Saturday, June 22, 2013

Paula Deen and unintended racism

Paula Deen, the maven of deep-fried, butter-drenched Southern cooking, has exposed a post-segregation type of racist mentality in many Southerners that is not consciously mean-spirited and that is often based in personal affection -- but which, nevertheless, is racist and derogatory to African-Americans.

Here's an illustration.   In an interview in October 2012, she was asked about changing race relations, the South, her family history, etc.   She told about an ancestor who owned a plantation before the Civil War and about his loss of everything because of the war.   She said that in the pre-war records, he had listed 30 people who "worked" on the plantation;  and in the records after the war, there were none.   She kept referring to them as "workers," not acknowledging that they were slaves.

It's quite likely that she was intentionally avoiding using the word "slaves," because she felt in was less demeaning to those she was talking about.   She kept emphasizing, "they were part of our lives," the "our" here referring to the historical collective, not her personally.  What she doesn't realize is that, to their descendents, failing to acknowledge that they were enslaved people is demeaning and trivializes a horror.

She also talked about how "these people were so much a part of our lives" that they didn't think of themselves as prejudiced.   To illustrate her supposed lack of prejudice, she refers to a black man who works for her, saying that "I have in my life a young man who is black as this wall here," pointing to the backdrop which is black.   Declaring that "I would follow him to hell" and "I would trust him with my life."   Then, trying to spot him in the audience, she called out, "Stand up, Hollis. . . .  Come on up here;   we can't see you standing against that dark board."   Then he comes up on stage, and she takes his hand in a very affectionate way, introducing him to the audience.   (My guess is that he is a body guard or a chauffeur, not a boyfriend.  Her husband had already been introduced.)

She says she would trust him with her life, but she orders him about in that mock-affectionate way you treat a child, not the way you act toward a man you respect. 

The point is:   she, like so many Southerners, has this naive notion that, because you speak affectionately to and about black people, it doesn't hurt when you call attention to their race or demean them with slurs or jokes.

I do not think Paula Deen has any awareness of this -- or maybe she may now that these charges of racism against her have resulted in her show being dropped by the Food Network, a huge blow to her enterprise.

I can understand her mistake with more empathy than the critics who are disgusted by her racism.   I grew up in small town Georgia in the 1930s and 1940s.   My family was benignly paternalistic toward blacks but we also complied with the social mores of the time;  and I can remember my father honestly believing that "they prefer to have their own part of town" and their own schools.   But they still came to the back door when they needed to do business with him.

People who did not grow up in this era in the South cannot fathom how one could have been so unquestioning of the way things were.   Only later, as awareness came to me, did I react with shame and horror at "the way things were" and my family's part in it.   My great-grandfather was a slave-owner.   I did not know this until a few years ago when a cousin researched old county records.

Changes have come even in the Deep South.   But we must all be aware that association and affection can still mask hurtful and demeaning words and actions -- even when not intended.  Paula Deen's naivite is better than outright hatred, but we have to do better than that.


Friday, June 21, 2013

IRS "scandal" . . . R. I. P.

They tried.   They really, really tried to make a scandal out of not very much, claiming that the White House had orchestrated a special targeting of IRS handling Tea Party type groups who applied for tax exempt status.

It was not in dispute that some conservative groups' applications for this special status were given an extra level of scrutiny.   The Republicans claimed it was discriminatory, a scandal to rival Nixon's watergate, etc.

Then the notorious scourge Darrell Issa turned his oversight committee into overdrive, holding hearings, taking testimony, and then selectively releasing excerpts that favored his view, while refusing to release the full transcripts.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings, finally released some transcripts on his own -- after Issa refused his request to do so.  And guess what?

The more complete testimony from the one person who was in charge and should know, categorically said that the White House did not initiate the extra scrutiny of Tea Party groups.    And he explained what did happen, and it's completely understandable and appropriate.

Issa knew this when he selectively released excerpts from a low-level person who "thought that the White House was behind it."   He knew this when he angrily refused to release any further transcripts except "what I want you to see."  But, thanks to Cummings, we now know what happened:  One of the investigators picked one application for further scrutiny because of trigger clues that it's purpose was primarily political.   This was very appropriate;  the person was doing the job he's paid to do.

Then, the higher official testified, because it would be discriminatory to have some applications with the same triggers put under scrutiny and others not, they adopted a policy to investigate all who had those same triggers.

Issa and the Republicans were trying to make it seem comparable to cops stopping every black man driving a car.   In fact, it was more like cops stopping every car that is zig-zagging across the expressway lanes like a drunk person.   The common characteristic was not the Tea Party label but the indicators of political activity -- which is what they were trying to screen out.

End of that scandal.   Much ado about not much.   Just like Benghazi.  What should be investigated here for bias is not the IRS but the chairman of this committee, Darrell Issa.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rand Paul attacks Cheney

The infighting among Republicans took a new turn today when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was asked on CNN's "Situation Room" for his reaction to former V.P. Dick Cheney's calling NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a traitor, while also defending the Bush administration's failure to use available intelligence to thwart the 9/11 attack.

Paul replied, "Really someone should have been removed from office for that, and they should have said this is never going to happen again. . . . Instead they said, ‘oh, we need to look at the records of all the innocent Americans’ phone calls every day.' And I think you need to have a respect for the Bill of Rights, a respect for privacy and particularly a respect for the fourth amendment."

I don't know if I would go as far as claiming Rand Paul as a friend (as in "the enemy of my enemy is my friend") -- but perhaps some good will come of the civil war in the GOPIt's not Rand Paul that I want to win -- but it certainly isn't Dick Cheney either.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

News from Iran #2

The New York Times, in particular, is taking a positive view of the election of Hassan Rowhani, with an article on Wednesday titled, "From Inner Circle of Iran, a Pragmatic Victor."

It says Iranians responded to news of the election "by erupting into street parties not seen in many years."   It even went as far as saying, "it almost seemed as if some sort of reformist revolution could be under way."

My big question still is:  How do we square the fact of this jubilant reaction from the people with the fact that Rowhani has spent his political life at the center of the conservative establishment and that he was one of the ruling clerics' approved candidates for president?   Did they not expect him to win and put him forth as a sop to the people?

True, he has usually been among, if not the, most moderate one in that inner circle.  And he has the nickname of "the diplomatic sheik."   He also campaigned on pledges to bring more freedom and better relations with the outside world.

Let's analyze what we know.  Rowhan is 64, earned a doctorate in constitutional law from Glasgow Caledonian University (Scotland), and has been the nuclear negotiator for the Iranian government.   He is seen as a "cautious realist" and a pragmatist.   He once said that ideology must never stand in the way of advancement.
Back in 1979, in the middle of the Iranian revolution and rife anti-American feeling, Rowhani disagreed with those who said Iran should not buy weapons from the U.S.   Rowhani argued that they shouldn't deprive themselves of modern weapons just because they were from America.   He is said to be part of a group of clerics that define Islam as more of a dynamic than a rigid code.   And as late as 2003 he made a point of visiting with American officials at an emergency hospital that had been set up to help victims of a big earthquake in Iran.

So -- all signs point to him being the best electable choice, by far, from our point of view.   But what is the ruling clerics' point of view?    Will they allow him to have any real power or influence?   Can we believe the positive spin, or is that in itself some kind of spin?   Is this an indication that they are ready for moderation?

Stay tuned.