If I Were Paula Dean
Rev. Steve Schlissel - July 4, 2013
If I were Paula Deen, and I was asked if I had ever used the “N- word,” I would have replied,
“Do you mean, compared to its prodigious use by many of my Black acquaintances? I’d have to say no. If I ever used it all, it wouldn’t show up on a scale calibrated to the use of that very word—the ‘N-word’—by the people whom you claim are deathly allergic to it. So terrified of this word are they (we are told), that public use even of the word ‘niggardly,’ though bearing no meaningful connection to it (that ‘n word’ is believed to be traceable to the Scandinavian for stingy, its bloodline still visible in the proximity of the n and the g in that descendant), has already been held as warrant for putting an end to the user’s livelihood. So, by that standard, the answer to the question is no.
Of course, No self-respecting egalitarian would let it go at that. But they ought to. For pursuit of the question must inevitably lead to assertions that the offense of any word can only be measured by consideration of the context of its use. To which I would reply, “Amen.”
But their assertion would be smoke and mirrors, for there is no interest today in an examination of circumstances in any case of the use of the “N- word,” any more than there was interest in the circumstances of Mr. Martin, deceased, atop Mr. Zimmerman, pummeling him bloody, and vowing that he (Mr.Z) would that night die at his (Mr. M’s) hand. In fact, the only—the only—interest in either instance is in the census-recorded race of the accused; in one case the accused being an utterer, in the other a defender of his very life.
Once that cat gets out of the bag, we’d have to ask about the inquisitor’s commitment to the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’d tell that person, whatever Dr. King did or said which might be fodder for controversy or polite disagreement, the vision he laid out on August 28, 1963, still moves me to tears—every time I hear it—especially the part where he dreams that his “four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
I would explain that whatever prejudices anyone might have, whatever prejudgments he might internally make in regard to another person, even thoughts and evaluations based alone on a person’s skin color—I’d explain that the charge of “racism” doesn’t really have any traction or stickiness until it becomes the sole, clear and inarguable basis of an indictment or an action against a person which reasonable men would hold to be in violation of any of the Ten Commandments, and I’d include any infringement upon his liberty to move or associate as encompassed by those Ten.
I would want to know if the position I then articulated was anything but in exact accord with that which Dr. King insisted would be an essential mark of fundamental, humane justice and godly, American order. I would wonder how the innocence or evil of any act or utterance could possibly be determined solely by a consideration of the color of the actor or speaker.
In any event, I’d ask how anyone, speaking from such a perch, could explain the difference between an indictment/judgment based upon color of skin, on the one hand, and a judgment based upon the content of character, on the other? I would wonder aloud if, in admitting that a valid judgment can and should be made about the culpable evil of a statement solely by consideration of the color of the speaker: Has not “the content of a person’s character” been completely and effectively removed as a functional category, i.e., killed and buried? In other words: Is the questioner not operating out of a view which says that we certainly may, and we ought, to evaluate and judge the character of a person by their color alone? And is that not to advocate precisely the condition Dr. King insisted we had to be delivered from?
He would, I imagine, object: “No, it is not a judgment made abstractly, that is, a judgment made according to the color of a person, but rather, according to the color of a person speaking a specific word?”
I’d need then to remind him that what we are talking about is like working with fractions. If one person gets 3/6 of a pie and the other gets 1/2, is the latter on solid ground when he complains that the first person had gotten three times as much? We’d have to see if the difference was apparent or real. By bringing them both to expression with a common denominator, we’d see that, in reality, they each had received the same amount.
Applying the same method to the instance before us, we’d see that the word and the uttering of the word are common denominators. The only element remaining is the numerator, that is, the respective races. That means, it inescapably means, that your understanding of “color of skin” is the full and perfect equivalent to “content of their character,” there being, on your view, no room or reason to consider any further factor in determining the presence of culpable evil. In other words, those of one particular race are the justified, against whom no charge may be brought (Romans 8); the other comprise the reprobate, those whom even Christ, referring to Judas, places outside the scope of His efficacious mediation. That would translate to: No wrong can be ascribed to Black, no hope to White.
Of course, if the inquisitor’s operating thesis was: “Whites uttering that word do indeed comprise an evil class,” and, “Blacks uttering the same word do not,” then we’d need to inquire concerning the evidence he believes would justify the claim. Undoubtedly, the evidence would bear the exact character of the accusation, viz., the “self-evident evil” of Whites would be elf-evident because they were White.
Alternatively, the inquisitor could yield and confess that race by itself says nothing, but may be one factor joined to consideration of others which may help to reveal specific intent and/or culpability. At this, we’d be approaching rationality. So I’d ask, “Will the reporting of the race of the utterer contain disclaimers and warnings, or at least explicit advisement of the inquisitor’s more comprehensive standard for determining character and culpability?” I didn’t think so.
But I’d still have more questions before giving a yes/no, lest I somehow be made a party to restricting or removing a person’s liberty (even mine, if I’m a person) solely on the basis of their race. I’d like to know something based upon my experience of African Americans—indeed, my experience in Africa with Africans—which has proven to me, with no fear of contradiction, that racial purity is the exception and mixture is the rule, even among those given the precious license to use the N-word with impunity. If the President of the United States used the word, would he be guilty or innocent? Since he is 50% Black, does his freedom of speech stop at the third of the 6-letters (1/2 being equal, we recall, to 3/6, and both to 50%)? Is he permitted to say “Nig-,” and not a breath more? Must it, being a single “g,” be said soiftly like “J”? How much culpability or license would belong to a very light-skinned person, say, Lena Horne-like, in speaking the unspeakable? Must such a citizen stop at “Nnn”?
I’d keep further questions, like the scope of speech freedom which may be accorded to dark Arabs or those of Subcontinent ancestry, to myself. The last matter of “To utter or not to utter,” would, for me, be more formidable.
For if I was Paula Deen (whom I’m not sure I’d heard of before this tripe), I might consider as “not subject to a solemn oath” an answer to a race-baiting question which was itself racist-to-the-core, qualified to be poster child for the Hypocrisy Foundation. No, the toughest moment would come when I’d wonder if I dare scold them for what they were, at that moment, doing to me. Here, to be honest, I’m supposing I wouldn’t be able to keep the words on the tongue-side of my teeth.
“Don’t niggle me, man. Don’t you dare niggle me like you’re doing.”
I’d say it, even though it would surely cost me my job. But that’s only because I know quite well, speech is never free.