Friday, June 28, 2013

Paula Deen and her defenders

I think just about everything that can be said on the Paula Deen situation has been said already and I don't have a whole lot to add except for the following.
There seems to be some misunderstanding about what "free speech" is. All free speech means is that you have the right to say what you want or think what you want without being jailed or sued or fined by the federal or state or municipal governments. Of course I am sure some intelligent reader or lawyer can find a few exceptions as there are exceptions to almost everything but no prior restraint on speech is the essence of the First Amendment.

And if you've read this blog for any period of time you know that I am a stickler for abiding by the letter and the spirit of the Bill of Rights. It's important to remember however that the First Amendment is a restriction on the ability of governments to stop you from saying something or punishing you if you do. It says absolutely nothing however, about the ability of other citizens to criticize what you say or for private businesses or organizations to decide that they'd rather not be associated with you or set rules for their partners or employees.

For example, I don't believe that there is a state or federal law against a man going to the top floor of an office building, finding a good looking woman Executive VP and telling her how good looking he thinks she is in quite crude language. There is no law against walking up to a male Executive VP and telling him that I think he's an incompetent dolt who only has a job because his father-in-law and grandfather worked for the company. If I were stupid enough to do those things I would be immediately terminated from my company. In fact further job interviews in my industry and elsewhere would probably open with the interviewer telling me (before they asked me to leave)  "Oh you're the fellow who likes to tell the women he works with that they have nice ****. So look around buddy. Are there any women here that you think have nice ****? Are there any incompetents in this firm you think should be fired?". A company has the obligation to ensure that its employees/associates will add to its bottom line and not be disruptive.

Paula Deen used racist language to describe black people and pined for trappings of segregationist days long gone. As a result her employer/business partner The Food Network decided to sever ties with her. Some other companies are following suit. It's not good business for most corporations to have a blatant bigot representing them. The Food Network has that right. There is nothing new or surprising about this.

Another line of defense is that Paula Deen was born in a time when such ways of thinking were common. Well that's true. When she was born segregation was still a going concern. The people who point this out in order to defend Deen don't seem to 1) realize that there were other whites who were born in such times and rose above such beliefs and 2) such defenders never give the black people born in similar times any sort of pass. I mean if we can say that Deen didn't know any better and is just regurgitating the values of her times, then surely we must do the same for Reverend Wright, Minister Farrakhan, and any other black person who grew up in the bad old days and thus has excellent reason to have a generalized suspicion and distrust of whites. Yet when those people say something that may be out of line they don't get many people rushing to their defense. No one stops to ponder that maybe someone who grew up in a time where blacks were called "boy", "girl" or "auntie" or had to watch their parents submit to oppression in order to survive might have some resentments to vent from time to time.

So Paula Deen has her defenders and supporters. I am not surprised. It is important however to remember that all of this brouhaha came to light because one Lisa Jackson, another white woman, decided that she had had enough of a workplace atmosphere which allegedly included racial and sexual harassment and discrimination. Maybe Jackson is telling the truth, maybe she is not. But as Deen has already admitted to slurs the self-inflicted damage has been done. I never cared for Deen anyway so I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the controversy. I am however angry that the nostalgia for the Old South is so powerful and defended by so many. I simply can't imagine anyone wanting to have a wedding with Jewish people dressed as concentration camp inmates. But that's just me. Deen has every right to use whatever language she pleases. And others have every right to disassociate from her.
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