“We’re mad at the Clearmans.”
First thing said as my great Aunt Dottany opened the door to my grandmother’s house. It was the 1950s and the drive from Tampa, Florida, to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, longer than now.
No hugs. No kisses. Just that the Foster girls were mad at their cousins. My great aunt’s response? “Yes, we are.”
Allegiances run deep.
And so I am mad at Paula Deen. Mad at her excuses. Mad at peers on Facebook that say her comments “aren’t really that bad,” “she grew up in the South,” “even black people use that word.”
I recognize that I am not black. I am a middle class, nearly middle-aged white woman. I grew up in a suburb in a coastal southern town. My first boyfriend had blue eyes and blonde hair and listened to Megadeath. My family were regulars at the large Baptist church on the beach.
Every day I am reminded that I am not a woman of color.
And every day I am reminded that my heart is.
It walks forever outside of my body is the beautiful creation that is my daughter, born of me and a black father. In the eyes of the law, she is black; in the eyes of the world, she is “something.” It is a question that has been posed more than a thousand times since she was born. “Is she Mexican? Hispanic?” “Her dad must have a great tan!” “She’s mixed, isn’t she?” This last one is usually whispered.
I taught her early. Always be proud and respond honestly. “I’m half black and half white.” Or “I’m mixed race.” There is no shame in any of her heritage. When she was younger, she had a move she did with her answer, “I’m mixed like a smoothie!” *hip shake* *shoulder shake*
But having to explain to her, at 4 years old, why she was the only one in an entire class not invited to a birthday party.
Having to explain that “n@gger” doesn’t mean ugly or black. Watching her 5 year old face when Barack Obama became president. “He is mixed like me!”
Listening to my former boss use the phrase “blue gum” in 2011 and not understand why I was outraged.
Having a family member tell me that “It is [my] own fault” that we experience racism because I decided to have a baby with a black man.
Those are why I’m mad at Paula Deen. I don’t know her, likely I never will. And I don’t know if what remorse she has displayed is genuine. But I do know, she didn’t readily admit (to any public knowledge) to this series of utter shameful moments when she cashed her Food network checks. And I have to wonder without being found out, would she ever have had a mea culpa?
To those who have said we’ve all made mistakes, yes we have!
But did she need think of all those people she was hurting by having a plantation wedding? Using racial slurs? A “sambo” burger?
To those who said she grew up in the Deep South in an era where “the N word” was used frequently. So did my grandmother. She used the word until the day my daughter was born. She told me once that loving my child suddenly made it very real to her, that every time she heard the word after that she thought of my baby’s face and how 70, 60, 50 years ago my child would have been treated. She forbade others from using it in her presence. She was nearly 80 and in Mississippi. Her change was genuine.
But I’m angrier at all of us! Why aren’t we all outraged, incensed? Why is it still acceptable to use racial slurs? Why is it acceptable to glorify the Civil War-era? Why don’t people see how these things can be offensive?
And why should I be told that I’m “sensitive because [baby girl] is mixed?”
I’m sensitive because it is wrong. It hits home because I have a mixed race child, because I see it almost daily. It is my prayer that one day I won’t.
But until then we’re mad at Paula Deen.