News and Tribune

June 26, 2013

ANDERSON: What’s up y’all?

By BARBARA ANDERSON
Local columnist

Paula Deen has caused quite a controversy. Americans are outraged that a little, round 66-year-old woman from the South would utter a racist word. Really? 

You should have been in the shoes of those who campaigned for both the president and Hillary Clinton. The amount of racism, genderism and every other kind of “ism” was beyond belief.

I don’t watch Paula Deen on TV. I never have, nor will I. I just don’t get into anything more mundane than “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” Now, if that show’s host, Guy Fieri, had uttered the word, I would have truly been outraged. Why? Because it would have been a surprise. 

Deen almost promised to be a gentrified version of the old South with all its baggage in everything she said, she produced and she wrote. 

I found the media appropriately outraged. But where was their outrage during campaign season when often the words were: “I’ll vote for that b*** before I’ll vote for that n***** (I used the stars because both words are equally profane to me). 

The refrain from many was hard to hear because this is my home and I did not expect to hear it. To say I was shocked was an understatement; to say I was hurt would be describing it lightly. Many nights after numerous calls, I just went home feeling depleted.

Race is a sensitive subject — one too often not discussed because we fear being misunderstood. After all, look what is happening to a multimillionaire who was speaking privately.

I don’t like what she said, I don’t like the fact that she felt free enough to say it, but in this country speech is free. Therein lies the dilemma. If Deen is not forgiven, we have not done our Christian duty. If she is, we have one more time ignored institutional bigotry and given it free reign. What is a country to do?

We might try facing the issue head-on. We did in Jeffersonville a few years back with something called the Circle (maybe the wrong name) coordinated by the Rev. Joe Easley and the Rev. Michael Anderson, both of whom have left this area. 

Pastor Easley just retired in Evansville and Pastor Anderson died a few years ago from cancer. Both men had quite an impact. One black, one white, they coordinated study circles patterned after a community in Ohio that actually held meetings to discuss the issue of race in an open and non-threatening way. The effect at the time was something. I attended many of those meetings and was always amazed at the outcomes. 

The dialogue ended with their tenure here and like everything else, so did the results of the meetings. As a young social worker in the community, there was an established leadership that you recognized when you worked. Both white and black, Hispanics were few in the population then, but certainly could not be excluded today. 

Tom Bryant was the head of the NAACP, Gary Leavell was on that board and employed for the Indiana Employment Security Office in an administrative position. Jerry Stephenson was the CEO to Community Action; Phil Bates was the director of the Jeffersonville Housing Authority; Jeff Caldwell and Bill Shrewsberry were councilman, as well as Marvin Allen and Andrew Williams. Bobby Campbell was appointed by many local politicians as was Les Kavanaugh. Fay Allen held leadership roles as did Billy Sue Smith. Fast forward 15 years and what we don’t see is that level of participation from the black community. Why? 

Now more than ever, diversity is needed. Inclusiveness should be from all fronts, in all directions. Our community has not kept pace with the reality of our populations. 

As a region, we have a growing Hispanic population, which will soon equal the black population. While we are still predominantly a “white” populace, in numbers our key cities like New Albany, Jeffersonville and Clarksville have become very diverse in population. There is a richness to that. 

As a downtown dweller, I live in a busy part of town and people I don’t know walk by. I see the affects of low-wage jobs and substandard housing for many from even my front porch. If we see it we must deal with it, and while the subject is touchy and scary, we must recognize it for what it is — a very ingrained part of our psyche. 

Racism has evolved, just like everything else does. There are many different ethnic populations now, and with that comes a whole new set of fears and expectations. 

Paula Deen said what many think. It was appalling, it was outrageous and it was Paul Deen. She has worked hard and even hired many who were offended. She will pay and has already paid a big price for mistake.

If we continue to bury our heads in the sand about our own attitudes, what will our price be?

— Barbara Anderson, of Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at barbanderson_1@yahoo.com