It would be easy to—as many have done recently—criticize celebrity chef Paula Deen for her racist comments. I could discuss how insensitive the comments were. I could talk about how people—especially people in the public eye like Deen—should be more thoughtful and careful with their words. I could propose, as some have, that there are still elements of the Old South alive and well in the New South. I could argue that Deen is a poor ambassador for the South in general. I could talk about how we need to do something to (finally!) overcome racism in this country.
It would be easy to say all those things because not only are they all pretty much true, but also because Deen is a high-profile, low-risk target. She made dumb comments, and it’s easy to make a big deal about them without anybody else making a big deal about you doing so. Much like the quick, comfort food recipes she’s so known for, her critics are getting instant gratification, too, as her empire appears to be crumbling. The Food Network has dropped her, she’s lost sponsorships, and her products are rapidly disappearing from chains like Walmart and Target. (Her book sales are climbing, however, so predictions of her complete demise are apparently a tad premature.)
Although nobody knows what the future ultimately holds for Deen’s career, at least one notable figure has accepted her apology and is urging the nation to move on. Dr. Bernice A. King, a minister and the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., said she has talked and prayed with Deen and that America should forgive her.
"Instead of further crucifying Ms. Deen, we must use this as a teachable moment and find a way to allow redemption and reconciliation to take place," King said.
Maybe this can be a teachable moment, one that leads to nationwide introspection and increased understanding and respect between all Americans. With that said, however, if we are going to be truly introspective, we need to acknowledge that there are much—to borrow from Deen’s cookbook—bigger fish to fry these days than Deen.
Paula Deen is optional entertainment. You can buy what she’s selling (literally and/or figuratively) or not. Although she may have a considerable amount of influence in our nation’s kitchens, she doesn’t have a lot of real power. Were her words hurtful? Yes. But, sadly, they were also honest. And I’ll take honest racism from a television chef over the dishonest-yet-accepted dealings of our leaders any day—people who actually have real and enormous power over our lives. We can properly address racism when it’s out in the open. It’s more difficult to confront corruption when it’s beyond closed doors.
If you’ve paid attention to the headlines at all lately, you’ve been reminded as much as ever that corruption rules the day in Washington. Our government spies on us, lies to us and tries to pacify us under the guise of "safety," "justice," "progress" or, most laughably, "transparency." And, even worse, we exhibit selective contempt about it all. In an attempt to see our side "win," we are willing to accept dishonesty on our own side as long as we convince ourselves that the other side is slightly more dishonest, failing to realize that when we let either side violate our trust, we all lose.
Principle must supersede party, regardless of who’s in charge. If the other side’s guy does something corrupt, that action is also corrupt if your guy does it. I know this might not a comforting viewpoint. I know it can be extremely challenging to hold true to this principle, if we even try to at all. (I’ll admit it: I’ve been guilty of not even trying.) But we have to hold our leaders—and ourselves—to a higher standard. Either the Patriot Act is OK or it isn’t. Either the IRS should be able to unfairly scrutinize certain groups or it shouldn’t be.
When we enter the ballot box, we aren’t voting for the next temporary superstars. We’re voting for people who can alter the course of our country forever. And we can’t allow ourselves to become fans of politicians the same way we become fans of television chefs.
Paula Deen is paying a big price right now. But we’re paying a much bigger one.
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) local news, culture and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.