Let’s talk about race. Or actually, let’s just watch a woman who came from nothing, who admitted to suffering from agoraphobia after her husband left her with two sons to raise, a woman who presumably learned her lesson about lying to the public after keeping her diagnosis of diabetes a secret for three years… let’s all just watch her fall from grace, because she told the truth in a legal deposition, and say nothing.
I’ve lived in the South now for almost ten years. I’ve attended a wedding at a “plantation” in Georgia. It was one of our Big Chill friend’s daughter, who lives outside of Atlanta. I admit I was a little surprised at the name, but the name referred to the location, not its history of slavery. It was a beautiful reception, at a pretty farm, with no hint of racism.
I toured Monticello many times since moving South, every time a relative or friend came to visit. And I watched the docents change their usual speech about the “servants” in the house, to “slaves, to “enslaved people.” They are now refurbishing Mulberry Row, the slave quarters near the house, so this historical site will include an accurate representation of its past.
I’ve dressed up in hoop skirts for the Pilgrimmage at my sibling’s antebellum home in MS. I stayed in the upstairs hall, directing tourists, pointing to Faulkner books, and explaining where Mrs Julia Grant slept; telling the curious which Georgian column the Confederate soldiers hid in.
I’ve toured the Civil War cemetery, and watched as re-enacters pitched their tents all over the property. In other words, I’ve been immersed in Southern history, the good and the bad. And hearing that Paula Deen admitted to using that hateful word – a word by the way that African American musicians and comedians use whenever they like – privately, to her husband after being robbed, did not surprise me. What does surprise me is the outrage.
Our generation grew up hearing that word and other bigoted, racial slurs. Don’t deny it. Why do you think we in the North had Gentile and Jewish country clubs? Why did one beach club on the Jersey Shore become almost wholly made up of Catholics, mostly Irish Catholics? Because some places were off limits for certain ethnicities. Oh, we in the North had our own ways of discrimination, more subtle maybe. Since these were private institutions, nothing could be done…like women being denied membership at private golf courses. We didn’t have “White Only” water fountains or train cars, but we knew which neighborhoods had the best public schools; so the “urban” school became a colloquial way of institutionalizing racism. We Northerners put a fence around public housing and called them “the Projects,” which was a nicer term I suppose than Elvis singing about “The Ghetto.”
Twenty-five years ago, my child had to ride home on a school bus in NJ where a bully had drawn a swastika in the window of her seat.
Because I felt deeply how that kind of symbolism can affect my child, I know what flying the Confederate flag means to a Black person. There is really no excuse for using the N word today. Most of my generation vowed we would not continue using the hateful terminology that was a subtext to our parents’ generation. But, and this is a BIG but, casting stones on Deen accomplishes nothing. She admitted the truth, she even apologized a few times on YouTube. I like to think she’s grown since her butter slathering everything days. She grew up in a very different South, 60 years ago. And I’m tired of hearing pompous Northern (and Southern) talking heads rant about her racism…let’s talk about the prison system, and our public schools.
Let’s really talk about racism today. Or we could listen to Whoopi tell a joke. It’s the third in a series of bird jokes.