How do we live here? How can we continue forward knowing that this has happened and continues to happen. Paula Dean is not the first racist to be “found out” and she will not be the last. The problem lies in the fact that she cannot admit she was wrong. That is because she doesn’t believe that she was wrong. She is a member of a Southern society that still believes it is okay to oppress those who are different. The problem is that she should be rising above that. It is possible. Let me demonstrate, from my own life, how it is more than possible.
I was raised in Niagara Falls, NY. That is not where my history begins though. My family has roots in Alabama. We did not discuss this when I was a child, but I’m pretty sure that someone, somewhere in my family tree, was a slave owner. I can guarantee that one of my ancestors was a Confederate soldier and that my great grandmother and great aunts were members of the daughters of the confederacy. I am sure that more than one of my family members, maybe even to this day, flew a confederate flag in front of her/his home. Since I am a conglomeration of all the parts of my family tree and the social construction of my environment growing up, I came out different from those distant (by space and/or time) Southern relatives.
Not to put it all on the South though, I have to speak about the city in which I grew up. As I mentioned, I am from Niagara Falls, NY. Being a Northern city, on the border of Canada, you would think that we would be more evolved than the South. You would think that with all of the immigration to the factories on the waterfront, that we would have a much more open and honest way of dealing with one another. You would think, that we would be a diverse city culturally. You would think, but this is not the case. Yes, it is diverse, but it is also one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Buffalo, too, is highly segregated and actually has made the list of top 10 most segregated cities many years over. I am not certain what causes this segregation. It could have begun with a need for communities to stick together and then turned into a way for communities to stay separated.
So, other than being segregated, Niagara Falls is also a haven for bigots. Again, I am not certain how this came to be, and nobody ever wants to say anything, but today is the day. Today is the day that I stand up and say, “I was raised in a city where bigots run free. Where racism, misogyny, and homophobia are rampant and where the individuals who propagate these attitudes go unchecked.” I am not proud of this, but that is why I need to say it. If we don’t speak our truths we cannot come past them. This is the lesson that Paula Dean will never learn. If she isn’t truthful in saying that she did use the n-word and that she wants to understand why that is bad, she is doing herself, and her followers, a dis-service.
There were many events over my time in Niagara Falls that shaped me. Luckily, they made me evolve away from the norm in my city and try to be the best human being I can be. I saw how people treated each other and, more often than not, spoke behind each others backs, and I decided that I didn’t want to be that kind of person. Some people say that we shouldn’t judge each other, or that only God can judge us, and that may be what they believe, but that doesn’t give a free pass to people here on earth. You can believe whatever you want about the end of the world, but I would think that the best way to get to where you want to go is to be kind to one another while you are here. Since we don’t really know what is going to happen, the best bet is to remain civil and treat each other with respect. You don’t need religion to be a good person, you just have to care about other people. And, sometimes, those with religion are the ones doing the most oppressing, so I don’t think we should even use faith as a marker for good.
I can never understand the plight of the oppressed, in the way that they can, and so I understand that I am limited. However, I am a woman, which means I have a slice of oppression that is all my own, and, in this way, I can empathize. I can be an ally to all oppressed communities because I am oppressed as well. And, on top of that, if I were a Rich White Man (the least, if at all, oppressed), I could still empathize and be an ally.
So, instead of wallowing in the past and the reasons why some of us are still steeped in bigotry, let me rise above that and talk about being an ally. This is what Paula Dean should be doing. She should be reflecting on the error of her ways and coming past it. She should be embracing the communities that she offended. Rather, she has decided to say “I is what I is and I’m not changin” and that is where she has stumbled. She has not evolved and, therefore, cannot be an ally. But you can, so here is how:
Step One – Own up to the past.
This can be your individual past (as in Paula Dean and the ways in which she has been racist through her words AND actions over time) or it can be the past of your relatives; ancestors. I have both Native American and Confederate Ancestors. They are actually on the same side of my family. So, the oppressed became the oppressors or vice versa. I also have Italian, French, English, and German ancestors and they all, each in their own ways, have been oppressors or the oppressed. We all battle, in this country, to reach for the American dream and, unfortunately, it sometimes makes us step on others to get to that unattainable top.
Step Two – Own up to the present.
In understanding your history, you should be able to more clearly see your current state of being. If you still hold on to bigoted ways, you should be able to think about the why and how of it and suss it out. Sometimes people feel they have been wronged by groups of people, when, in reality, there are individuals that have been the catalyst. An example may be the worker that doesn’t get hired based on affirmative action. This has been a hot button issue for the bigots amoung us. They believe that affirmative action (and apparently so do many of the U.S. House of Reps) is no longer necessary or good. They think that it causes reverse discrimination. They would be wrong. Affirmative action insures that schools are integrated and that the past does not repeat itself. With the history of our country as it is, we need affirmative action forever. It is not something we will ever be able to let go of, else we repeat the past. Of course, that is what will happen with the South and voting now that the VRA has been gutted. Jim Crow will be the new standard if the people don’t rise up against voting restrictions and redistricting.
Step Three – Empathize
Even though you are not able to fully understand the lives of the oppressed, unless you are in their shoes, you can still be empathetic. Being a bigot is not being empathetic. Saying you are sorry does not demonstrate your willingness to be better. Only changing your actions does that. Show you are sorry by doing things differently.
Step Four – Work together
There are many ways to work for a cause. Volunteering at an organization that helps forward the cause of an oppressed group is one way. Another way is to combat bullying and hatred online through the deflection of social media noise. When you see pictures and memes of poor people used for the enjoyment of tge masses, do not send them on or “like” them. When you see memes defending racist thought or bigoted people, do not send them on or “like” them. When you see memes that are disparaging to any group of people or individual, do not send them on or “like” them. Now, the trick is to recognize these memes when presented with them online. When you see a picture that depicts someone in a hateful manner that might be a clue. When you see videos depicting the plight of the oppressed with funny captions by the poster that might be another clue. A third, and major, clue is the confederate flag. If you see that anywhere online, do not engage, but back away and report it. That might be a symbol of the South, but it is more than just a flag. It is a symbol of oppression that should not be continuously used to denigrate and destroy. It should be retired. It should be burned.
Step Five – Be Open To All Humans
Being open minded is the best way to combat bigotry and hatred. Understanding that we are all, each and every one of us, human beings and that we should treat one another with respect, is the first step toward evolving from racism. Anyone can do this. Anyone can evolve. In fact, we are all evolving now. We just have to learn how to be on the right track for that evolution. On the kind, open, honest, and non-racist track. Go there, it is nice.
Thanks for listening. If you think this was a tirade just imagine how much I edited out. Hope you will follow me and help to make this world a better place for EVERYONE. After all, we can never have true equality until everyone is equal.