Racism? Baloney!

26 Jun

Here’s the story:

Celeb chef Paul Deen, who is being sued for sexual and racial harassment by a former restaurant employee, has admitted to “using the ‘N word'” (http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/19/showbiz/paula-deen-racial-slur) in the past, which has cost her endorsement deals and her contract with the Food Network.

The story of Deen’s admission and the fallout from her disclosure are, in many ways, familiar. There’s the “but I’m a nice person” defense (read: so I couldn’t possibly be racist), and the pop culture defense, in two parts:

  • Historic: Deen’s use of the n-word has to be understood in the context of being “born 60 years ago when America’s South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today” (http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/19/showbiz/paula-deen-racial-slur). Of course, if you want the full context, Deen admits to using the n-word during 2005-2010, by which time culture had shifted.
  • Lighten up: While not copping to telling racial jokes, Deen rationalized that “’most jokes’ are about Jews, gay people, black people and ‘rednecks'” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/22/dining/paula-deen-is-a-no-show-on-today.html?_r=0). Thus, the logic goes, it’s harmless to tell jokes about minority and disenfranchised groups.

Then there’s the absurdity defense, as offered by Deen’s son Jamie, who claims, “[It’s] ridiculous – completely absurd – to think there is an environment of racism in our business, and it’s really disrespectful to the people that we work with. We have strong, educated men and women of character that have been with us for five, 10, 15, 20 years. To think they would allow themselves to be in this position is simply baloney. It’s ridiculous” (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20712032,00.html).

Ridiculous (times two), is it? For context, here’s a summary of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s report on complaints filed with its office in 2010:

[T]he Agency reported the filing of the highest number of discrimination charges in 2010 since the Agency’s founding in 1965.  The total number of charges filed with the EEOC in 2010 was 99,922,  a 7.1% increase over 2009.  For the second year in a row, retaliation claims were the most frequently cited form of EEOC discrimination charges (36,948, which is 7.9% more than 2009).  Notably, race (35,890, which is 6.9% more than 2009), sex (29,029, which is 3.9% more than 2009), national origin (11,304, which is 1.5% more than 2009), religion (3,790, which is 1.9% more than 2009), and disability (25,165, which is 17% more than 2009) discrimination claims also climbed to record highs (http://www.fclaw.com/newsletter/newsletter.cfm?id=1058).

These record highs in reported discrimination are indeed “notable,” especially given the normative resistance to speaking up about identity discrimination for fear of retribution (note that “retaliation” claims were the most common charge in 2009 and 2010).

Now, the EEOC offers many, inter-related reasons for the record high in discrimination complaints, including “increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force, employees’ greater awareness of their rights under the law” and easier access to the EEOC (http://www.dcemploymentlawupdate.com/2010/01/articles/discrimination-in-the-workplac/eeoc-yearend-statistics-show-record-levels-of-discrimination-charges/). And there’s also this perfectly reasonable explanation: discrimination is happening.

In other words, it is not at all “ridiculous” or “baloney” to “think there is an environment of racism” that persists and may even be on the rise in the business and public sectors of the US.

Yet people like Deen’s son continue to claim that charges of racism are ridiculous, improbable, outdated and even offensive to entertain. And that’s actually the most racist part of the whole Paula Deen scandal.

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