I remember the first day I attended the University of Pennsylvania. Being then an 18-year old black male from an inner city public school from the South, this was my first time experiencing life on the East Coast. I was the only black guy in the lecture hall that day and it didn't bother me; I had already gotten use to hearing about the low percentages of blacks in Ivy League institutions. In other words, I knew what I was signing up for.
I sat in the middle of the lecture between two white peers and we started to become acquainted. The initial discussions became more about our academic interests and where we came from. And then, I began to get the more "interesting questions":
What was your SAT score?
What was your class rank?
I don't mean to be rude, but if you don't mind sharing your opinion... how much do you think affirmative action plays into college admissions here at Penn?
What became a small discussion that I initially thought would be a friendly introduction to new friends actually became a subtle way of trying to question my merit and acceptance into college. The other white and Asian peers in that lecture room did not get such a badgering of questions because I guess it was implied that they already belonged there.
Say whatever you like, but I received that interrogation because I was a black male in a college where people love to use affirmative action as a scapegoat for the actual hard work I did to make it in.
That experience ladies and gentleman is an example of a microaggression. That is what Paula Deen did to her employees and that is what many of us try to ignore within ourselves as being racially charged.
I have gotten annoyed with seeing much of the discussion of Ms. Deen's demise focus primarily on her admission of the N-Word during her deposition. Under the context in which she admitted using it was in the past and under debatable circumstances, I'm not fixated on that much. Let's face it, we all know that either we have used it or knew someone that did use it (whether meant to be offensive or not)... and within that context, none of us should really point the finger.
However, given the context of the other racially insensitive things said by Ms. Deen, that is where the real focus should actually be on. Paula Deen admitted to wanting to put on a wedding that would feature black male servers dressed as groomed plantation slaves that complimented the Confederate days of the South. Perhaps her thoughts were not intentionally showing a direct hatred for blacks as many people are trying hard to make it appear as such, but it was still disrespectful and needed to be addressed.
The conversation should not be fixated under the debate of whether or not Ms. Deen is a racist, but more in terms of the use of microagressions in this country. Microaggressions are demeaning or subtle insults against minorities that can be verbal, behavioral, or environmental but either intentional or unintentional. In my opinion, Paula Deen is guilty of being microaggressive, not a flat out racist.
The two white boys at my college that were interrogating me were being microaggressive. So was the Asian woman who automatically clutched her purse when she saw my friends and me crossing the street in broad daylight. So was singer Miley Cyrus when interpreting what "feels black" as an opportunity for her to wear gold chains and "twerk." And that school in Ohio who recently attempted to ban "afro-puffs and small twisted braids" was definitely being microaggressive.
Paula Deen deserves the flack she is receiving for being a businesswoman that was irresponsible for representing the brand of other major companies and failing to conduct herself in the upmost appropriate manner. At the end of the day, she was unprofessional and proved herself to be a liability for the respect of the many brands and industries she was paid to attract, not distract, people in consuming. Her own failure to check her microaggression at the door with employees who recognize such behavior in their lives everyday is what cost her reputation... not just simply admitting to using the N-word.
One of the major problems with our society is very apparent: we love to portray an issue as being black or white while also defining behavior as being such also. The media and many commentators on both sides of the issue have tried to make the N-word be the focal point because of their own blindness of discussing their own microagressions. What people has considered racist is the usage of the N-word and other such bold slurs because they know that such insults are very visible indicators. But with the attempted culture reshaping of such slurs in society, many people begin to ignore the other forms of racism that can be taking place when we don't even recognize it.
For those who want to make the argument that "black people use the N-word too so Ms. Deen shouldn't be fired"... please read the rest of that deposition and then learn to stop creating petty scapegoats for unacceptable behavior. I personally don't prefer the usage of the N-word by anyone and despite hip-hop's admission of it (along with other homophobic, misogynist, and taboo references) that will never be my excuse to find it relevant in my vernacular.
As elementary as this might sound but must be reiterated: racism is not just only under the scope of calling someone the N-word, a racial slur, or just publicly being an outlandish bigot. It can be that time you raised your nose up when you saw an interracial couple on a date or that time your friends hysterically mocked the accent of a foreigner. At a time when this country is becoming more diverse each and every day, it is more important that we understand what it means to actually be racially offensive and check ourselves when we notice we are.
The fall of Paula Deen's empire should stand as a primary example of how what you say can actually affect what you do.