Time is a dimension of experience, one that cannot be recaptured. In that time the dynamic process of growth and maturity occurs. In the words of T.S. Eliot,
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place…
So, when I hear that Paula Deen is seeing her business taken down because she used the N word 30 years ago I’m disgusted. First, I think she’s not being candid. Thirty and 40 years ago we were living in a different world. I grew up in NYC and words like dago, mick, kike, commie (ok, it’s not a racial slur), were commonly heard – in the urban North. I imagine similar epithets (including “yankee”) were in common use. The civil rights act hadn’t been passed, Jim Crow was in force and the South had not yet been “educated” about political correctness.
It was a tense time. I had passed through the Deep South on a Greyhound bus and seen the grimy waiting rooms and water fountains for blacks. Children don’t know much. They accept the things they see and assume there is a reason for everything. Rage at injustice to others is not innate in our character. With growth and maturity comes empathy toward others. Sometimes empathy does not develop, or does not extend toward those you have been raised to consider akin to animals.
Children copy the language, attitudes, and prejudices of their parents and the society around them. However, people change; people abandon the culture of their youth and embrace the new adaptive culture of maturity. This does not mean that stupidity can be cured, it means that ignorance can be.
Most of us, in the course of growing up have done things we regret. I say most of us because there are evidently some who have lived such spotless lives that they are irreproachable. Good for them.
Condemning Paula Deen for using the n-word 30 years ago is asinine. At a time when freedom of speech is so much at risk, political correctness severely limits speech. I, for one, am not shocked when someone uses racist slurs, it tells me something about that person and I can decide to avoid him or her as undesirables. The polite, politically correct racist is safe from rebuke but is more undesirable than the vocal racist who signals his views. In any event I don’t like southern food.
As to what was acceptable in the past I submit the following by one of my famous poets who evidently had not a kind word for my Irish kin. I bear him no ill will. After all, 1920 was the year that women got the vote in the U.S., prohibition was a year old, and WWI had ended only two years earlier.
Sweeney among the Nightingales