Celebrity chef Paula Deen has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately.
A leaked deposition in a harassment lawsuit revealed that Deen had admitted to using racial slurs during private conversations, specifically the racially charged n-word. She admits to having used the word a number of times in her life, "but it's been a very long time."
As a result of the leaked information, a number of major companies have dropped their affiliation with Deen — heavyweights Wal-Mart and the Food Network among them. In response, Deen has gone into full damage-control mode, releasing apology after apology and weeping on Matt Lauer's Today Show set.
But is publicly destroying Deen fair?
We have to remember that she is a 66-year-old native of Georgia. As objectionable as it may seem today, racism and racial slurs were a way of life in the American South throughout the 1950s and 1960s when Deen grew up. It is reasonable to believe that Deen partook in the same casual, ignorant racism that was prevalent at the time. And it's just as reasonable to believe that Deen adjusted her behaviour when it became obvious how cruel and deplorable it is.
Says bestselling author Anne Rice: "I think she's being lynched because America does this now to those who are politically incorrect. She is obviously a very crude person and a somewhat vulgar person, but that's no reason for her life to be destroyed. She's a hard worker who has accomplished a lot, and she has apologized. I hate to see this happen to her. This helps nothing and no one."
It's not too much of a stretch to assume that many of the hurtful words we use today will be taboo a generation or two from now. A number of slurs towards homosexuality, obesity and mental disabilities that were commonplace in the 1980s and 1990s are now shunned in casual conversation. If we become 66-year-old celebrities, will we be similarly chastised and publicly shredded for some of the words and sentiments we use today?
There's no question that Deen was wrong and insensitive when she used racial slurs. It was and is unacceptable. But is destroying her fair?
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