Why I’m not forgiving Paula Deen

Trigger Warning for Discussion of Racism/Racial Slurs

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A few weeks ago, during a slow day at work, I listened to two of my coworkers strike up a conversation about “the n word.” One of my coworkers was opposed to anyone using the word. He told my other coworker that he knows other black people disagree, but he would rather not hear anyone–including black people–say it.

My other coworker responded that this word was “just a word,” and “I just don’t let it have power over me.”

The problem with this conversation was that my first coworker was black.

My second coworker (by his own admission) was 100% white.

It was easy for my second coworker, as a white person, to say that he doesn’t let that word have power over him. He’s never had to face the system of oppression associated with that word. He doesn’t share in the collective consciousness associated with it. He’s never had to face the fact that racism is not just about a word, but about the oppressive actions and institutions that hateful slurs both remind of and reinforce.

It’s easy for my white coworker to not let the word have power over him because it doesn’t have power over him. It wasn’t meant to. It was meant to give him power. 

I think of this exchange at work every time I see another famous white person release a statement calling us to forgive Paula Deen. From Anne Rice to Jimmy Carter to white Christians at Christianity Today, many are calling to leave poor Paula Deen alone. She said sorry! That should be enough, right?

I won’t be joining them in forgiving Paula Deen.

It’s not because I’m bitter toward her. It’s because she hasn’t done anything to me to make me bitter toward her. I hurt for the people to whom Deen’s words were directed, but because I am white, her words do not directly effect me.

Therefore, it is not my place to forgive. 

A statement coming from me saying, “I accept Deen’s apology” would sound as shallow and ridiculous as my white coworker saying that he just doesn’t let the n word bother him.

It’s easy for white people like me to not let the word bother them. We can pretend it’s “just a word.” We can easily pretend that Paula Deen’s usage of it was just a slip of the tongue. We can ignore the systems of oppression this word is wrapped up it, and we can go on being blissfully ignorant of the way Paula Deen blatantly participated in those systems of oppression beyond the use of that word–forcing black coworkers to use different entrances and restrooms, romanticizing the antebellum south, etc.

I’m not saying that my fellow white people and I have to go around being angry at Paula Deen forever. I’m saying that deciding we’re not angry with her any longer doesn’t mean anything coming from us

Forgiving Paula Deen is not our place. 

It is the place of the black coworkers that she mistreated to choose whether or not to forgive her on an individual level. It is the place of all black people who are hurt by systemic racism to choose whether or not to forgive her for her perpetuation of oppression toward them as a group. Not everyone from these groups is going to agree with how to go about responding to Deen, because they are not a monolith. None of them speak for their entire group (so, white folks, please don’t respond with “But my black friend forgives Paula Deen!”). But they are allowed to have space to have those conversations and make those decisions.

White folks, our place is not to demand forgiveness from the people who were hurt by Paula Deen. In fact, when we tell black people how to respond to oppression, when we try to dictate the opinions and emotions of black people, we are being oppressive. 

White folks, we do have a place in this conversation. Our place is to look at our own lives and make sure we are not hurting others the way Deen did, even on a smaller scale. Our place is to constantly check our own privilege to make sure we’re not hurting others as we go along with even things that are considered “normal” for everyone to do/say now-a-days. Our job is to challenge racism like Deen’s when we see it in other white people or in our institutions.

Whether we’re talking about white people forgiving Paula Deen, or straight/cis people forgiving Exodus International, or people who have never been effected by spiritual abuse forgiving spiritually abusive leaders, we all need to think about our own social context in the matter.

We don’t always have the right to forgive. Those who were hurt are the ones who get to make that choice. This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. 

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  • http://mittenatheist.blogspot.com/ Kari Lynn

    ^This!
    I read this really great article on Yahoo (I can’t find a link) about how the reason Paula got fired was because of the expectations of her bosses. When you are a celebrity and you have a personality that you have built on that celebrity and you deviate from that personality in an unexpected and unpleasant (but very public) way, you can’t expect to hold on to many jobs. Paula Deen was a representative of The Food Network. No matter what she did, because of her celebrity, she would always be a representative of that channel. Most places have some kind of clause in an employment contract that stipulates that you can’t bring bad publicity to the company. Paula Deen brought bad publicity to The Food Network, she probably violated her contract, so they aren’t renewing the contract. Tough luck.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Here’s the sad part- the racism has been a part of her celebrity persona with every southern recipe she put out.

      They just had a problem with it because it became explicit.

