Apparently Paula Deen said some racist things. And so we all tweet and status update about it, pointing and laughing and patting ourselves on the back for not being so racist. Am I the only one who feels like this is kind of missing the point? It's not exactly shocking that she said what she said -- and I don't say that because she's a southerner or because she says, "Y'ALL!" or because she likes to cook with a lot of butter or whatever. I say that because it's just not that shocking that people say racist things. A lot of us like to pretend that we live in a post-racial time, but we do not. And most of the people pointing, laughing, and calling Paula Deen a P.O.S. harbor hate in their hearts. This kind of, "Yay us! We're not that racist!" rubbernecking doesn't actually accomplish anything.
I'm not saying that we all say really ridiculous things like, "OMG I wish I could have slaves for real at my next big event!" That kind of overt racism is -- well, obvious racism is obvious, as the internet kids might say. But what about that racism where you get nervous when you see a black man on the street (which is partially about race, partially about gender, and partially about class -- but let's face it, black men make you more nervous than white men). What about the little jokes you tell in the office that are a little bit racist but you don't think it's a problem because "we're all friends!" and "people shouldn't be so sensitive and P.C.!?" What about the systemic racism you're not even seeing? Look around your office and take note of the racial diversity. Go for a walk in your neighborhood and do a little math on the percentages of people who look like you vs. people who don't.
The real important conversation we need to be having isn't, "How could someone say those things in 2013?" We need to each individually consider what we think, how we act, what we say. We need to look around and assess the real situation on the ground where we work and where we live. I live in Dallas, Texas, a place where liberal-minded white people live in neighborhoods surrounded by other white people -- myself included. We go out to clubs and bars where the people around us are mostly white. And we never think about this and we never talk about it and it's not national news. It's the daily reality. We're not horrible, awful people saying horrible, awful racist things. But what can we do to continue to encourage change? Spending a lot of time calling out Paula Deen and getting her show cancelled isn't the answer to that question.
Look, it's great when we DON'T talk like Paula Deen. Good for us. But these are no laurels to rest upon.