We are Paula Deen
I am from the south. I was reared in a small southern town. Paula Deen and I are about the same age. As I look at my Facebook page, I see you guys from my high school -- liberal schoolteachers, liberal Cosmo-reading sophisticates, state workers, law-enforcement officers, elected officials, and big-time corporate executives. Once we shared space and lives in a small southern town. Each one of you should be thankful that you never reached Paula Deen's celebrity status. If you had, today you would be in the midst of a crapstorm from hell.
In our town the n-word was used: not as frequently as many of you readers imagine but it was used. Every one of us used it at one time or another. We didn't coin the word. We didn't invent bigotry or racism. We simply were reared in a small Southern town.
Though the term was used, it was not applied to every African-American. It was used sort of like "trailer trash" is used today to describe poor Southerners.
Many of you will be horrified to learn that my family had a maid. Her name was Maisy. We loved her. Long after she left our employ, we would send her money so she could go on trips with her church or get a space heater. We would occasionally stop by and drop off bananas, canned goods, and visit.
My dad had an assistant named Buster. We worked together holding hogs for my dad to vaccinate. He was a large animal veterinarian. We spent most of our time holding various critters for him to treat. A milestone to my manhood was when I matched Buster hog for hog.
My dad helped Buster get a job with the sheriff's department. One night, at Dot's Grill, I stood with Buster as he faced down Clyde Mathews, a notorious fighter, bully, and big-time racist bigot. I was 16. Behind him were several guys from the Purina Plant. He was cussing Buster with the N-word, threatening to take his gun and shove it up his @$. I stood just behind Buster. I said, "Leave him alone, Clyde. He is OK." Clyde ignored me and kept cussing. Buster showed remarkable restraint as he kept his weapon holstered beneath his quivering hand. We stood our ground. Clyde finally backed off and left. Clyde was killed in a fight at Drahon's pool hall. He brought his fist to a knife fight. Buster and I had a bro moment.
During my senior year, my high school was integrated. We were to be the first class to graduate an African-American. There was a group trying to stir up trouble. There was a plan to start a fight in the hallway between classes. I was to fight a fellow athlete. The pushing started;someone shoved me into ML. We both said excuse me and gripped hands bro style. He went on to play professional basketball.
At college, I stayed in an integrated dorm at a mostly male college. My roommate John and I spent a lot of time in Inman and James's room. We discussed racial issues night after night. It was amazing to learn that they thought that their African culture was superior to ours. I mean come on; we established the greatest nation in the world! I learned that my "we" didn't include them.
We discussed the n-word. We talked about Lenny Bruce. A comedian who influenced Mel Brooks, Bob Dylan, George Carlin, Redd Fox, Richard Pryor, and many others. He was the first to introduce social issues into comic shtick. He had a monologue in which he used n-word repeatedly. He argued that the best way to deal with this word was to use it until it became meaningless. James and Inman thought this was a bad idea.
We used to dance in their dorm room. This was not a gay thing -- not that there is anything wrong with that. But Inman loved to dance. He would start. The rest of us would try to match his moves. John and I were freshman. Inman was a senior philosophy major with the requisite goatee and pipe. It was hilarious to watch him dance.
We were the new South, the new generation. We believed in Kennedy and Martin Luther King. We were going to the moon, end racism, and switch to the metric system.
And yes we used the n-word, all of us. Each and every one of us. A word that has become so toxic that it has ended the careers of many.
Paula has compelling personal story. In 1989, she was divorced with two children and $200. She started out selling sandwiches to workers and rolled it into an empire. I saw her and her boys at Uncle Bubba's once. That's as close as I have come to a celebrity.
Paula was at a deposition. She was asked if she had ever used the n-word. What was her attorney thinking? Why would he let her answer that question? What does that have to do with anything? Every person in the U.S. and the English-speaking world has used it at one time or another.
Paula answered honestly. There was a bank robbery. A man with a gun. The n-word was spoken. America gasped! How could she? She immediately became an outcast. Her cooking show was cancelled. Wal-mart dropped her. Her pots and pans were marked for clearance. She was skewered on late night TV.
This could have been any one of us.
I once worked for the federal government. If I had been asked that question, I would have answered a resounding, "No! Nada! Never!"
Well, we did get a man on the moon.