      • http://mittenatheist.blogspot.com/ Kari Lynn

        I am not familiar with Paula Deen’s persona. They sold her magazine at my work and she creeped me out, so I never watched her.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          “Southern Plantation Belle” is her public persona (and her recipes show it- full of deep fried food and southeast US spices). I find her use of the word nigger to refer to the types of servants her obviously racist and sexist brother wanted at his “antebellum plantation style wedding” to be entirely in character.

          Whether that is actually her personality or not I don’t know, but it is entirely in keeping with that persona (and it most certainly does seem to be her brother “Bubba Hiers” actual personality, and sad to say, likely the reason his restaurant is so successful in a culture that still calls the civil war “The War of Northern Aggression”).

          What is far more interesting is that multiculturalists can’t stand actual multiculturalism.

          • jcon526

            “What is far more interesting is that multiculturalists can’t stand actual multiculturalism.”

            If a culture has had a noteworthy reputation of oppressing another culture, it’s actually quite easy to see why it might be too easily demonized in multicultural discussions.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I have Asperger’s. That means I often don’t say things the way normal people want to hear them.

            Maybe these two guys can do better:
            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yimcatholic/2013/07/what-do-penn-jillette-and-peter-kreeft-have-in-common.html

  • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

    When I grow up, I wanna be like Sarah!

  • Marcie

    Write a comment…
    Marcie Eyer Weiler Paula
    Deen is 67 years old. During the 1950′s and 1960′s racism was common
    all over the US no matter what you’d like to believe. My grandfather was
    from Alabama and used the “N” word. I used it once and my mother
    explained that it wasn’t a nice word and
    other words to use instead. My SIL is from NC, she knows she knows
    better but it was so ingrained in her that she still knee-jerkingly
    thinks that blacks aren’t quite as smart as whites. She’s older than
    Deen but not by much. another SIL’s mother says “it’s a perfectly good
    word.” Ingrained prejudice does not just disappear because things change.
    It takes generations. Holding her responsible for slipping back into
    her upbringing is just as bad. She slipped up 30 years ago. S/he who has
    NEVER slipped up at anything, throw the first stone.

    • jcon526

      A discrimination lawsuit prompted this scandal … it’s not just about a slur she said years ago.

      • GilbertDavis

        and so far it , according to some who are involved , was started because of a disgruntled former employee and escalated into possible extortion .

        • jcon526

          Why do you presume that it’s extortion?

          • GilbertDavis

            ” according to some who are involved” This was said on The Today Show . I do not know the names and would refer to tapes of that program . I do not have a TV but I found the program and remarks on a search . If this did start as revenge or extortion , it should be thoroughly investigated . No judgement should be made until these claims by all parties can be heard out and judged . The fact that she was honest to even admit that she said the “N” word in the privacy of her own home with her husband, reveals that she is more honest and truthful than most who would not even care to have disclosed that. I trust a person like that and her Christian testimony speaks for itself .

          • jcon526

            She owns 51% of the restaurant with her brother, who is accused of various forms of discrimination, and she is said to have made jokes about plantation-style parties. It appears that the lawsuit has merit, and is bigger than a single slur.

          • GilbertDavis

            I have heard all of that. She admitted to saying a word 30 years ago but she has not admitted to discrimination . It will come down to the accuser’s words vs. those of Paula Deen ,and whoever else was there. I believe that people in their own minds want to think a certain way and paint someone to be something just to suit their own programmed stereotypes. That in itself is being prejudiced. I believe the masses are being this way against Ms. Deen . It is not right . Remember Ms. Deen has supported and endorsed “President ” B.O. I do not know why and right thinking person would do that but , she did. I do not believe she discriminated within her company or social contacts based on race .

          • jcon526

            There’s nothing that says you’re not allowed to support her in spite of the allegations. But you yourself called the lawsuit “possible extortion”, which is in itself “prejudging” the situation with a bias towards her. Remove the beam.

          • GilbertDavis

            Maybe you did not read closely . I said that was what someone involved with the case has said about, “possible extortion”. Also remember, the Bible goes on to say that the reason a person is to ” remove the beam from their own eye , is so they can see clearly the “speck” in another. for the purpose of helping them remove it , I am sure. Before you or I can ask ourselves if we should ever forgive someone of something , lets at least wait and see if they are even guilty of something that we should so self-righteously ponder about granting our pardon or not.

          • jcon526

            I read it just fine and even quoted you correctly. If you look at my comments, you’ll notice that I haven’t made any judgments regarding Paula Deen on one side or the other, yet I did say that based on what is said about her, her brother, and their business, the lawsuit may have merit. Arguably, you spoke with a similar bent, only against the plaintiff, presuming that it’s “possible extortion”.

