Butter lovin', down-home cookin' chef, Paula Deen, has been thrown out on her frying pan by The Food Network, and as other companies continue to line up to sever their roasting ties with Her Royal Fryness, she has been appearing on national television to spout tearful mea culpas and beg for forgiveness. Her mistake? Not having 2013 sensibilities back in 1960.
Ms. Deen, in answering questions as part of a legal deposition involving a current lawsuit, admitted that she had, in the past, used the N-word, but that it had been a "very long time" since she had done so and that she doesn't condone racism in any form.
Now, I'm not in any way excusing racism (we are all children of God and should treat each other as such. The end.), but let's be reasonable here. Paula Deen grew up in the South in the 1950's and 60's. As much as we like to hope that our grandparents and great-grandparents lived some sort of sugar-coated existence in which they never gave in to racist thought or speech, those were different times. She was growing up when schools were segregated and drinking fountains were separate, for heaven's sake. Is it really fair to expect that she would have made it out of grade school never having uttered a single racist word?
I mean, I can honestly say that I have never called anyone the N-word, but I grew up in the Mountain West in the 1980's. I mostly stuck to calling people Stupid Head and Booger Face until my dad laid down the law that my brothers and I couldn't call anyone a name that wasn't found in the scriptures and we resorted to calling each other "Moron" and "Nimrod" instead. (We were soooo clever).
I simply do not understand why we continually insist on wearing modern eyeglasses to judge past generations. Is it a terrible thing to spout racist epithets? Absolutely. But should someone who used the word "nigger" in 1965 in segregated Georgia be judged by the same standard as they would be today? Absolutely not.
Should we judge George Washington to be a horrible person because he owned slaves at a time when it was a common and expected practice? Should we judge the accomplishments of Christopher Columbus to have been unlaudable because he enslaved and brought disease to Native Americans at a time when other cultures were thought to be "savages"? We are fools if we expect those who lacked the knowledge and understanding we have now to have lived their lives as we do.
We will all, at some point, do something we are not proud of. Let's learn from our mistakes and change the things we need to change instead of declaring anyone who has ever made a mistake to be past redemption. Part of learning from the past is moving forward with greater wisdom and compassion.
In the case of Paula Deen, let's put down our stones and have some.