I spend my days in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn working with young African American men who are building a future for themselves. I hear the n-word hundreds of times a day -- it peppers nearly every conversation of more than ten syllables.
As awful as the use of that word can be in the wrong hands, I must admit I find it maddening to watch the theatre surrounding the 'execution' of Paula Deen -- a TV chef -- for admitting that, at some point in her past, she used the n-word. She is being banished from 'proper society' because the 'good people' -- those who congratulate themselves on being 'post-race'- find her very presence, abhorrent.
All the 'good people' can sleep better knowing that one of the last hold outs of racial hatred is 'dead.'
What angers me about all this hyperventilating about the n-word and the phony reactions of so many 'good people' who want to punish her is that it is simply an exercise in wishful thinking and conscience soothing.
Paula Deen is an easy target. Temporarily destroying her career is a soothing balm for a national soul tortured by what to do about the current scourge of racism and inequality that is not a remnant of the past but a policy of the present.
On my block in Brooklyn, as I endlessly listen to the n-word bantered about, I can glance over at a local grade school where less than half the African American children read at grade level. With little trouble, I can also spot two police officers on the beat who are part of a force that wages an aggressively disrespectful war on young men of color - stopping, frisking and humiliating them with obscene frequency. And with little effort, I can spy any number of street corners where drug lords offer the most available entry level jobs to the immoral numbers of unemployed, young people of color.
And so what makes me angry is knowing how many 'good people' want to go to sleep believing that everything in the world of 'race' is ok -- as long as people like Paula Deen are fired for using the n-word. But the troubling truth is that the eradication of the n-word is not the magic bullet, and Paula Deen is not the enemy. As a matter of fact, she doesn't even matter. What matters is the systematic and cruel sets of conditions we 'good people' continue to allow to exist that willfully marginalize whole segments of the black community for life.
For some reason, we just can't sleep well knowing Paula Deen is cooking, but, damn it, we seem to rest just fine as another generation of young people of color is left behind. God, we should really be angry at that.