            Also, my primary comments were about the article, which is spot-on in my opinion. The article isn’t making a judgment about whether she’s guilty or not. The article is making a point that many Christians are calling for forgiveness for Paula Deen, but doing so too simplistically and unwisely. They need to understand that those people who are not directly targeted by the offense will of course call for forgiveness … they’re not hurt by the possible offenses. Yet this presumed forgiveness comes across dismissive to those who may have been offended.

          • GilbertDavis

            repeating something that I did NOT say , over and over again , still does mean that I said it . I did not presume their was extortion involved . I have told you this already a couple of times but you continue to lie . I said it was, ” according to some who are involved” in this case . According to some who are involved with this case , not according to me . I sited that I heard it on The Today Show . I believe that program is on NBC and it was last week.

            The article is about forgiving someone . What point is there to that unless you know for sure there was an offense? Since the ONLY instance certain about ,was a word spoken 30 years ago , there should not be any question as what to do when the person expressed remorse for even that . At least for Christians the answer is YES. We forgive . How many times ? At least 490 times if you take Christ’s words only literally . Some should though bring forth meet for repentance and in some cases, restitution .
            Some do not know they have offended someone unless it is brought to the attention to the offender. I find it disgusting how some people carry a grudge against someone for something they never ever expressed why for, to the person they harbor animist toward. I don’t know why I added that but suffice to say it upsets me . I guess I should let them know that they have offended and sinned against me by their not telling me or someone why they hold a grudge or have something against someone .

          • jcon526

            Bottom line, the article is about understanding the nature of offense and the trouble with using grace to gloss over it if you’re not the target of the offense. However the case is decided, this is still a valid and spot-on point.

          • GilbertDavis

            There should not be ,”Glossing over an offense”, if your not the target or offended person or in this case group of people or race. Agreed , no offense or sin against another should be taken lightly or belittled just because it was not against you or I . The problem is the writer assumes that Deen is guilty . I wonder if Deen will forgive Sarah Moon for writing something publicly without her knowing if any of the charges are true . Will Deen forgive Moon when it may be determined that there was no offense or anything said or done that was discriminatory or with willful malice and intention . Unlike the writer of this article ,who may have something more against Deen than just these accused charges ,people should still consider others innocent until proven guilty . This should be the case , not just under our laws , but also as a matter of thoughtful societal discourse . Are you not aware that there have been several cases of accusations against people who had been destroyed by the media and people like Al Sharpton , who have later been found to be completely innocent?
            If someone were guilty of a crime of this nature that included racist elements , my anger and or interest should not be negated because I am not the same race , gender or whatever of the victim. I empathize and should , if I wish , have a say on the grounds that we are all of the same human race . And if any of my brothers and sisters in Christ were persecuted and or killed as they are in the many thousands every year in this world , and one of those persecutors or murderers’s conscience is convicted of his or her sins , repents and seeks forgiveness first from God and then from those they hurt or the surviving family members , I can only point to what The LORD Jesus has commanded them to do . Forgive just as God because of Christ has forgiven us .

          • Darla Blair

            you wrote so eloquenty, and people are STILL not happy! Boy if they had to be black for a while, they would be offended ALL OF THE TIME!!!! you go on girl.

          • jcon526

            Guy.

            And, thanks. :)

    • Darla Blair

      what if a woman on a mans tv show had been raped 30 years ago, and he started making rape jokes. growing up that way, NO EXCUSE!!!!!!! I am a very very light skinned black person, my siblings ALL have black features and look black, not me I look like my mostly Cherokee mother. So guess what? when I was a kid, “Too black for the whites, too white for the blacks, my childhood was a nightmare from HELL. But, guess what, I am not angry at those people, hope they changed and are happy. Lots of girls I knew then who wer’e like me are still bitter. so I am not buying, that’s how I was raised!

  • Katherine Harms

    I certainly see why someone who wasn’t hurt could decline to forgive, but I don’t think that excuses any of us from the public conversation. This conversation is actually the height of the ridiculous, because the offense in question was thirty years ago. Thirty years ago! It is not simply a case of holding a grudge for thirty years. It is about going back thirty years so we can find something to take offense about! That is completely unjustified, and we should all be outraged that it is happening. I am offended by people who cannot live till they have stirred up hatred, even if they need to go back thirty years to find something to hate. If Paula Deen had said this word yesterday morning to the nurse taking her blood pressure at the doctor’s office, then that nurse would have a right to be upset. All this uproar about something that happened thirty years ago is simply stupid. We all need to forgive any offenses that far back, and forget them, too. As Jesus pointed out, “sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.”

    • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/ Dani Kelley

      Except that’s not all that it is. You can read more here: http://www.atlawblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Jackson-v.-Deen-et-al.-Complaint.pdf

    • jcon526

      I believe that this whole scandal was prompted by one of her restaurants getting sued for racial and sexual discrimination.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      It wasn’t 30 years ago, it was 6 years ago.

      But I do find it odd that the majority of the lawsuit is against not Paula, but a business partner and family member.

    • Darla Blair

      oh, I see you are white, never mind! No offense

  • jcon526

    Excellent; you hit the bulls-eye with this article.

  • jcon526

    If someone stole my neighbor’s car, and I say, “Oh well, I forgive the thief”, the neighbor would be put off because it’s not my car that was stolen. Saying such a thing is insensitive to the neighbor’s plight because it’s not me who was harmed in the theft. Also, since I’m not the one hurt or offended, I’m showing an alarming lack of empathy by unnecessarily and arrogantly dismissing my neighbor’s troubles with my simplistic call for forgiveness.

    Same thing regarding the Paula Deen scandal, which the article excellently explains.

    Also, I don’t believe that the author is saying that she is choosing *not* to forgive as much as she is saying that it’s not her place. Again, there’s a significant and compelling difference.

  • Robert Deming

    Your reasoning is fundamentally flawed: We are human therefore we are members one of another and to talk in terms of black and white or red brown or yellow is to compartmentalize personhood and to create the very idea to which I believe you to be honestly opposed and that act gives rise to the seed bed of racism.

    • Kristen Rosser

      That doesn’t mean we have the power or right to forgive sins committed against other people.

      • Guest

        I believe the Scripture says forgive one another as I (Jesus) have forgiven you.Also the Lord’s Prayer itself “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us We are all related as Daughters and Sons of God!Thus forgiveness becomes a way of life.

        • jcon526

          Scripture also says not to let your good be evil spoken of. Flippantly forgiving people for offenses when you weren’t the one being offended smacks of insensitivity and arrogance. Wisdom is the principal thing, especially in volatile matters like this.

        • sarahoverthemoon

          Exactly—as we forgive THEM THAT TRESPASS AGAINST US. Paula Deen is not trespassing against me so I’m not going to forgive her. Not my place. Did you even read the post?

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Just as long as it doesn’t turn into the idea that the victims should never forgive either- which seems to be at the point we are in our culture- better to sue than to forgive.

  • tehsilentone

    they had a whole episode of penance for that incident, so that’s a bad example for you.

  • GilbertDavis

    Sarah , have YOU , ever in your life, said the “N” word ? Remember liars will have their place in the Lake of Fire. (Revelation . 21:8)

    • jcon526

      Completely unnecessary.

    • Leigha7

      You seem to be implying that she probably has. That’s something I’ve heard often in defense of Paula Deen–”Who HASN’T said the n word?”

      Um…lots of people. I would venture most non-racists, as well as a lot of people who are slightly unconsciously racist but are aware that racism is wrong. What possible reason would someone who isn’t racist have for saying it? (Also, saying it in an academic context, like writing a paper on its usage or whatever, does not count as “saying” it, because it’s discussing it, not using it.)

      • GilbertDavis

        No, it counts . If you have ever used that word in public or any form or in private when only God could hear. then your guilty of what some are saying is racism . So Yes , everyone has used that word , even you. . Any word that intends to demean or inflict pain on someone is just as evil . Rather we should be helping and speaking words that lead others to Christ . He is the only answer to the problem of sin of any kind. (John 3:16,17; Acts 20:21 )KJB

  • jcon526

    Actually, it would be more comparable if Tracy Morgan owned a company that was accused of discriminating against gays along with having the aforementioned stand-up routine.

  • Steve Freeman

    “N-word” how ridiculous a phrase! Regardless, either it is okay to say the “N-word” or it isn’t. This should be a rule for everyone regardless of heredity. It should not be okay for one group of people to use the term and not okay for another.

  • Darla Blair

    As a 44 year old black woman I have never heard that put so eloquently in my entire life! I have NO animosity towards any white people, even the ones who hurt me so much, but let it be MY choice. My husband is white, and it is like he says, as a 22+ USAF member, who has been in war zones many times. He can tell me how it was, but really, my opinion on the issue is useless, I was not there. Sometimes, you have to be there. He empathizes with me, but does not try to explain things away, You are AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!


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