It has been instructive watching the various reactions to the Paula Deen tragicomedy.
On one hand are the folks–including a number of “known liberals”– who see the Food Network’s decision not to renew her show as an excess of “political correctness.” Others, of course, have been far more judgmental.
Most people have reacted without bothering to go beyond the superficial. Had Deen only admitted to using the “N” word a couple of times in the past, it might be legitimate to find the response disproportionate. However, the admission came in the context of a number of other behaviors; the lawsuit in which she gave the deposition alleges long-standing workplace bigotry, including requiring black and white workers in one of her restaurants to use separate restrooms. A story in the New York Times quotes Deen herself about taping a TV show in which she was going to make a hamburger she called a “Sambo” sandwich, but was overruled by the producer. She was also quoted justifying other behaviors by “explaining” that “most jokes” are about Jews, black and gays. (If the lawsuit allegations are accurate, all of these groups were objects of her workplace behaviors.)
Some people who defend Deen are simply unaware of this backstory. But for others, that defense clearly has a personal element. Many of the comments on Facebook and emails sent to Food Network display the very ugly and persistent underside of our multi-cultural society.
We have a very long way to go when it comes to race. And the election of an African-American President has just exacerbated that very jagged social wound.