“Fag” was a common insult when I was a kid. In the vocabulary of eighth-grade put-downs, its ubiquitousness was matched only by the thoughtlessness with which we tossed it at everyone. I remember the day a friend explained why it offended him. I felt ashamed, and haven’t used it since.
I thought of that last week after celebrity chef Paula Deen got dropped by her sponsors for admitting that she used the n-word 25 years ago.
She was asked in a court deposition if she had ever used the word in her life.
“Of course,” she replied. She said she probably used it back in 1987, while telling her husband about the man who robbed her at gunpoint. But she insisted she hadn’t said it in a “very long time.”
I’m no fan of Paula Deen, or her deep-fried lasagna. But does it really do any good to burn her at the stake for admitting that she used a term that — odious as it is — was so common in Georgia during her childhood? I worry that our focus on banning a word distracts us from deeper conversations about race.
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