The courts in our nation aren’t what they used to be. We were founded on the idea that a person in this country is innocent until proven guilty. While this may still hold true in a court of law, there is another court in our country that can be just as penalizing and doesn’t keep the same standard. The court of public opinion in our nation has gotten out of hand. We are seeing people tried and convicted solely on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. This has never shown truer than in the current situation plaguing former Food Network star Paula Deen.
When I first heard the allegations against Paula Deen about using the word nigger, I was disappointed. I thought, “How can someone in her position be stupid enough to say that word?” I expected backlash, but never thought it would become the issue it is today. Then I read the full list of complaints. My disappointment turned into complete disgust. I couldn’t imagine that the cheerful woman that I watched on Food Network would be guilty of such horrendous bigotry.
The internet was exploding with people taking sides on the Paula Deen story. Those who condemned her have been calling her supporters everything from mindless followers to racists. Those who defend her have made foolish excuses for her use of derogatory language. Then there is a third group who likes to comment, “who cares” on the social media posts. While these people actually seem to care enough to post that, at least they haven’t convicted or acquitted her without any evidence.
The only damning evidence is the deposition Paula Deen gave in which she admitted to some of the allegations. She admitted that she used the term nigger to refer to a black man who had held her at gunpoint while she had been working at a bank years ago. She admitted that she had expressed a desire to have a “Southern plantation wedding” including “middle-aged black men” wearing “beautiful white jackets with a black bow-tie.” She didn’t go through with these plans for the wedding that took place in 2007.
So far, that is the extent of the evidence against Paula Deen. The allegations, on the other hand, are far worse. They include a laundry list of complaints. Some of these allegations are actually directed at Paula’s brother. Paula is being held responsible as the business owner.
At this point, many of you are probably thinking that I’m defending Paula Deen in this case. You are only correct to a small extent. I am not defending what she said or did. The use of the word nigger is wrong. I disagree with its use by people of any race; however, the use of the word by a white person increases the impact exponentially. That being said, I freely admit that have used the term in my life as well.
That would probably shock most people that I know. Those who know me regard me as the person from whom they would never expect to hear any kind of bigotry. I grew up in a mixed household. I watched my black stepfather be subjected to unreasonable searches by police. I suffered through the angry remarks by both white people and black. I’ve even seen a laser pointed at the head of my stepfather in public. We didn’t wait around to find out if it was just a pointer or a laser sight on a gun. I only say this because I want you to understand that I have lived through racism from all angles, so I don’t take it lightly. However, I remember a similar situation to Paula’s, when my mother was held at gunpoint by a black man. I wasn’t around for the incident, but when I found out, I was understandably angry. I distinctly remember using the term nigger when venting the uncontrollable anger. If asked why, I would have to say that it is the only thing I could do or say at the time that could have hurt the person who hurt someone for whom I cared deeply. Not that it was the right thing to say, but the fact is that we are people, and when hurt we react with anger. The stronger the fear or pain, the stronger the anger has to be to mask it. I imagine Paula experienced something similar when she was faced with a gun. This makes her admitting to the use of the word nigger understandable, if still unacceptable.
That leaves the issue of the wedding. There is no justification for this. It was a stupid thing to discuss. It would have given the picture of a time when black people were, at best, subject to discrimination at every angle, and, at worst, slaves. In today’s age, people should know better than that. It was a terrible mistake. It is up to each of us to determine if it is one that is worthy of condemning her to the point that it ruins her career. If you decide that it is, then you should act accordingly.
These two issues are the only issues that are in evidence. The rest of the allegations are unsubstantiated. However, I have seen many articles written condemning her based solely on the allegations. The sad part is that some of the social media pages that I follow have done the same. They have already determined that she is guilty of all charges, and that her punishment should be the complete eradication of her career. Many of these sites are normally those that spend their time pushing equality and fairness. They believe that by condemning someone accused of such heinous actions they are supporting those who would be hurt by them. They are wrong. What they are doing is hurting everyone who believes in our system of justice. There can be no justice when we condemn someone without proof of guilt. For our nation to be what we want it to be, this must be true in the court of public opinion just as it’s true in the court of law.
Let me be clear, Paula Deen is guilty of extremely poor judgment by her own admission. If the list of allegations against her is true, she deserves to lose her career. However, the public is driving her into losing everything before her accusers have ever been forced to prove anything. Supporting her right to remain innocent until proven guilty does not make one a racist. It simply makes one an American.