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Paula Deen and Pop Culture Racism

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Tim McGettigan     Permalink
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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/57339945@N00/6869926961/: Paula Deen - Composite
Paula Deen 's Racist Montage by jcmedina

Racism is pervasive in popular culture. Rap and hip hop songs, and Hollywood films are often laced with racially insensitive dialog. As a result, kids can gather the very clear (and unfortunate!) impression that racist banter is not only acceptable, but it can also be fun. If "cool" pop stars integrate a steady stream of racist epithets into their songs and movies, then the kids who revere those pop stars will be more inclined to mimic their racist repartee.

Clearly, it would be very difficult to swim upstream against this racist tide in pop culture. And, yet, I think it is essential that we as responsible adults, citizens, parents and educators at least try to do so.  

As the Paula Deen case illustrates, racist vernacular among pop stars can stray too far across the line of good taste and decency. I think it is incumbent on responsible adults to impress upon our kids that using racially denigrating language--no matter which pop culture hero the user may be emulating--is hurtful, damaging and wrong. Racially denigrating language is a form of bullying. Period. By its very nature, racism is never meant to build people up, it is only meant to tear them down.

The language that we use shapes our reality. In environments where the worst kind of racial epithets are commonplace, so are the worst kinds of racism. When we dehumanize people with language, it becomes much easier to inflict the worst forms of racist abuse. The road to many lynchings has been strewn with light-hearted racist banter.

Fortunately, there are proven ways of fighting against racist bullying. In recent years, kids have been creating support groups--both inside and outside of the schools--for LGBT students. I suspect that such enlightened grassroots initiatives are in part responsible for much larger forms of social progress, such as the defeat of DOMA. I feel confident that similar initiatives which are focused on broader "bullying, racism, and diversity" issues could well inspire similarly positive outcomes. If as a society we made as explicit an effort to celebrate the American Melting Pot--in all of its glory and diversity--with as much fervor as we celebrate athletic successes, then I am confident that American pop culture could quickly become an exemplar of ethnic equanimity.

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Prof Tim teaches sociology at CSU-Pueblo and he writes books about social change, such as... A Formula for Eradicating Racism, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/113759974X


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