Paula Deen’s use of the “N” word was the front-page story of every major newspaper and the lead story of all major television networks in June. As African-Americans, we have been called this word for more than 300 years, and there is no stopping in sight. Unfortunately, the African-American community has been pulled into the media’s ongoing saga over the use of this egregious term.
There is a much greater urgency in the African-American community than a TV personality’s use of a derogatory term. Instead, African-Americans should be more focused on Supreme Court Justice Thomas’ comments comparing affirmative action to slavery and Justice Scalia’ comments comparing the voting rights of African-American as “racial entitlements.” These comments are just as foul and racist as Paula Deen’s comments and could have a lifetime impact on the status of African-Americans. The only difference between Deen’s comments and the Supreme Court Justices’ comments is that her comments were direct with intentional animus, whereas their comments were a form of subliminal or unconscious racism. Yet, their comments are lost on the back pages of the national press.
Aside from the Supreme Court’s rhetoric, African-Americans should be focused on why there is a shortage of Black doctors in our community, yet the NBA finals and draft were dominated by highly-skilled African-American male basketball players. Again and again, we’ve asked the question of how we can inspire African-Americans to instead dominate the fields of medicine, law, and engineering. How do we “un-brainwash” African-American boys from believing that their only ticket to success is to become a professional ball player? Why are Black boys disproportionately suspended and failing to graduate from high school?
Also, what impact will the proposed immigration law have on the employability of African-American males who have the highest levels of unemployment and under-employment? Will African-Americans, especially males, face race and national origin discrimination in hiring as a result of the proposed immigration law? What impact will the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act have on the ability of African-American males to vote, seeing that they are already disenfranchised in some states? Will the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action further defer the dream of African-Americans to attend college? What are the states doing to reduce the massive number of African-American males in jail? Why don’t the front page stories cover employers’ policies on criminal records and the impact on African-Americans’ ability to obtain employment?
These are just a few of the crucial issues facing the African-American community, yet the entire country was engulfed in Paula Deen’s use of a derogatory racial term that has, unfortunately, been used for years? Truth be told, it is a term that has probably been used by most White persons over 60 in private with their close friends. Indeed, I sometimes hear Whites openly using the term in public. This is not to marginalize the fact that this is a foul and hurtful term. It is a legitimate sign of progress that White America is in uproar over the use of this term. However, it would be even more so if they were in an uproar over the above issues facing the African-American community.
Unfortunately, African-Americans so easily lose focus on what is important and focus on the media’s appetite to promote a negative, explosive story. African-Americans must not fall to the temptation of losing focus on what is important to our community. African-Americans must get back to engaging elected officials, school officials, higher educational institutions, the court system, and law enforcement agencies to address the disparities that continue to exist in our society.
The Paula Deen story has all but disappeared from the headlines and the media have moved on to promoting the next negative news story. But the status of African Americans, especially men, will continue to deteriorate with little to no media or public attention. The questions I raised will go unanswered and ignored unless African Americans can shift the media and the public to focus on much more important issues than Paula Deen’s comments.
Floyd D. Weatherspoon is a professor of law, Capital Law School (Columbus, Ohio). Professor Weatherspoon teaches a course on Civil Rights, and on African-American Males and the Law.