Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Words N' Words

There’s been a lot going on, in the last couple of weeks, regarding language.  In particular, regarding the way people talk about each other.

The biggest fuss has been about Paula Deen, who while in a deposition about a workplace harassment suit, admitted she used to use some terminology that has basically been forbidden in the last decade or so.  There were also allegations about some crass, hateful descriptions of a party she was supposed to be planning.  Deen has since been dropped by her host, the Food Network, and her businesses are in shambles.

Meanwhile, there has been a similar controversy on the 15th season of CBS’s Big Brother, which started last month.  Big Brother is a reality show in which a bunch of “regular people” (who are more often model and actor wannabees), live for 3 months in a house on a Hollywood back lot, under 24 hour camera surveillance.  They are filmed at all times and the producers cut together three broadcast shows per week.  The key part is that people can subscribe to Internet feeds to watch the real-time activity take place.

During the first week of the Internet feeds, a number of cast members launched into ugly, racist commentary regarding their gay, Asian and African-American housemates, when they weren't around.  There was also a shocking degree of particularly vicious misogyny.  Normally, “we the people” are not privy to this stuff, but the live feeds are the game changer.  Feed-watchers were immediately up in arms over this, and in a rare show of force, actually got some play in the mainstream press.

There have been similar isolated incidents in past seasons, which were never seen on TV, nor written about in anything other than Reality TV-related media.  Maybe it was because it took place in the wake of the Paula Deen scandal, or maybe it was because the language was so over-the-top hateful, but the negative PR brought to bear was enough that not only did CBS air some of the comments on Sunday’s episode, and two of the worst offenders have been fired from their regular jobs.  A third had his employer issue a release stating that he did not speak for the company.  (Not that the house-guests know about that yet… they are completely cut off from the outside world until they’re evicted from the game and sent home.)

Because I haven’t yet met a media fire I didn't want to pour gasoline on, I figured I’d weigh in on this shitstorm.

I see a couple of different issues going on here, which you can basically divide into “past” and “present.”  For example with Paula Deen, the key element to me is “what is she doing and saying now?”  If she’s still talking a bunch of Jim Crow southern smack, then good riddance.  One’s upbringing doesn't supersede one’s ability to grow, learn and adapt.

And with the Big Brother cast, it’s pretty much an open and shut case.  The camera is on and it’s got them dead to rights, spewing all kinds of hateful, stereotype-ridden bullshit.  You have to wonder if they've ever actually SEEN the show they’re on before, and realize that the cameras are on and recording every second of their time in the house.

The scary part is that maybe they DO know their racism is being recorded, but don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary.  In their insulated lives, maybe that’s how everyone talks, once they take a peek over their shoulder.

Full Disclosure time: I've been a Big Brother fan since the first season.  My rooting strategy is the same as with women’s tennis… I root for the cute ones.  But when this season started, my first reaction after the premier episode was that this cast was the most unlikable cast I’d ever seen.  Everyone seemed to be so full of themselves.

I have some co-workers with whom I always discuss the prior night’s episode and I shocked them all.  They were sure I was going to be rooting for Aaryn, right off the bat.  But I told them she seemed like a spoiled, entitled, little princess, and that’s a quality I despise.
Aaryn, from Big Brother 15, who said of her Korean housemate, “Shut up. Go make some fuckin’ rice.”
So sure, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, but my perception was spot on.  She is Ground Zero for hate speech in that house.

Yes, I’m still watching the show, but I’m rooting for the idiots to get voted out.  And do they not realize that the host of the show is of Korean descent?  Just wait until these dipshits leave the show and have to get interviewed by Julie freakin’ Chen!  
"Yeah, I got a bowl of rice for your dumb ass…”
The only thing better would be to let Oprah do it.

The Other Issue-The Past
Why is it that whenever you read about the Paula Deen story, the articles focus on how she was fired for using the N-word in the past.  Either it’s just schlocky, superficial journalism, or there’s something seriously wrong going on.  Since when are we persecuted for something we may have said 20 years ago?

Like I said, her issues should come completely from what she’s done lately… say, in the last 10 or 15 years.  It’s not like it’s a murder case, with no statute of limitations.  Everyone has the right to smarten the hell up.  I’d sure as shit hate to be judged by some of the shit I said when I was young.

I can stand before you now and tell you with absolute certainty, I've used the N-word in the past.  The loooong past.  Likewise, I can also tell you with absolute certainty that I was a fucking pinhead… an insulated, isolated numbnut.  And I didn't even live in the south.

I didn't grow up around many minorities.  I think I knew one black kind when I lived in Columbus; we were friends, but not especially close.  There were no black kids that went to my high school, although there were a smattering of Latino kids.  I basically learned everything I knew about black culture from Richard Pryor albums.

