We don't live in a culture that embraces ritual sacrifice as a cultural, religious or social norm. But we do live in a culture where we enjoy seeing the downfall of decade-long empires crumble in mere days.
A narrative started by Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan has continued with the latest person to be scrutinized under our "culture of the crumble" -- Paula Deen. Deen's admission of using inappropriate racist language has led to several high-profile brands, most notable among them Smithfield Ham and the Food Network, to sever ties with her. The truth is, though, that people -- especially Americans -- need people like Deen to be sacrificed to avoid confronting our own racism.
Let's start here: Racism is a pervasive cultural and institutional construct that pervades everything we say and do. To grow up in a racist culture like our own, and to somehow believe one has "evaded" being influenced by racism, is ignorance to the truth of racism. Racism is a silent, invisible killer that diffuses itself through our entire cultural and social upbringing so that it is as seamlessly integrated into our lives as the contents of a teabag into hot water. Rather than attempting to ignore one's racist upbringing, it’s much better to confront and admit how racism has tainted your own life than try to abdicate falsely all the inherited racism.
Because so many people are up in arms about being called a racist -- "I'm the farthest thing from a racist!" -- they fail to see everyone actually is. Because they think racism is embedded in individual actions rather than imbued in structures, they fail in attempting to "undo" much of the racist teachings they have absorbed.
This brings me back to Paula Deen. America needs Paula Deen. More now than ever, perhaps. When we are able to point a finger at someone (Deen), without realizing that when you point a finger you have three pointing back at yourself, we are able to point to racism and say: "There it is!" and eradicate it. It's not much different from a person trying to “cut” out emotional pain by inflicting physical pain personally. By focusing the pain on one tangible place, they see the wound, and they get to watch it heal, which still does little to curb the systemic depression they feel.
I'm not going to share an opinion on whether Deen should or shouldn’t lose her endorsements. My point is more that our reaction to her has been one that ignores our own racism. The loss of her endorsements is less about her racism and more due to a capitalist cost-benefit analysis on behalf of her corporate partners. They weigh whether her racist image will cost them money -- they have no qualms with the content of her character. If everyone at a corporation lost their jobs due to character flaws, we all know a few people who would be in line for unemployment.
To point to Deen as a racist with whom we don't want to share a weekly half-hour television session is also to ignore the very formative and fecund racism that pervades all television. How many television shows have people of color at the forefront? How many Latinas are the lead characters on a TV show that isn't called “Devious Maids”? Racism is, and continues to be a reality, in our lives and on our television sets.
To demonize Deen, whether she deserves it or not, is to attack typhoid with Dimetapp. And it's to forget that we are all Typhoid Marys of racism -- silent carriers of a disease that spreads with the subtle ease of an invisible contagion.
Mathew Rodriguez is a New York-based queer Latino writer, activist and the editorial project manager for TheBody.com, the web's most comprehensive HIV/AIDS resource. He is also a member of the New York City Department of Health's HIV Prevention Planning Group, or HPG. Follow him on twitter @mathewrodriguez.