So Paula Deen used the N-Word

This debate is so tired. Who can and can’t use the n-word? Is it ever appropriate to use?  Why do some black folks get to use it, but white people can’t? And what if you’re Latino or Asian, can you get away with using it?

Paula Deen, the Savannah, GA food maven, is the latest celebrity to find herself in a pot of boiling hot water.

Call it foot in mouth disease.

In a deposition to gather evidence for a lawsuit filed by one of Deen’s  employees, Deen admitted using the N-word way back in the day.

I was 5 when someone first called me the N-word. I was among the first students to attend a Catholic school kindergarten in Winchester, KY. Even the nuns couldn’t protect us from the hate we experienced.

The word would be hurled at me again in my early 20s.  A young man in a truck decided he didn’t like the way I was crossing across a Stein Mart parking lot, so he fired the N-word in my direction. I smiled and kept on walking. My blood was boiling but I knew better than to get into an altercation in a parking lot.

Fast forward 30 years and I no longer feel a certain way about the word.   Books and dissertations have been written on it. Back in the 50s and 60s the N-word was often accompanied by racial violence. Even Jay Z and Oprah have sparred over it.  Jay believes that when blacks use the word its power is diminished. If you listen to Oprah the word should never be used by anyone, under any circumstances. There’s just too much baggage there.

Me, I don’t much care anymore. To be sure, words matter. But deeds matter more.

If people have a problem with Paula Deen using the N-word and treating African-American employees badly, perhaps they should consider boycotting her products and services.  That will surely get the Queen of Butter’s attention.

If she doesn’t have the good sense to protect the empire she’s spent years building, I really don’t care what she says.

16 thoughts on “So Paula Deen used the N-Word

  1. I think you’re dead right about Ms. Deen not acting very wisely in terms of protecting her business empire. I’m not a Paula Deen fan anyway so this only ices the cake (probably with cloyingly sweet buttercream icing) in my feelings about her.
    I have a pretty strong reaction to the n-word. You and I are the same age and I’m white but I grew up in the military where my dad was constantly trying to root out racism in his units. My father made it absolutely clear that the n-word was NEVER to be used by his troops or his children, training that stuck. I understand JayZ’s point, to a point. But I know I never feel comfortable hearing the word, whether it’s used in a rap or in a rant. And I’m cool with that.

    • This is a really interesting issue and she is getting hammered over it. The word evokes such strong reaction even today. That amazes me because we continue to give it power that it doesn’t deserve. Thanks for following the blog Patty!

      • Words do have power, whether or not we want them to. They’re supposed to evoke emotion. I remember Vaclav Havel one called it, “the word as an arrow.” That’s why we admire writers, excellent preachers or speakers, because they know how to craft stories, lectures, sermons, etc., so that the hearer feels something. Words should mean something whether they are kind, sweet, beautiful, or vile, nasty, painful.
        Ms. Deen admits using a word that I was taught all my life not to say. She used it in jokes. She used it to describe another person. She may not have thought about it when she used it but isn’t that part of the point? We teach our children to think before they speak because we want them to be kind, be gentle, be loving. Or we want them to be bold, be challenging, be strong.
        The n-word has that power for a generation of people. And I don’t know what the cutoff is. I know young blacks who don’t like any mention of it and others who use it to describe their friends. You say you aren’t bothered by the word as much as the deeds that flow from it. I certainly agree with that. But I can’t imagine a point in my life where I would feel comfortable with anyone using it. That’s just me. (Love this conversation, by the way. Good job, Angela. I knew you were up to it.)

  2. It’s so hard to articulate my stance on the use of the word because at different times in my life I’ve been on every side of the debate. As a kid my grandfather (a devout Muslim) had a strict rule against anyone using the word and even though we weren’t Muslim, my dad enforced the rule so the first time I ever said it out loud was in college. From there, the flood gates were opened. Coincidentally, college was the first time it had ever been directed towards me and like you, my blood boiled. A Jersey kid, now in Georgia was ill prepared to handle that situation, but I digress, lol.

