Where is the voice of reason?

In my opinion, Paula Dean is pretty darned ignorant. I never cared for her style, but millions of Americans love her down home Southern cooking. I suspect that most people don’t really watch her show for the cooking; rather, they enjoy her simple nature, her Southern charm and her sense of hospitality – ideals which represent American pride to folks across the country. Older Southerners grew up in an era with different norms and values. It’s no secret that many of them continue to dislike the North, so it’s also no surprise that their prejudices against African Americans still exist.

With few exceptions, the younger generations are far more accepting of all kinds of people – black, Asian, LGBT, tattooed, pierced, etc. They welcome and celebrate diversity. The older generation; however, is just now starting to realize how discrimination feels. You see, it never affected them personally before. Now, they are dealing with issues such as age-related job layoffs, hearing loss, and trouble getting around. And do you know what? People don’t care. I actually saw a Facebook post, a kid talking about the double murder of an elderly couple, and here is what he had to say: “They had a good, long life, and they were gonna die soon anyhow. The guys that did it made a bad choice, but they have their whole life ahead of them. They shouldn’t have to spend it in prison.”  Yeah, he actually put it out there for the whole world to see!

During our stay in Florida this year, I was asked to help out an 86 year old woman with errands and such. She is a pain in the explicative – bossy, demanding, and selfish. I was a Northerner, and she subtly let me know that she felt superior, having been raised in the South. After about 6 months, I was angry and ready to call it quits, then she started showing her own vulnerabilities. She confided in me that she was lonely and bored, so I urged her to spend time with other people around the park. Her fear of being taken advantage of, in combination with a judgmental attitude she has towards her neighbors, had built up a wall that imprisoned her in her own home. The conversation shifted to another topic about a young black man who was rude to her. She whispered the following words: “You may not know it but down here, us white folks don’t care for them black folks, and they don’t care for us neither. It’s just the way it’s always been.” Now, I had two choices – I could either lambaste her ignorance and prejudice, or I could keep talking about the issue. I decided to be the better person, to share the voice of reason with her, and to try stripping away the fear and hate behind her mindset.

Building up acceptance and tolerance of those who are different from us, by open discussion of these issues, will encourage all people to develop empathy; it’s our only hope in preserving humanity. We can shut people like Paula away and lock the key, or we can say, “hey Paula, I’m a person too, and what you did hurts. Let me explain to you why that is so.” It is far more effective for us to positively build-up freethinking individuals, than it is to jump on the bandwagon of group-think condemnation.


  1. It still shocks me that there are people who are racist, in this day and age… not that they think they are… which is a big part of the problem…

  2. It is a generational problem – passed down in families as “normal” behavior within those circles. However, it tends to be kept “secret” with outsiders. Exposure and empathy building help families reject systemic racism, as does speaking up (respectfully). They may not know exactly what it is and how it continues to affect their friends and neighbors, though some are well aware of it.

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Donna Jean McDunn

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