Friday, June 28, 2013

Paula Deen in the elevator

When I was in a public elevator yesterday with two Caucasian women, I overheard the following conversation:

Woman #1: "Can you believe what's going on with Paula Deen?"

Woman #2: "I know! I feel so horrible!"

Woman #1: "Right! I mean, who hasn't used the N-word in their life?"

Woman #2: "Exactly! It's awful how they're shaming her for this!"

I felt a little embarrassed to be listening to this conversation, partially because I realized that they were only saying it in my presence because I'm white so I *wink wink* get it.

My thoughts were:

I have never used that word or any kind of racial slur. Not only that, I've never even been in a situation where I've wanted to use a racial slur but decided against it. I've never had a conversation with a person who used that word. Is it really so common?

I care less that Deen used a word and much more that she mistreated minority workers, which it seems may be the case.

But I kept my mouth shut. My husband told me I should have said something, but honestly, I think it's hella obnoxious to interrupt a conversation to give my piece. Isn't it? I mean, what would have been the point? It's not like I was going to convince them of anything.


  1. It would have been the perfect situation to pipe up and say something, but it's true that it might not have been received well. Since I've done exactly what you did before, I can't fault you either.

    I was looking over a chart when a transporter was wheeling a patient back to their room. He was merrily talking about how global warming was a hoax, and then tried to make his point by stating that Mars and Venus were hotter than the Earth and yet they were unpopulated by humans. "They're also a lot closer to the sun," is what I wanted to pipe up with, but decided to keep my mouth shut. It probably wouldn't be considered professional, and I'm just a lowly medical student trying to avoid any trouble. Maybe when I'm an attending... (no, probably not even then.)

    I've never used a racial slur directed at someone or in reference to someone, although I'm sure that I've physically spoken some when discussing slurs themselves. Depending on what part of the country we're talking about it may not be surprising, though.

    1. I've heard people say some pretty dumb things in public and I don't think I've ever said anything in response.

    2. I think you mean Mercury and Venus :)

  2. It is all about how old you are. Are you younger than Paula Deen? Yes? You probably have never used the N word. My children have never even heard the word, and therefore will never use it. But when I was growing up, my father used the N word to describe all people of AA descent. When I was a child and teen, yes, I used the word. When I grew up and realized what a hurtful thing I was doing...I stopped. Paula Deen was raised in the time and place when that word was used and used a lot. She was completely honest. If you asked me if I have used the word, I would have to say yes. Do I use it or even think it today, NO. People need to get over it - America was different in those days when Paula was growing up ... the war against racism was still in its infancy.

    1. I agree with you in that she shouldn't be blamed for using a word years ago, when it was more "acceptable." But then there are stories like this:

      Paying minority workers with beer? Not okay.

    2. However if you surveyed college students, I'm sure plenty of them would be okay being paid in booze.

  3. Never used it or wanted to use it. Have definitely heard it used in hateful ways and it makes me super uncomfortable. I do not 'correct' people however, I also feel like it would be super obnoxious and just pointless. Am I going to convince someone to stop using hate speech? No, much more likely I am just going to get into an argument. Never argue with an idiot; they will drag you down to their level and beat you by experience.

    As someone who it white you really should have *wink wink* got it though.

  4. I'm white and from Georgia, so I've heard it over and over again. It's insanely common down here, even among people my age (30), though less so than amongst people who are older. I find it a vile, disgusting word and have never used it myself, but because I'm so used to hearing it, I tend not to say anything when people say it, although I do roll my eyes or do something else passive aggressive that's really obvious. I tend to be somewhat ashamed of myself afterwards, though, especially when people use it in a specifically derogatory way; there is a tendency for white southerners to think that they can say things like "my n***a" and it's ok because it's supposed to be some sort of endearment. That one is harder to fight people on bc they genuinely don't see the issue if you change the "er" to an "a". :-/ As for Paula Deen, I've always disliked her, but I can't hold her use of that word against her too much because of the age/location thing. However, I, like you, Fizzy, have read despicable things about how she treated her minority employees and THAT I cannot stand for.

