More Paula Deen

[Content Note: Racism; sexism.]

A federal judge ruled yesterday that the plaintiff in the racial discrimination lawsuit against Paula Deen could not have been adversely affected by racism directed at people of color because she is white:
Lisa Jackson sued Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers, last year saying she suffered from sexual harassment and racially offensive talk and employment practices that were unfair to black workers during her five years as a manager of Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House. Deen is co-owner of the restaurant, which is primarily run by her brother.

But claims of race discrimination by Jackson, who is white, were gutted in the 20-page opinion by U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. The judge agreed with lawyers for Deen and Hiers that Jackson has no standing to sue her former employers for what she claims was poor treatment of black workers, regardless of her claims that she was offended and placed under additional stress.

Jackson, at best, "is an accidental victim of the alleged racial discrimination," Moore said in his ruling. "There are no allegations that defendant Hiers's racially offensive comments were either directed toward plaintiff or made with the intent to harass her."

The ruling lets stand Jackson's claims that Hiers sexually harassed her when she worked at the restaurant from 2005 to 2010. However, the judge said he was reserving the chance to rule on requests from Deen's lawyers to dismiss other claims in the lawsuit.

The judge added that to allow Jackson to seek legal recourse for discrimination directed toward other workers "would serve to conscript federal courts as human resource departments that are responsible for imposing and monitoring a federally created standard for harmony in the workplace."
Wow. Two thoughts:

1. This ruling contends that it's impossible for a white employer to create a hostile work environment for a white person via racism, which essentially implies that no white person could care enough about a person/people of color to feel unsafe and upset by a racist environment. Jackson has biracial nieces. Certainly some of Deen's white employees are partnered with and/or parents to POC. Certainly some of Deen's white employees care enough about their non-white coworkers that they don't want to listen to them being demeaned by their employer.

One of the worst places I ever worked was for a guy who was loudly misogynist, homophobic, and racist. It wasn't like I was just upset by the misogyny and immune to the homophobia and racism. All of it made me feel unsafe and angry, even though I was affected differently by the racism than I was by the misogyny. My male coworkers of color were affected differently by the racism than the misogyny, but it wasn't like they weren't also upset that I was being treated like shit because of my womanhood.

Decent people with empathy are going to be upset by discrimination, even if the magical fucking intent of that discrimination isn't to upset them.

2. This ruling also effectively disallows privileged people to bring discrimination cases on the basis of general harm, which puts the exclusive onus for challenging privilege on marginalized people, who are already, by the very nature of this type of discrimination, more professionally vulnerable.

There have been several occasions in my life recently where women of color had been harmed by white people in which, after seeking their consent, I stood up on their behalf to challenge the harm done to them. It was easier for me to do, because I wasn't the one directly hurt, and the people who did the harm were more likely to listen to me, because of my privilege.

It shouldn't be that way, but as long as there are people with privilege, those of us interested in dismantling those systems of privilege have to leverage our privilege on behalf of marginalized people. This ruling is aggressively hostile to allowing that to happen.

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