    Currently, I feel the word shouldn’t be used by anyone but confess to allowing it to slip from my mouth from time to time and always in a negative manner. I can’t think of an instance I’ve ever used it to empower or positively express my feelings towards another person so I don’t subscribe to the “take away the power” idea. I chalk it up to being a hypocrite and try my best not to use it again….until the next time I use it.

    Needless to say, the cynic in me is never surprised when someone of another race (especially in a certain age group) is caught or exposed for using the word. That’s similar to someone age 60+ being accused of smoking or having smoked in their past. There was a time when it was acceptable but unfortunately like the saying goes “old habits are hard to break”.

  3. Hey Chris — these are great insights. We all have strong memories of the word and its usage, much of those experiences colored by how and where we were raised. I think you are dead on about Deen. She’s of that age group and from a part of the south where the word was used in daily conversation. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that it’s part of her vocabulary. It’s a part of a lot of folks’ vocabulary but they’d never admit to it!!! Be blessed. Good to hear from you!!

  4. I grew up in Savannah and Paula is a hometown hero. That doesn’t excuse her ignorant behavior. We all know in the south the more things change, the more they stay the same. Teach your kids a better way and hope for change and tolerance in future generations.

    • It really does come back to teaching our kids a better way. Children learn hate from their parents or other adults. They come here as clean slates. Thanks for writing Shawn. I didn’t realize you are from Savannah.

  5. Ok so she used a stupid word years ago and she is sorry. Ok shouldn’t that be the end of it. But now we here Food Network is firing her. Am I missing something have we really gotten to this point. The whole mess has become increasingly ridiculous. I am Jewish so why didn’t Jesse Jackson have to resign after his dumb comments. I just think we should move on its not that big a story there are many more things worth getting fired up about.

    • Wow, I didn’t realize she’d gotten dumped by the Food Network. That was a really quick reaction. I bet her fans will rally around her. We do have knee jerk reaction to these kinds of things when there are so many other important things happening in the world. I really don’t care who says what. We do have free speech. But as someone who has an empire to protect, she should have anticipated this kind of reaction. If everything this lawsuit alleges is true (and anyone can file a lawsuit with falsehoods in it) she really has an issue with how she treats her employees. That kind of behavior is inexcusable. This is 2013, not 1963.

  6. One more comment. Yes words have power but only if I as a person let them. I am of the belief I will give no one power over me so call me anything you like I don’t care. If I believed the words were true then I would give it validity. Otherwise the person saying the words is a fool. Do not let anyone have that kind of power over you. Laugh in their face.

  7. Well said Geoff! People only have that power when we allow it. That’s why I never get into a fight over a parking space or bad behavior in traffic. It’s just not that serious!!!

  8. My name is David and I’m s recovering N word user. I believed that it was ok to use that word amongst other black people but if one of my white friends used it there was s huge problem. I remember first hearing the word like it was yesterday. We had just moved to the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky in 1977. I was in my backyard with my new friend Keith (white). Having a great time when our new older neighbor told me to go bavk to Africa with the rest of the N’s. I froze but Keith began qouting Abraham Lincoln and the emancipation proclamation lol. All I remember was HURT AND Heartache. Over the yrars I began to use thst word with other blacks /African Americans to be cool and to fit in….. long story short as a white friend asked why I can say and he couldn’t, and giving hi. The standard answer og the late 80″s early 90’s..say it with me now” It’s a black thing you wouldn’t undetstand” I realize it was a cop out answer becsuse I realized and remember yhat day back in 1977 at the age of 11, that word is attended to hurt and belittle. And for JZ or snyone to say the more you say it will empower you or change the true meaning, not the dictionary interpretation is ignorant. It’s analogous to me taking a hammer to my foot and repeatingly hitting so I’ll get use to the pain. I’ll never get use to the pain I’ll just become numb and injured like many who use thr N word

    Peace,

    David

  9. Howdy just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The text in your article seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The layout look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon.
    Cheers

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