All comedy aside, I can’t help but think how this most recent racial flare-up provides an almost ritualistic purpose in society, especially during times of racial upheaval. Current circumstances brought about by legal and legislative proceedings surrounding the Trayvon Martin case, the SCOTUS in/decision on affirmative action, and Congressional reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act all provide the perfect kairos for electronic excoriation. This week’s feeding frenzy was inspired by Paul Deen being “outed” as a racist.
It seems to me that public reactions to Deen﹣whether for or against﹣say far more about our collective national ethos than about the racial attitudes of one single individual in spite of all her deep-fried-celebrity-chef craziness. Is anyone seriously surprised by a 66-year-old white woman born and bred in rural Georgia finding occasion to use the n-word every now and again? Please oh please, say it ain’t so.
You don’t have to think too long and hard recalling the vast (and by no means exhaustive) list of media personalities saying (or admitting to saying) stupid, racist comments in public or quasi-public situations… and practically always within close proximity to electronic recording devices. John Mayer, Don Imus, Michael Richards, Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder, Marge Schott, et al. And just as one might expect, such behaviors are routinely chalked up to any combination of things ranging from stress caused by overwork, bad side effects from medication, excess alcohol consumption, or some other miscellaneous malady brought on by temporary chemical imbalance.
In Deen’s case, poor insulin absorption is the culprit. Of course it was. I hope Deen finds the rest and relaxation needed for her recovery during the course of her time spent in rehab, which her publicists are undoubtedly scheduling and preparing for press release as I type this sentence.
What most interests me about the Paula Deen fiasco is the social media breakout stars that have been chatting and tweeting up a storm. It’s no mistake that the Tumblr site “White People Mad at Food Network” with its tagline, “like shooting racist fish in a racist barrel” works so well because, after all, it is easy as shooting fish in a barrel — maybe easier. Put simply, WPM@FNTumblr works. It literally functions as an apparatus that releases the pressure and social unease caused by living in a race-based society. Our focus on Paula Deen temporarily eases the pain of racism. Think of it as a numbing agent or anesthesia meant to keep us from having to be in touch with the agony of collective moral indifference and bad public policy. Beating up on Paul Deen comforts us because it releases us from having to do the real deal intellectual work. Like when you do the work of rethinking negative racial assumptions by challenging yourself and others to reject outmoded stereotypes and whatnot. Ending racism will require a great deal more heavy lifting if society ever expects to substantively fix the inequalities of structural racism brought about by white privilege and color discrimination. Or not, since that kind of stuff’s way too difficult and perilous an undertaking. (See comment thread below.)
I mean, the whole point of being American is getting other folk to do the dirty work — quick, easy (and for free if you’re smart enough to finagle it)! And what could possibly be simpler and more sensational than symbolically heaping our latest cycle of racial sins on such a gorgeously fattened, butter-fed scapegoat as the fair Miss Paula Deen? It would be a terrible shame to pass on anything so lovely and plump. Verily, verily I say unto you, Lo! We shall search among the vast cloud of interwebs and be absolved. And in return we shall feed the trolls, granting unto them one million hits. In/dependence day is just around the corner and the beat down ain’ over yet! Don’t make me crack this whip on yo’ @$$. We only got another week or so… better grab that stick and get to swingin! Do it! Right this wrong now, I say!
Happy 4th of July, Y’all!