford proper medical care.  Meanwhile, enough money is paid into the prison system by law-abiding, respectful, responsible citizens that convicted felons with no respect for the law, for property, or human life are fed 3 meals a day and receive full medical care and some enjoy luxuries those very same taxpayers cannot even afford for themselves or for their families.  For a very large number of people, the chance of having their basic needs met is actually greater once they've committed a crime and entered the prison system than if they work hard and respect the law.  As if this small portion of the nation's biggest obstacles and most illogical systems weren't enough to overcome, every child born, regardless of color, will eventually face the most inexcusable and unfair battle of all, to simply be accepted, at least as long as racism and the use of the very word that supports it exists.

In summary, the use of a word 30 years ago, even 50 years ago, even one that carries such negative history and represents such a blatant lack of humanity, does not make someone a racist today.  It's unfair and irresponsible to single out any one person for a behavior that plagues everyone as long as we allow it to exist.  American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his film "Django Unchained", which referred to a period of time during which the word in question was heavily used, therefore is heavily used in the film.  In speaking of inconsistency, Quentin's usage of the word, not only in the context of history but in nearly every film he's made, is accepted.  It's unfortunate that if Paula had been filming a movie when she used that word 30 years ago, she'd be off the hook.  What's even more unfortunate is the fact that, despite the illusion of progress, such a word exists today at all along with everything it implies and represents.