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My Turn: Paula Deen’s woes keep relevant a vile history

I was raised in the red dirt South, on the Virginia and North Carolina line. My friends in the North (only close friends) refer sardonically to my white trash background; actually my grandparents were educated farmers (although he never finished, my grandfather’s acceptance to the University of Virginia medical school was framed in the farmhouse) and my parents were bluish-collar professionals.

The n-word has never passed my lips. I never remember my parents using the word. My beloved Scotch-Irish grandmother politely referred to “colored people,” to which, starting in my teens, I would always ask her what color. I was born in 1951. I am sad this paragraph is still relevant.

I am sorry for the extent of Paula Deen’s woes. I personally think the fire is being fanned by other prejudices and biases.

But in a discrimination case (which if we all remember is where this began), her admittance of something so taboo that it was banned in my red dirt background is grievous indeed. And it keeps relevant a vile history.

People talk about political correctness and how it is impossible to keep up.

As the editor and publisher of a literary magazine that has universal humanity at its core, I still make mistakes in innocent presumptions. Lines blur in context. But as a former employment law attorney, the path of political correctness is simple in my mind.

Within a legal framework, there is equality before the law regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, religion, sex, disability and now, more than ever, sexual preference. While telling a blond joke may not amount to a finding of a hostile environment and sexual harassment, it violates employment standards of professionalism and denigrates women. Don’t go there.

Why is it necessary to say this? Because we are human. And not even very evolved humans at that. It is this human condition that makes us all one at the same time that it makes us competitors. And in our insecurities we commit what seem to be unforgivable errors.

But restorative justice teaches us otherwise. Its trinity of acknowledgement, apology and restitution have worked in much more dire circumstances than Paula Deen’s.

Let’s hope she follows her acknowledgement and apology with action such as donating part of her fortune to feeding inner city and rural children who are starving every day in the United States.

And while the Food Network might not come running back, her reward will be much greater.

(E.L. Hodges, who lives in Concord, is founder and publisher of the St. Petersburg Review.)

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