Meadville Tribune

September 11, 2013

When it comes to Paula Deen, I’m not one to judge

By Gary DeSantis
Meadville Tribune

— My wife tells me repeatedly, “Gary, people like the special human interest columns you do. They are lukewarm to national and international stuff you write about. There are professionals who do those things and, frankly, they do it better than you. Plus, you have touched some nerves in the community and what for?”

I have been married for 42 years so you know that I almost always take my wife’s advice. To get along in marriage you have to go along and, since she’s a pretty smart woman, I find it wise to listen to her counsel. Today, however, I’m about to disagree with her advice.

Here’s the reason for my discontent. In a nutshell, it’s Paula Deen. It’s the way she got railroaded by the political correctness police. To be honest, I have only half watched any of her television shows. I have never purchased any of the magazines with her image on them or any of the products she has endorsed. I find her television persona irritating and her food preparation lethal.

Of course, when she developed type 2 diabetes, her whole program emphasis changed to provide more wholesome and healthy meals. It chapped me that after she changed her lifestyle, her diet and endorsed a drug therapy for a gazillion dollars, she lost a fair amount of weight and made it seem like nutrition was the only factor in the equation. When in fact, it also involved exercise and drug as well diet combined. In short, I’m no Paula Deen fan.

Please also know that the use of racial epithets and stereotypes are ugly, abhorrent and stupid. The use of those things reveal the idiocy of the person uttering them or using them. I’m also OK with ridding our culture of their use. However, I’m not OK with the artificial wielding of political correctness and the use of same without any kind of mitigating or contextual explanation.

I think the use of the phrase “N word” when referring to the racial slur for African Americans is stupid. Neither the word or the phrase “N word” should be used because the political correct phrase automatically conjures up the actual word itself. I also think in fairness, we should add a whole bunch of phrases to replace the utterance of ugly ethnic slurs: the “D word and W word” will be the new phrases for the ethnic slurs with Italian Americans; the “P word” for Polish Americans. I know that as soon as you read these, your brains filled in the spaces and the ugly words came out. Pretty soon we won’t be able to use the phrases “the blank word” because you have produced nearly the same result by actually saying the word. And what person with any brains would say any of those without some sort of crazy anger or mitigating context?

So what kind of circumstances are there for the utterance of a detested racial slur or comment? I might be wrong, but the wielding of a gun and the placement of that gun at someone’s temple kind of excuses the description of that person with a racial or ethnic slur. Sticking a gun at someone’s head deserves to be called whatever the victim wants without retribution.

Paula Deen admitted that 26 years ago she called her assailant the “N word.” It was also alleged that she was going to use her African American employees as slaves in a plantation theme party. None of them objected and their use would have been historically correct and none of them considered it personally demeaning.

I view this as no different than the use of African-Americans in movies, most recently “Django Unchained” or “Roots.” The treatment of slaves in the antebellum South was a history that most Americans would like to forget. I believe Deen’s use of African-Americans in a party centered around plantation life may have been insensitive but not racist.

More important than all this discussion is how Deen behaves now and how she relates to African-Americans now and in her recent past. By all reports, she has gone out of her way to offer opportunity to African-Americans in her employ. She has had numerous guests on her program who are African-American and her personal security person, who is African-American, insists she is the best person he has ever worked for.

If there is a statute of limitations in law for almost all crimes, it seems to me there ought to be one for a wayward comment or expletive uttered more than 20 years ago in the court of public opinion.

Deen has lost millions of dollars in endorsements and also lost her program on the Food Network. Apparently, she has paid a very dear price for her honest answer in a deposition.

I’m no biblical scholar but there’s one quote that strikes a chord: “Let the guiltless among you cast the first stone.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to judge anyone.

DeSantis is a Meadville resident and author of a recently published book titled “The 6th Floor.”