The Apologetics Begin

[Content Note: Racism.]

As Deeks mentioned In The News, the Food Network has fired Paula Deen—er, won't be renewing her contract, ahem—and may be losing her contracts with QVC and other retailers, too. Naturally, the apologetics for her rank racism have already begun. In Time, John McWhorter, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of What Language Is (and What It Isn't and What It Could Be), argues that the Food Network should give back her job, on the basis that she's a "white Southerner of a certain age" who "has been a normal person of her time and place."

Let me say plainly that I believe McWhorter is entitled to his opinion. He is a black man, and I am not in the business of telling black people how they should respond to racism directed at them.

But I do have a problem with this argument:
So yes, she just might pop out with the N-word in private in a heated moment. And yes, a certain part of her will see something vaguely nostalgic in the sight of black men as waiters. In this, she represents a transitional stage between the then and the now. Deen was already a twenty-something when the old racist order broke down; her world view had pretty much jelled. How could she have a perfectly egalitarian take on race growing up when and where she did?
And the reason I have a problem with this argument is because I don't see where we are meant to draw the line on where "white people can't help being racists because they were raised as racists" ends as a viable excuse.

I am 39 years old, raised in the very north of a northern state, and I was socialized as a racist.

Yes, I had the benefit of some things that Paula Deen did not. There were certainly more positive images of people of color in popular media when I was growing up, starting with my earliest television experiences on PBS, e.g. Sesame Street. Racial epithets were not used in my home. I may have grown up in a more integrated community than Paula Deen did: I had friends and classmates and neighbors who were not white. (Although none of my peers were black until I reached high school.)

But I heard the same racial epithets used in friends' homes. I heard the sneering about neighboring Gary, which has the highest percentage (85%) of black residents in a US city with a population of 100,000+. I consumed a metric fuckton of media that upheld my white privilege and communicated to me that black people are less than. A thing I hear, now, is that the part of town in which I live is getting "darker." And that's obviously supposed to be a bad thing.

The "old racist order" just got replaced with a "new racist order," in which I became fluent just like everyone else, of any race, in my generation.

In 20 years, when some white dipshit in my cohort uses a racial slur, will people still be defending it on the basis that zie is merely a product of hir environment? Probably—if we continue to allow that white people don't have some individual responsibility in not letting their "world view" calcify as hardened prejudice because stepping outside the boundaries of their privileged socialization is too much work.

Maybe it's time to expect more. Maybe it's time to set higher expectations, and challenge white people to live up to them. I don't think we need to achieve "perfect egalitarianism" in order to not use the n-word and romanticize plantations.

Otherwise, we'll always live in a world in which being socialized as a racist gives you a pass on expressing racism. Whoops.

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