Karen Sampson Hoffman

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Paula Deen and the Bad Word

Posted on June 25, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Sometime during the 1980s, a man walked into a southern Georgia bank and threatened the teller, holding a gun to her head and demanding money. Frighten beyond her wits, the teller complied, handing over the cash.

That night, she went home and told her husband. The man who robbed her was black; the woman was Paula Deen. Telling her husband about the gun placed to her head, Ms. Deen used a word that is considered to be so abhorrent that the Food Network has not renewed her contract even though the context of use of that word by Deen was reveled in a court deposition.

Understand, Deen answered truthfully while under oath, when asked, if is she had ever used the word and she answered yes, she had, when describing a robbery to her husband in which she was the victim.

It is a Bad Word. Other than academic use, such as in this blog or by those teaching what words mean, their history and how they affect other people, it is a word that had no place in our society – but it is a word bandied about by various artists and racists because of the illusion of power to seems to hold.

Why did she grab that word that day? I cannot see into Ms. Deen’s mind, but I will guess it was because she was angry and hurt and afraid and when people are angry, hurt and afraid they will grab anything that gives them a sense of security or power or is just the worst possible insultive word they can find. A man held a gun to her head and she called him a name.

Was the use of the word wrong? Oh, yes. Ms. Deen has said, repeatedly, that she regrets the use of the word as a younger woman living in the South during the 1960s and ‘70s. She has said she no longer uses the word and finds it to be repulsive.

For this use of the word, Ms. Deen is being attacked by some forces in the media.  She has apologized. She is being dropped by her sponsors. Her fans are outraged. Her sons are coming to her defense.

Her message is lost entirely.

What happened?

One word – a Bad Word – continues to have a life of its own and wrecked the superstar cook’s life because she admitted to uttering it 30 years ago when a man held a gun to her head. That word is never, ever right to use – but is it right to use it to destroy a businesswoman who used it privately to her husband in a moment of fear and anger?

Did she use this word more that once? She has implied she did as a much younger woman, growing up and as a young adult in southern Georgia. Was it right? No, it wasn’t and she has said that, too.

Who among my readers has never, ever used a Bad Word? A word that shames us and would either make our mothers cry or have them reaching for soap to wash our mouths out? We can be foolish, insensitive people, especially when pushed to limits of anger or fear. The word that we used then was a horrible word but should we be judged on the use of that word, in that context, at that time?

Or should we be judged on our growth and our ability to put away that word, to turn our backs on it and say that it holds no power over me and I will not use to it to hold power over another?

Food Network and Smithfield are running fast, rather than sticking by Ms. Deen. With so much money at stake, they can’t be associated with someone who has a Bad Word in her past. With so much anger and revenge that is popular in our culture, they won’t take a risk on a successful businesswoman who was once a bank teller with a gun to her head.

What happened is this: the Bad Word has a life and a power of its own. It has a message of destruction all its own. It has been given such power – because it is a powerful word – so that it can have power over us, from use as a weapon to degrade to use as a tool to destroy. Words – all words – can be used as fine edged weapons and once uttered can never be drawn back. Our friends will use our words to support us. Our enemies will use our words to destroy us.

Paul Deen used a Bad Word and

lost control of her message

Categories: What are Words for?

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