Thursday, June 27, 2013

Paula Deen: What She Did Wrong

I’d link to a pic about Ms. Deen, but at this point just can't look at her anymore. 

Check out  Carlo Allegri / AssociatedPress / January 17, 2012 in the LA Times Daily Dish.

Ms. Deen used to host a beloved cooking show. Now perhaps she's back to the restaurant, among friends, maybe hostessing. What happened there?

In case you’re unfamiliar, harassment/discrimination suits would tag any one of six protected classes:

 race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. This according to Title VII of the 1964 United States Civil Rights Act  [U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)]

Paula's status as owner of the restaurant makes her culpable, possibly, of three of the five:

(1) pornography: showing pornography or links to it in the workplace when others are offended by it constitutes unwelcome sexual conduct,

(2) racism, and 

(3) anti-Semitism -- a national-origin ping.

We have a new interpretation of that law, as of June 25, 2013, vis-a-vis retaliation and the "but for" clause of tort law. Not being a lawyer, I can't tell you if it will help Ms. Deen, but it is fascinating reading. The short version is a little less wordy, lacks the individual justice opinions. 

 But quickly, employers are not to discriminate against the protected classes. Amendments to the Civil Rights Act since added age, veteran status, pregnancy, and disability, maybe others. Sexual orientation is subsumed under "sex, " tested originally when Joseph Oncale quit his job on an oil rig because he couldn't stand harassment from his crew, men threatening daily to rape him. The Supreme Court ruled it a form of harassment based upon sex.

The story about Ms. Deen caught me because as a therapist, I know that cultural discrimination and sexual harassment, certainly all of the hate "isms" hurt people.  There is an entire industry, thankfully, of designer workshops to stop relationship violence. Some workshop professionals load them heavily with empathy training. The goal is to teach it, what it feels like to be on the receiving end of harassment, abuse. That's the objective. 

Crossing the line isn't always conscious. Paula Deen will say as much. A hostile environment isn't usually recognized as hostile. Harassment often makes other people laugh, ironically, obsessed with inclusion they are afraid to speak up, join instead. This is the group think we've discussed on this blog before.

Worse, many still find jokes about the isms funny. Oy vey.

Every workplace, every public figure, everyone over the age of three, really, should have empathy training. We therapists would have less work to do, but that's good.

So thank you, Ms. Deen, for bringing this world-wide attention.

We will hear that Paula loves black people. And Jews, too.

Jackie Mason, a famous Jewish comedian (I went to see him live, expected to laugh but couldn't), is caught on tape in 2009, calling newly elected Barack Obama a shvartze.

If you Google the word shvartze you’ll find it means black in Yiddish, a derogatory expression, one our grandparents, if they immigrated in the twenties, might have used. The children of those immigrants, now in their sixties, like Paula Deen, used the word, too, people like my parents who knew it was derogatory.
 The schvartes are going to riot downtown because that man assassinated Martin Luther King.
And people did riot. People broke into businesses, expressed their rage, tired of oppression, low wages, discrimination. 

My generation doesn't use it, never did. But people like my parents, who had been oppressed in Europe, who worked hard for what the owned (easier being white, no question) did not particularly admire this behavior, the destruction of property, theft, retaliation. The riots surely reinforced their fears of people who were different from themselves. Jews of that generation, fresh from the Holocaust, feared everyone, really. That experience in Germany, their experience historically with outsiders, tended to be negative, replete with collective memories of the rapes and exterminations of entire villages, courtesy of the Nazi's, but also Cossack pogroms, and the Crusaders, more rape and murder in the name of holy something.  Let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition. Good times.

So yes, a fear of others surely is laced into their DNA, and let’s not excuse it, but there were no workshops desensitizing the old Jews in the sixties. They needed empathy, and as whites, didn't get it.

But what about Paula Deen?  Her case smacks of wanna’ be White Supremacy, of all things! Although she is sorry, has expressed her remorse sincerely, and we believe her, maybe, she seems a paragon of racist southern white, complete with drawl and sweet tea. And appearances mean something in this world. She will have a hard time bouncing back. Martha Stewart could do it, Tiger Woods, too. But Paula Deen may not. Why?

Because discrimination is different than white collar crime and sex addiction. Racism is different. The mere suggestion of a plantation party with black slaves as wait-staff should have made her cringe. An invitation like this should make all of us cringe:

Come to our DJANGO UNCHAINED Ball!  
Where: Anywhere, but it will feel like the Deep South
Why: Because we love that movie, Django, it brings us back to the way things used to be.
Your Hostess: Not sure, but Paula Deen, America Cooks Deep South, is catering!
What to wear: Big hair, heavy make-up, beautiful gowns, gloves, tails
How to speak: Practice that Southern drawl
Meeting you at the door:  Black slaves in their very best. You’ll finally get that respect, the Suh and Ma’am you deserve!
Not funny, right? The Washington Post:

She’s lost her show, her sponsors, and honestly, many of us are very tired of looking at her face. Gazing at us in each photograph we see a person lacking empathy, clueless as to how it might feel to have dark skin, forced to serve white people.*

Picture the ball:  A sea of white faces, dotted only with black ones dressed in black and white serving the white faces their dainty hors d'oeuvres on those little round trays. 

Oh, Paula! How could you even think like this?! Get a workshop.  Don't put it off. You need the intensive version, we're thinking.


*This reminds me of why people choose other service jobs (for the money), like waiting tables at Hooters. The women who wear skimpy clothing to serve men in restaurants, bars, do it to get paid. But they don't always like it.


Mound Builder said...

My family moved to the south when I was young, from a mid-western state. I've lived in the south most of my life but in some essential way, have never been "southern" a fact that has been driven home to me repeatedly in a number of ways throughout my life.

As a child, I was appalled by the reactions of southern friends to the assassination of MLK Jr.and I have made an effort, in a variety of ways, throughout my life in the south, to understand what it's like to be African American, what it's like to be "other". I've done my best to live by an inclusive code, to accept and understand personally and professionally those people who've been historically discriminated against.

What has been weird to me is the people I know, who are southern, and who do not share racist views, and their defense of Paula Deen. The defense seems to be along the lines of "she's a product of her times, can't help what she grew up with, what she was taught." No, that's not good enough, as a defense or an explanation. There is no reasonable justification. It is possible for people to amend their views, to learn about the attitudes they incorporated without thought because they learned them so long. It is possible to override those things with increased awareness.

I think many southerners, maybe many people all over this country, underestimate the disadvantage, the lack of access to all kinds of things, just because of skin color. Those of us who are white have privilege we often can't even see as being privilege, so accustomed we are to the way things have been. And in the south, the way things were, tradition, often seems to rule the day.

Grace-WorkinProgress said...

We all live in our own sort of bubble thinking that what we believe is right. It is just our view and we assume everyone agrees. has a talk "being wrong" that says it all.

Syd said...

I don't see any excuse for her comment or her fantasy of having slaves at a wedding reception. I have lived in the South all my life and have not once used the N word. Racism is still alive down here. It is covered up but deeply ingrained. There are even places in this city where women aren't allowed to be members or even allowed to be in the room. The old South is still very much alive. Ms. Deen has made that clear once again.