Monday, June 24, 2013

Moral Panic

“Someone has said that it requires less mental effort to condemn than to think.” 
Emma Goldman

Once again the American public is being treated to a festival of gibbering and arm-waving over the statements of a semi-public figure. Charges of bigotry are flying like arrows in a 1950's cowboys-and Indians movie. Their target this time is Paula Deen, the chunky, (formerly) smiling restaurateur and celebrity chef. Sued by a disgruntled white ex-employee for "discrimination"---of what sort, unspecified---she admitted in a deposition to having used the dreaded "N-word" on more than one occasion some years in the past.  The Food Network promptly cancelled her show, and would-be pundits across the political spectrum rushed to condemn her.

Interestingly, nobody asked if she'd used other racial, ethnic or religious slurs, for instance the "J-word" for Blacks, the "K- or S-word" for Jews, the other "S-word" or the "W-word" for Mexicans, the "G-word" for Koreans or Vietnamese, and so forth. Using those might mean that she was in fact an all-purpose bigot.* She and others claim in her defense that that the word in question was commonly used in less enlightened days, especially (but I promise, not exclusively) in the South. While admittedly in bad taste, they say, its historical use alone should not blacken anyone's reputation.

Let's get serious here. The public condemnations of Deen's private conversation aren't about bigotry in general or this case in particular. They're about either political or psychological advantage. Race pimps like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton speak out against her; they pretend to bravely defy bigotry, as if a moderately wealthy old white woman was a legion of hooded Klan bullies. Two fourth-string Atlanta radio hosts inveighed against her, one opening his show talking about her "fat food" and her diabetes. He seems to be enjoying schadenfreude, taking pleasure from someone else's misfortune.  Perhaps he doesn't like her cooking style, and in his sophomoric arrogance believes nobody else should, either. The other piously proclaimed that the "N-word" should be forever expunged from our vocabularies, wrapping himself in a comfy cloak of self-righteousness and, just maybe, higher ratings. Perhaps he believes that Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn should be burned or Bowdlerized. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's house cartoonist drew a crowd of costumed Klansmen outside her restaurant, once again illustrating the intolerance and prejudice of the "liberal." 

If any of these frauds and fools really cared about fighting bigotry, they'd simply shut up. They'd let a court decide if Deen and her relatives actually discriminated against anyone or if the charges simply represented the rancor of a disaffected employee. They'd realize that the surest way to get someone to do or think something they shouldn't is to tell them they must not do it. ** But living your own life well and being thereby an example to others isn't nearly as much fun as picking on an old woman, is it?

* Apparently, I missed the fact that Deen had told ethnic/racial jokes as well. According to my source, these included redneck jokes, so it's hard to take them as evidence of racial bigotry.

Still, fair is fair, and I had to correct myself. The rest of what I said above stands as written.

**Reread the second paragraph and don't think about the meaning of the various "initial-words," for instance. Now, don't use any of them. Ever.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, I missed the front end of this story as I was out of reach most of last week. So when I read this morning, just sat and shook my head. All the uproar signifying nothing in the long run. So many more things in our our world to think and speak about.


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