Paula Deen is not in a “he who is without sin cast the first stone” moment. She is in a “forgive them for they know not what they do” moment.
It is unfortunate that she became the current lightening rod in this country’s conversation on racism. However, her actions and attitudes can inform a much more important event of this past week, the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act.
I believe that Mrs. Deen has been honestly contrite in her apologies—as honest as she can be, based on her deep-seated and unrepentant racism. “I is what I is and I’m not changin’,” she declared on an NBC Today interview, in her pronounced Southern drawl. She is like millions of others who believe that black people are inherently inferior or should accept whatever status and treatment they assign.
These are the people who have been set free by the court’s decision to nullify Voting Act requirements designed to prevent voter suppression. The ruling substantially eases the path for voting law changes in states that had been under federal supervision. Now, they can immediately implement changes in their election procedures without first obtaining clearance from the Justice Department. Nine states and portions of six others, primarily in the South and largely now under Republican control, are affected.
The majority opinion says that Section 4 of the Act is no longer valid because the formula used to identity such jurisdictions is based on decades-old voter-participation data. Many commentators, along with the court, declared that the discrimination and racism that precipitated this law are attitudes of a bygone generation. Then we encounter the “I’m not changin’” Mrs. Deen.
While there are more black people registered to vote and voting than there were 50 years ago, black Americans still face organized efforts to curtail the power of their votes. From gerrymandering districts to deny a geographically cohesive community of color a truly representative voice, to passing burdensome voter identification laws, or intimidating would-be voters by surrounding polling places with police officers who demand IDs and run warrant checks, it is clear that there are white people who have an use their power to manipulate and control people and communities of color.
If Paula Deen was at all sensitive to racism, she would have heard the concerns of the WHITE woman who reported the racist and demeaning language and attitudes used in the Paula Deen restaurant kitchen where she worked. She would have undertaken, not only a settlement with the plaintiff, but to ensure the problems alleged were remedied now and in the future. But what is most disturbing—and telling—was Paula Deen’s desire to enlist a cadre of Bookers (Google “Booker’s Place” http://www.nbcnews.com/video/dateline/48191345#48191345) to create an antebellum ambiance for a formal wedding reception. To think that is not racist and offensive— is pitiable and punishable.
Be assured, Mr. Majority Opinion Justices: there are millions who, like Deen, still believe there is a reduced “place” in society for black people and that they are best equipped to determine that place. Giving that group greater control over voting rights gives them a powerful tool for ongoing oppression.