If you were at your computer at all last week, you probably heard the news: Paula Deen, formerly a beloved celebrity chef, admitted to using the "N" word. And, rightfully, it is ruining her career.
Right now, the damage done to Deen seems irreparable. Her publisher, Ballantine (an imprint of Random House), cancelled a five-book deal with her, including an upcoming cookbook that had soared to No. 1 on both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com in advance sales. Additionally, multiple companies have cut ties with Deen, including The Food Network, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, QVC, J.C. Penny, Sears, and Walgreens. Overnight, the self-proclaimed "queen of butter" has lost her influence, many of her corporate partnerships, and her family-friendly reputation.
Now, step back from Deen for a moment. Have you heard the other news? Alec Baldwin, a still-beloved actor, tweeted homophobic slurs. And the effect on his career and reputation is, so far, absolutely nothing.
If you haven't read the tweets, here's what happened: Baldwin, in a heated online argument with British reporter George Stark (over whether or not Baldwin's wife tweeted during a funeral), lashed out on Twitter. Baldwin wrote, "I'm gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I'm gonna fuck...you...up." A minute later, he added, "I'd put my foot up your fucking ass, George Stark, but I'm sure you'd dig it too much." At first, Baldwin denied -- and then deleted -- his tweets. He has since apologized, asserting that he never meant to be homophobic.
Baldwin, an actor best known for his role in NBC's 30 Rock, and for his endorsement deal with Capital One, has not yet suffered any consequences for his violent, homophobic language. His endorsement deal remains intact. Media attention has been minimal, especially compared with Deen's. Unbelievably, Baldwin seems so far to have emerged from the incident largely unscathed.
There is something very wrong with this picture. Deen and Baldwin both used offensive language and demeaned whole populations of people. Why is there a vast disparity between how the public and businesses reacted? Why did Baldwin get off the hook while Deen is fighting to hang on to any semblance of dignity?
Last week, at my summer internship at the media company Condé Nast, I attended an informational lecture for interns. During the session, a woman from human resources cautioned us with an aphorism: It takes 20 years to build a positive reputation -- and five minutes to shatter it.
While I agree, I realize now that the issue is more nuanced: Different people are afforded different privileges when it comes to reputation. What gave Baldwin the advantage in this case? Is it the fact that he's male? Is it the fact that he's a prominent actor and corporate spokesman, while Deen seemed more expendable? None of it matters. In no case should the "N" word carry more weight than violent, homophobic language. Both are inexcusable.
Further, it is not just Deen and Baldwin who are at fault here. Blame also falls on the companies that are still allied with the two stars. So far, Capital One has refrained from commenting on Baldwin's offenses. This makes the company an active part of the problem. By letting Baldwin get away with homophobia, Capital One enables -- and even perpetuates -- a culture of discrimination. Bottom line: This is detrimental to anyone fighting for equal human rights.
So my question is this: What if Paula Deen had called someone a fag? Would she still have lost everything? My guess is no. And, even in 2013, when there is so much to celebrate in the vein of LGBT rights, these episodes show that it's still possible to get away with homophobia. And that's something to get angry about.
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