  5. If you'd have said something, you'd have disrupted their "wink wink, we're white so we all agree" assumptions. That's potentially useful, though also difficult.

    Think of how many of us try to get males to disrupt the "wink wink" sexist, pro-rape stuff. We ask young men to speak up against rape among their peers.

    I guess I'm trying to say that white folks (I am one, too) are responsible for disrupting white racism. And yes, it's incredibly hard. And I don't know that I'd have been able to do it in that situation, either.

  6. I would have handled it like this;

    "Excuse me, could you push the button for (the next floor) for me?"
    After the button was pushed.
    "Thanks, that's my nigga."

    I would have used the "a" ending instead of the "er" ending so I would have sounded more gansta (again, notice the "a" ending?).

  7. I have never used that word, and knowing the history behind it I likely would have interrupted them with a fairly scathing retort. By being silent, you were effectively saying "I'm okay with this." All the '-isms' gain support and normality through silence, and it's probably why men are so surprised when I chew them out for deciding to pet my hair without my permission. They had not seen that it was socially not okay to just start intimately touching a woman before.

  8. I'm from the South so I hear it all the time. I have never said it myself, and once punched a a guy when I was a teenager for saying it about a friend of mine(probably not the right reaction).

    Over Thanksgiving, all of my redneck family gets together and the word gets tossed around a lot. It makes me really uncomfortable, and I used to say something but it's no use. I just give them glares and leave.

    In that situation, I might have said, "I've never said it." Though, I will tell you I hear people saying it an awful lot in reaction to Paula now, like an anthem of redneck pride. "I'll say it as loud as I want to."

    I'm not from the country either. I live in a fairly large city, where African Americans are all over the place.

    1. Totally agree with Anonymous 6:54. Although you wouldn't use that word, your silence does say "it's ok". We speak up in these situations not to immediately "convince them of something" but to challenge a perverse way of thinking within our own race. As Bardiac said, WE have the responsibility to disrupt white racism. The change has to start within our race and who knows if this was the perfect opportunity to simply plant a seed for change. If you did speak up, those women would at the very least think twice before saying foolishness like that in front of another white person and assume that it's ok.
      Sounds like you also allowed yourself to be a victim of prejudice.
      No one is saying that it is your responsibility to start a social movement to make change. However, when life allows us to speak up about something that, according to you, you are so passionate about (and rightly so), I believe we ought to make an effort not to "miss our moment" - and if we do, not be casual about it. Acknowledge where we may have missed it and maybe try to do better next time - if we even get a next time.

    2. I disagree that by not saying something you are totally okay with it.

      1. You are essentially trapped in an elevator with these women. Assuming you don't know them, you don't know how they will react. They may say or do something to you.

      2. It also sounds a little bit like blame-shifting. You are not responsible for what others say. And you are not responsible for correcting others when they say something you deem wrong.

    3. Exactly, Biovet. These are two people I don't know, who could potentially verbally assault me or worse if I randomly tried to shame them. I don't think it's my obligation to subject myself to that.

  9. "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

    I totally agree with the other posters (and your husband) that you should have said something. It's very hard to believe that if you had politely said something as simple as "Sorry, I don't use that word" that you would have been assaulted. After following your blog for a while, It seems far fetched that that your own husband would have advised you to say something if he thought by doing so, you'd be put in harm's way. If you just didn't have the courage to speak up, it's ok to just say so.
    Bio_vet - After reading all the replies, I don't think anyone was saying that Fizzy is responsible for what other people say (not sure where you got that from). Funny how easily we can justify our apathy with something this evil because it doesn't affect "us". I wonder how those who take the "Its not my responsibility" position would feel if these ignorant women were using a highly offensive term to describe you, your children, or loved ones.

  10. Although we disagree on how you handled this situation, I really appreciate you sharing and even having this discussion on your blog. Thanks Fizzy.
    GV (anonymous 6:54am)

    1. Sorry, last comment on 7/14 @ 9:10 am was from Anon 6:32 am NOT Anon 6:54 am. I'll identify myself better next time. Thanks.