Don Roach: Paula Deen, Affirmative Action + 21st-Century Racism

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


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Yesterday, a person commented on GoLocalProv’s article about a HUD report that found discrimination within the housing market. Essentially, minority homebuyers were shown less available homes than their white counterparts. The commenter made the following observation:

Rather the So-Called Community leaders, such as Mr. Vincent, in Minority Communities (All of them) need to get on the case of those within their Ethnic make-up that are responsible for the image and reputation of their culture, that they created, and see to it that they clean up their act.

The ignorance of this comment is galling. It assumes that every minority is responsible for every other minority’s actions to make sure that the majority race (aka white people) understands that not all dem black people are on welfare. How about the nearly 2 million white people who are on welfare across the country? Does Tom or any other white person need to “get on the case” of those people and “see to it that they clean up their act”?

No. The thing about 21st century racism is that while it is just as ignorant as 20th century racism it is certainly not as overt as its predecessor.

Deen needs to meet another black man

Take for example, Paula Deen, a “celebrity” who up until a few days ago I’d never heard of. Apparently, she’s in hot water for the saying the N-word. In main stream media, she’s getting vilified left and right. She’s lost endorsements, was fired from her tv show, and is facing a sexual harassment and racism lawsuit. I don’t want to tackle all of that today, but instead focus on her racist remarks and how as 21st century people we should deal with these issues.

Deen has admitted to using the N-word. She’s also admitted to being born into the 1940s South and having had an experience with a black bank robber pulling a gun on her some years ago that’s tainted her opinion of people of color, apparently. Yet, these are just excuses as she seeks to rationalize her careless and senseless comments. I say excuses because they portray a person not seeking to understand what she, quite obviously, doesn’t understand. And that, my friends, is the only way to tackle 21st century racism.

Deen needs to put herself in someone else’s shoes. She’s got a great grasp on her life and how her life has impacted her views on things. If she truly wants to move away from these types of comments she needs to replace her self-admitted racist background with the reality of today. We have a black President, black business leaders, minorities at the highest levels of entertainment, sport, and academia. I think we can safely say that all races have people capable of great things.

Or maybe we can’t? In the 90s I certainly met a few folks at ultra-liberal Brown who had never spent more than five minutes with a person of color before college. And here’s my point, if our society is one where we’re going to laud tolerance of our differences, then that tolerance shouldn’t immediately end when someone makes a mistake.

If so, then tolerance is only skin deep and should be called nothing more than ‘political correctness’. Political correctness means racist folks call minorities “those people” publicly and nastier things behind their backs. Tolerance is having the willingness to say “I don’t know these people and I have some opinions that don’t seem right. Let me get to know who they are.” It’s about your logic telling your emotions that somewhere along the way you went off track in your opinions about a class of people. And so you don’t think I’m a hypocrite, I had to challenge myself the same way I’m challenging some of you after 9/11 when I got on a plane and saw a person who appeared to be from the Middle East.

Our experiences shape us, but we need to challenge those experiences if we want to overcome racism in the 21st century. It’s not easy, won’t be easy for Deen, but rather than apologies she needs to have a different experience than the one she used as an excuse for racism.

Oh Affirmative Action, when will you die?

I would have lost a bet if I had put money on affirmative action being around after we elected a black President. Nonetheless, after spending energy telling you how racism is still prevalent today can I just say how much I hate affirmative action. What’s cool about that is the fact that I can say it but what’s not cool is that I don’t believe we’ve quite reached the tipping point where Affirmative Action is a relic that should be left to our ancestral past. It seems that the Supreme Court agrees…somewhat.

In a decision this week they decided that an affirmative action program at the University of Texas-Austin wasn’t unconstitutional and instead asked the lower court to reconsider the case. The court wrote that the lower courts must “verify that it is necessary for a university to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” 

Seems fair enough, I mean affirmative action is there to assist people who would otherwise be excluded from certain programs because of race. But, as we look at the President of the United States we have to take a serious look at whether or not we need affirmative action programs in order to achieve some semblance of diversity. And if we do, is there some type of socioeconomic factor(s) that is leading to a racial inequality above and beyond your garden variety racism?

I don’t think we’ve done enough research on these issues yet to have answers, but it’s not sufficient to say we’re still living under 20th century racism. We aren’t. But I’m not sure we have a solid understanding of where we are to know if removing affirmative action programs doesn’t lead to the exclusion of certain groups.

In all, racism isn’t dead in America and it still matters in 2013. It’s different, more covert than overt, but we’ve got to tackle it head on and not be afraid of our own biases. Instead, we need to be willing to own our prejudices and humble enough to say, “I was wrong.”

Don Roach is a proud member of the Republican Party. Don can be reached at [email protected].


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