Saturday, June 29, 2013

How do you tell a wedding from a war?

It's not easy.  Paula Deen would cater either one.

Ridiculously enough, as a southerner I get to Speak on the issue though my first point is gonna be that racism is a deep, ingrown, certainly nation-wide (not dealing with other nations at this point) thing, not about blacks but also middle Easterners, Latinos, name it.

Most talk about Deen is about her admitting use of N-- in the past and defenders are unfortunately right when they say that there are very few southerners past age 60 who haven't.  As I'm months from 60, I can report that the only time I remember using it was at about age 7 and I was thoroughly corrected, and don't remember trying again.  The lesson resonated in my mind at even hearing the word N-- afterward.

The rage at Deen has gone out of proportion, but it's explicable.  IF you understand what's behind it and I think I do.

The spoken rule is never, ever ever say N--.  Behind it I think there's an unspoken rule based on what I said above : racism so permeates our evolution, society and upbringing that no one expects you to foster no racism at all.  But what you are expected to do is never ever reveal it.  It's like pooping.  Everyone does, and that's blameless.  Only revealing it publicly is unforgivable.

And the reason is that revealing it exposes precisely that tolerance for racist feeling that granted you permission to keep on feeling OK about it if you just shut up.  We all think it but your loose lip reveals not only your racism but our own, the basic tolerance under the veneer.  If the veneer cracks on your watch, you will be crushed like a bug to distance the rest of us from it.

But then there's the wedding.  The slave-era theme wedding she was going to arrange.

Seems to me that this is much more crassly stupid.

And I'm not sure she has the gray cells to grasp that.  She must -- how could it be otherwise? -- see it as the same as Civil War reneactments, or the antebellum themed restaurant that gave her the idea.

Slavery isn't cute or nostalgic.  But war isn't either, it's horrible and bloody and nobody's crushing the careers of people who do Civil War games, and nobody's making much noise about that restaurant.  So what's the difference?

She doesn't see one, but it's clear to me.  ONE, the war games are not something anyone does unwillingly.  No one IS the role he or she plays.  Best friends might take roles as Union for one and Confederate for the other.  War can embody other values, valor, self-sacrifice for a cause.  {shudder} but if that's how someone sees it, shrug, Do your thing.

Yes, the wait staff at the restaurant, or at the hopefully never-happened wedding reception are not really slaves, the roles they play, either.  But their role is to help romanticize it, and there is no there there.

The restaurant is a crassness notch worse than reenactment games, but similar, in that everyone there was hired to play a role and took the job.  Deen's employees, on the other hand, were not hired orginally to play happy cute slaves or pretend slavery was endearing, and asking them to take the role for somebody's sacramental occasion.....

A wedding is a lot more personal than a restaurant.  It reflects the values of the families.  This seems nastier to me than going to a more impersonal restaurant and playacting the life of a rich white slaveowner.  Which is pretty nasty itself, but within the realm of  Hey, people can do what they want.

I don't get why this wedding thing isn't the Big Issue, but it needs unpacking of its analogies, and it takes more than sound bytes to cover it, so maybe that explains it.

So.  Deen screwed up and yes, cutesy racism is a big deal, but crucifying her not only does not solve the problem, it buries it with a symbolic effort.