So yeah, when hanging out with my friends, I’d occasionally use some terminology that makes me cringe today.  I wasn't raised in a racist household, so I knew it wasn't right.  I didn't mean any harm; I just didn't really think much about it.  I was a teenager, and was predisposed to find humor in the taboo.  Anything for a joke, I’d say.

Hell, I even had a rebel flag hanging up in The Barn.  My dad brought it back for me from the Atlanta airport, because I was really into Southern Rock.  That’s all it meant to me then… Charlie Daniels and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Like I said, I was a pinhead.

Once I left our little town and got out into the world, everything changed.  I began interacting with real, live African-Americans, who were not at all the cartoon characters we used to joke about.  And I became very, very embarrassed about my past indiscretions.  The rebel flag was deep-sixed, and my vocabulary list was shortened.

When I hear that kind of trash being spoken today, I immediately think of the people I work with.  I think of the two older African-American ladies that sit beside me, whom I just adore.  I think of my former “work wife,” who was biracial.  I think of some of the young African-American dudes I worked so hard with in my record stores.  It makes me angry that people would talk that way about my friends and coworkers.

I don’t think of this as being “politically correct.”  I hate that term.  I prefer to think of it as being considerate of others, and not so judgmental.  I consider it a matter of leaving childhood ignorance behind. 

If there’s one thing I've learned over the years, it’s that assholes come in all colors.  Some are white, some are black, some are in between.  There’s no sense in having a negative attitude about someone, just because that looks similar has done asshole-ish things.

So if Paula Deen was dropped because of recent indiscretions, she should have known better, ESPECIALLY as someone in the media, who makes her living from the good will of the public.  But if she was canned for her ancient southern upbringing, then I guess I’d better line up behind her.

My only consolation will be the many millions of people in line right behind me.

10 comments:

  1. You are absolutely, if not politically, correct (never quite figured out what that means). As Oprah says, "When you know better, you do better."
    Paula's nutritional obscenities far outweigh her racial gaffs. Her dietary disasters deserve to be canned and I don't mean preserved.

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  2. I am totally behind you on this one!!

    Hugs!

    Valerie

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  3. You know, when I see a photo of someone so obviously gorgeous like that on a show like Big Brother, one must assume entitled princess. I find that even though she may be pretty on the outside, she's probably gross on the inside and wouldn't you know it? GROSS.

    Even just thinking of the N word in my head makes me feel uncomfortable. I could never say it out loud. Ever. When my sister's grandma would say "Negro" I would get all squirmy.

    I think the only derogatory phrase I've ever used is "Dego" and that's only when the old ladies refer to themselves as an old dego.

    Gosh I feel uncomfortable all of a sudden.

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    1. I don't have a problem with joking around with people that are in on the joke... In fact, that's standard routine for guys. The kind of hostility on display on Big Brother is an entirely different thing.

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  4. I agree and I can add nothing to what you said about Paula.

    Growing up in small town that was about 98 percent white, I was somewhat prejudiced. I shudder/am embarrassed to think of how I did not want to share a hotel room with a black girl when I was a young teen. It was just too "different" for me, I guess (though I am fairly certain my parents share some or most of that blame).

    Years later, I tend not to think twice about race, but I did not get that way overnight. But what is even more important to me is that my kid is growing up in a community where there are plenty of minorities (in fact, in our neighborhood, we are IN the minority). For my kid, it is just normal; one of her best friend/a neighbor just happens to be black, but I don't think she ever gave it a second thought. In fact, I have had to tell her that some people are prejudiced and treat others differently. She had no clue about that or slavery. I almost hated to bring it up!

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    1. Likewise, it always makes me happy when I've seen my nephews playing with kids from other races, as if its no big deal at all. Kids aren't born racist; they have to be made that way.

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  5. I grew up surrounded by that word, courtesy of where I live. I've since put a gag order on all grandparents using that word around our daughter and it did not go over well (but still, I won).

    I agree with you 100%. If Paula said something 20 years ago and hasn't since, probably realizing what a mistake it was, how can I fault her for that? We all say stupid things. Let's just hope she is past that now and using all her bad language on whoever made this big stink and ruined her career.

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    1. No one should be judged by shit they did 20 years ago. Everyone has the right to learn from their mistakes. But if she was still talking shit, she deserves what she got, for being that freakin' stupid.

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  6. And don't forget that Julie Chen is married to Les Moonves, CEO and President of CBS. (She knows all about job security.) Part of me thinks that you should be able to say whatever you want, as long as it doesn't get someone else fired or oppressed. But the other part of me knows that no one is racist once. It's part of you. There's no way that Paula Dean only used the n-word once. You know that at home, she uses it like a comma.

    White trash, please.

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    1. When Aaryn is evicted, it's going to be epic! Julie Chen is already leading her right to the guillotine, just with her in-game questions. She's throwing the jabs out there, and blondie is walking right into them.

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