In the furor over Paula Deen’s past use of a racial slur and the rush of sponsors to drop her program and products there has been much said on both sides of the issue. It seems that many people, particularly liberals, consider use of the “N” word—no matter how long ago the incident occurred—a capital offense. In fact, uncovering past use of racial slurs has become the favorite gotcha tactic of the left. We now live in a country where your entire life’s work—no matter how much good you have done—can be de-legitimized if the left can find just one person willing to claim that at some point in your past you used a racial slur.
Others make the point that there seems to be a double standard at work here. If a white person utters a racial slur, liberals immediately turn their gotcha moment into a media event and demand retribution. However, if a black person utters a racial slur—a fairly common occurrence—it is somehow acceptable in the minds of liberals and the left-leaning mainstream media. This, then, is the double standard. To understand what makes the double standard particularly hard to take, consider the example of rap music. Eliminate the racial slurs directed toward whites from the rap music of some well-known black artists and you will have no rap left.
My descendants were not slaves and I was not a victim of Jim Crow. Consequently, I make no claim to feeling the same emotions many black Americans experience when they hear the “N” word used. But do I understand that being the target of racial slurs can be demeaning and hurtful. I myself have been called a “cracker,” “honky,” “redneck,” and several other things even less complimentary by people who meant the terms as racial slurs and intended them to wound. In every case, I think the person uttering the slur hurt himself more than he hurt me, even if he did not realize it at the time or never realizes it. However, my experience on the receiving end of racial slurs notwithstanding, I do not condone the use of the “N” word by any person in any setting. It is a word with a less than stellar history in America.
With this important point made, I do think there is a big difference between someone who uses a racial slur unrepentantly in the present and someone who used one in the past and now says “Mea culpa. Please forgive me.” If race relations in America are ever going to improve, there must be room in our culture for repentance, growth, and forgiveness. This is why I believe that black pastors nationwide should come to the defense of Paula Deen. Without intending to, Paula Dean has presented black pastors with an opportunity to set an example of leadership from which all Americans could benefit. She has given them the perfect scenario for reaching out to Americans and saying, “Although we do not condone Paula Dean’s use of this hurtful racial slur, she has admitted her sin and asked for forgiveness. We, in turn, are asking Americans of all races to forgive her.”
For black pastors to take such a step would make a statement almost as powerful as the one made by the grieving Mennonite families who forgave the troubled man who entered that little schoolhouse in Pennsylvania and brutally murdered several children. The entire world was at first amazed and then within a short time uplifted by this simple but powerful Christ-like act. Few concepts known to man are more powerful or more healing than forgiveness, and few—make that none—people get through life without needing forgiveness.
Societal change happens only when men of goodwill and moral courage are willing to step forward and take a stand for what is right. With the Paula Deen case, black pastors have an unprecedented opportunity to put the Christian model to work on behalf of positive societal change and better race relations in America. Dr. King—a black pastor—did it when he refused to strike back at those who opposed, demeaned, and attacked him. More than anything else, his courageous example of non-violence in the face of brutality is what eventually won the battle against Jim Crow in the South. With the Paula Deen situation, black pastors have an opportunity to take the next step toward better race relations in America.