First Amendment Watch:Why I’m Defending Paula Deen
Ah, the First Amendment. The Right to Freedom of Speech. Who knew that you were so complicated? Who knew that the citizens you govern would speak freely, only to have their words turned against them? I am often wary of what I post on this blog for fear what extremists and nitpickers would say. But then I have to remind myself: I have the right to say this. If we are not allowed to voice our opinions, why hasn’t this amendment been repealed?
I’ve watched as the Paula Deen Story has unfolded in American-and no doubt foreign-press, lamenting the obvious death of the 1st Amendment, the one which I hold most dear (and indeed, the human right I hold most close to my heart). The right to freedom of speech allows one to be truthful; it allows one to express oneself. I am a big fan of honesty and staying true to oneself. And Paula Deen was nothing but honest, even though she could have easily lied and said that she never had used the word in her life, in order to save her Food Empire (although, really, who could have seen all of this coming?)
Paula Deen, who is embroiled in a lawsuit accusing her of using the N-word and being racist toward employees at her restaurant, admitted to using the N-word in the past. Key word: past. Does she use it now? Has anyone heard her use it? Not even Lisa Jackson, her accuser, has heard her use the word. She didn’t recently lash out at a customer, passerby, employee etc. and call them that derogatory word. And even if she has, why is it front-page news? Why does she have to be branded as a social leper because she-gasp!-used a word that every.single.fucking.rapper seems to use in his songs?
At my previous job, every single person in the office, besides my boss, used the N-word. Granted, they said it “nigga,” and they were using it in that “oh, he’s my nigga”-i.e., a non-derogatory-way. But none of them were African-American, they were either Dominican or Puerto Rican. Their sentences were liberally peppered with the N-word the way a baby says “mama” over and over again. It made me apoplectic. But no one was going to report them to some human rights watch or Communication Committee.
Now, I am fully against the N-word that I won’t even spell it out for the context of this post. It makes me feel mightily uncomfortable. It sounds disgusting and cruel, because it was meant to be disgusting and cruel. I don’t believe that people should use this word. However, she did not say it to an African American, shouting it in harassment. Paula Deen was born in a generation where using the word was acceptable, and no doubt her parents probably used it as well. This does not make it right to use the word; it is not an excuse. If she is in fact a racist, than I do not support her, but she does have the right to her own opinions and beliefs. Somebody should have tried to help her, instead of “crucifiying” her, as one article put it.
If a person can have their entire life ruined over admitting to using a word that, let’s face it, people do use today, then what about other words? Why don’t I see the endless rappers who use the words bitch (which it’s perfectly acceptable to write) or slut or ho or cunt being ostracized from society and cut off from their mikes? Because they’re talking about women? Because most rappers are African-American? There is so much garbage out there being said about women, often times in jest that even women don’t realize it, yet nobody seems to give a damn. What about the scores of teenagers who deem practically everything “That’s so gay!”–should we make them sit at the Losers Table in the cafeteria?
Or what about Alec Baldwin, who recently fired out at a gay reporter, calling him a “Queen,” among other things? No one has started a Boycott Alec Baldwin Campaign, have they? I personally like Alec Baldwin; I think he is funny and he does a lot of charitable work out in the Hamptons, where I’m from, and I don’t support his choice of words, but I do understand that people make mistakes, especially when they’re angry and being targeted (as his fiancee was by the reporter). The comparaison between Baldwin and Paula Deen shows that it’s okay to insult gays; insulting women is okay, too-but not insulting African Americans. If this is a true democracy, than everyone should be treated equally: men, women, all ethnicities and all sexualities. I understand that racism and little subtleties happen all the time on the ground level, but for the whole of American media to gang up on Paula Deen and one topic but not on Baldwin and another says a lot. Or maybe it was just because she was a woman?
Are we going to criminalize certain words and phrases? Because if we aren’t, then I’m not quite sure why we’re going to make a big deal out of a person using the words, especially if it happened in the past and was in a private, non-hostile conversation. Instead of forcing Paula Deen to flee to Mexico (which is what I’d probably do if I were her) we should focus on ending racism. It’s a delicate subject, but it can be dealt with.
As we celebrate Independence Day, the 4th of July, I hope Americans can unite in our differences. I hope Americans can work together to strengthen America, a country which, despite its flaws, I love and appreciate more than I did in the past (gasp!) I hope we can support the right to free speech, and appreciate honesty when it comes, because honesty is rare when it comes to public figures.