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Hooper: Paula Deen drama is a prime time for deeper dialogue

Paula Deen's tearful interview with Matt Lauer on Today Wednesday clearly produced discomfort for Deen and likely her fans watching at home.

But it's a conversation that needed to occur on national television, and it should have happened on the Food Network.

In all the controversy swirling around Deen's use of the n-word and admission she once considered a plantation-themed wedding where African-Americans would be servers, the Food Network's decision not to renew her contract may have been the easiest action.

It's a move repeatedly seen in such controversies where the representative networks or sponsors simply wash their hands of the entire affair.

But that doesn't do anything to advance race relations. The Food Network's commitment to Deen as well as its viewers should have prompted the channel to give Deen and race relations experts a chance to dissect her words and the problematic views that are still part of our nation.

Deen needed an apologetic showcase instead of a shove out the door.

The interview helped, but a longer format with more meaningful discussions could have fostered a greater understanding among all. It's not about Deen providing an act of contrition as much as her sharing how her perspective has evolved — over the course of time and from this incident.

All of us can improve our world views when it comes to race, religion, and sexual or gender orientation. And if you do have a perfect heart on these matters, albeit unlikely, invite dialogue to help others.

"If there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back," Deen said during the interview, "if you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me."

That's a little dramatic, but I agree with the principle.

This isn't to suggest I condone her use of the n-word or its use by anyone else.

I recently wrote about my friends at Community Tampa Bay, which strives to end discrimination of all kinds, and how one of its program graduates shared that the n-word was used daily at his workplace even after his complaints.

A few readers asked: How can white people, particularly young whites, know not to use the n-word when they hear it all the time in today's hip-hop songs?

What they didn't realize was that the complaining employee was white. Somehow he gained a sensitivity for the damage conveyed by one of the English language's most horrid words and recognized it had no business being strewn about the workplace.

It doesn't belong in our music either. My sons listen to the same songs, but they know I don't accept use of the n-word in any format.

"If you aren't the target of racist remarks or language, you might fail to recognize its impact, its frequency and your own responsibility," said Stacie Blake, executive director of Community Tampa Bay. "Because you don't feel it doesn't mean racism isn't happening. It is the responsibility of all of us to be vigilant in creating an inclusive community through our own actions and holding others accountable."

These are the kind of lessons that arise from dialogue, whether it's between you and a neighbor or Deen and Lauer. The more we learn about our feelings and emotions, the better we'll be as a society.

For Community Tampa Bay, the learning begins Saturday when 120 kids begin its weeklong Anytown program and begin to gain the much-needed tools to recognize exclusion and interrupt prejudice. I wish them well.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: Paula Deen drama is a prime time for deeper dialogue 06/26/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 27, 2013 3:06pm]
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