Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bad Words

I grew up a white boy in Georgia. I was lucky that I had thoughtful parents who, though not perfect*, could at  least recognize blatant hate. My Daddy, as a young kid, had witnessed a black boy being treated very cruelly. He and Mother taught us early on to treat every one with respect, as they understood it at that time and place. Had I or any of my six siblings, uttered the word "nigger" -- except while reading Huckleberry Finn aloud  -- we'd have likely gotten a switching from Mama or a belt spanking from Daddy. 

You may have noticed that I choose not to use the silly "N-word" euphemism except in explaining why I don't: It is not the arrangement of letters or the combination of vocal vibrations that is offensive, it is the use of them to denigrate other folks. This 66 year-old Georgia white guy does not and has never done that. 

Here's a shocker for you, though. Some of my most admired, most dearly loved human beings -- oh, what a sorry lot are human beings! -- have been racist to some degree, sometimes a high one. And part of my love for some of them is the degree to which they have grown out of that state. As the son of two Methodist preachers I, in fits and starts, strive for perfection, but few of us make it all the way, likely.

A while back we were the victims of a home invasion in the middle of the night. I did not see the poor slob in the dark, but in chasing him from my house and across our lawn I raged at him uncontrollably. I used language that I do. not. use. I consider it a sign of ignorance, poor upbringing, low intelligence, and a paltry vocabulary to sprinkle common expletive into every day talk. I don't cuss. But on this occasion, in fury, I belched a torrent of "favorite curse words" that would have used up James Lipton's complete list. I hope, had I known the guy was black (I 'don't) that I would have stopped short of using his race as a stone, but in the moment, I was slinging anything I could reach -- he had invaded my home, where my wife and child were sleeping. If I had let fly that horrid word, would it have negated any good I have done in my life? Should I have lost my job?

I am Paula Deen's age. Our society was so divided in the fifties and sixties that I was barely acquainted with any black people. Still I was an outspoken proponent of civil rights for all. As a result, at my high-school, I was ridiculed a few times in the 1960s as a "nigger-lover" -- I wore the title with some pride, actually. I was called that by folks who, today, may have forgotten, but who would be very embarrassed, and some of whom would be very saddened, to be reminded of their past hatred of those who looked so much like present day close friends, co-workers, and, in some cases, spouses, children, or grandchildren that they love with all their hearts.

All of that to say: I don't know Paula. I have paid more attention to her this week than all the rest of my weeks combined. She may have a heart as black as the word she admits uttering decades ago. To whatever degree she practices racial discrimination in her personal and business relationships today I hope she will be held to account and that those wronged can receive justice. But, at least in regard to uttering that word, she faced up to her past. That's a start that many have not made. 

I believe, in Paula Deen's case, the condemnation has gone too far. The overreaction is now serving to divide us further.

And if Paula has a great BBQ sauce recipe, I'll take it. The Fourth is upon us.

* You were/are real close to perfection, Mama!