A few days ago, after attending the funeral for James Gandolfini, Alec Baldwin got home to find that a reporter working for the the UK’s Daily Mail had written a (really dumb) attack piece criticizing Alec’s new wife for allegedly updating her twitter during the funeral. Alec Baldwin is not a man who calmly or rationally handles any thing so he disproportionally reacted in a fashion that Alec Baldwin may well go down in history as making an artform out of.
Ending there would have been bad but of course he continued:
Buzzfeed has a roundup of the tweets in which Baldwin labels Stark a “toxic little queen” and a “lying little bitch.” And that’s hardly the worst — see tweet #5, the one about where Baldwin would like to stick his foot.
So like a child getting spawn killed in a game of Call of Duty (editor: is this how we get the youth page views?), Alec Baldwin resorted to the worst and most pathetic insults he could think of, and just like the child, he gay bashes. Because when you’re angry at someone and you want to hurt them, they can’t get any worse than being gay, right? It’s getting old, I’m getting sick of it, and we need to be more vigilant in our condemnation of this kind of behavior (especially when its our friends, the ones who value our opinions and want our respect). But I’m sure Alec Baldwin will get tarred and feathered because at this point we’ve been doing it so long and so frequently that we don’t really know how to stop.
Even while the world collectively scrambles to get another hit of pure, uncut outrage – this time targeted at Alec Baldwin – we must admit that Alec Baldwin isn’t really a homophobe. Not in the traditional sense, not in any sense. Unlike Paula Deen whose revelry in “Southern Culture” makes it unsurprising to find that she has a backwards view on what is appropriate and what is racially insensitive, Alec Baldwin is one of the “good guys”. As he correctly points out in his (non)apology letter, he does have a lot of ties to the gay community. As GLAAD correctly points out in their response to his (non)apology, he has been a huge supporter of gay activism and has donated both time, money, and recognition to gay rights issues.
Let’s face it, Alec Baldwin doesn’t hate gay people, not even a little. Which is why it may seem odd that he can so publicly and hurtfully attack a person using shamefully ignorant slurs. But a closer examination makes it a lot more understandable (if not justifiable).
Just like when Paula Deen tried to explain her use of the n-word as being in response to an aggressive act by a black man, making her “not too happy with him”, Alec’s use of gay slurs arose out of a place of anger. In Alec’s case, judging by his tweets, he was beyond the point of rational thought and was seething with a blind anger only felt by Rocky Balboa after Ivan Drago kills Apollo Creed or Alec Baldwin when his wife got attacked by a gossip magazine writer. In that state, the prefrontal cortex that is in charge of impulse control and “better judgment” is suppressed and your reptilian lower brain has the upper hand. It’s in this state, I would argue, that the deeply normalized beliefs are allowed to come out unfiltered. And the n-word and gay slurs that come out of even kind and caring people seems to suggest that what we normalize is kinda nasty.
We’ve got work to do as a culture, and that means from the ground up, to reduce the subliminal levels of hate towards the gay community. It’s easy to laugh off an angry bigot crying about marriage being ruined because same sex couples get to share it too, but what about the implicit stuff? What about gay jokes in movies and on TV that aren’t meant to be taken seriously but still lightly suggest that there is something different about gay people? What about “no homo”? And what about the stereotypes that Jason Collins is helping to dispel but still pervades sports that gay people can’t play at the same level as straight players? These are examples, and by no means a complete list, of areas in which we are still struggling with the inclusion of LGBT people into our larger in group. And when Alec Baldwin got mad enough, he went there. That’s not a good sign.
GLAAD was right to accept his apology, even though they are already experiencing intense backlash for their perceived capitulation to a “celebrity”. But with these cases, we have to take the whole scope of the person into consideration before we declare them unredeemable. In Alec’s case, as I’ve already said, I think it’s safe to say he’s done more good in the gay community than bad. Even though this recent outburst was wrong, it should be embarrassing for Alec Baldwin, but not damaging for the gay community. The people who are overtly homophobic (like, for example, owner of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy) aren’t really huge fans of Alec Baldwin anyway, and the people who are fans (or at least like him on 30 rock) are probably not going to go around beating up gays.
Anderson Cooper tried to highlight the hypocrisy of the relative pass Alec Baldwin is getting compared when he tweeted:
Why does #AlecBaldwin get a pass when he uses gay slurs? If a conservative talked of beating up a “queen” they would be vilified.
— Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) June 28, 2013
Yes, I’m sure they would be vilified, but let’s remember that unlike Alec Baldwin, many conservatives are actively pursuing to withhold rights from homosexuals. If they gay bash, it comes from a place of truly hating the idea of gay people. Alec Baldwin is just an angry blowhard with zero impulse control, but one who still thinks gays should be allowed to marry.
Instead, if I were Alec Baldwin and in anger I said something as vile as he has, I would feel like absolute shit. And that’s good. That means you don’t want to think that way. That means you’re truly sorry for what you said. And that means we should forgive him, if not forget his transgressions.
Butter Queen Paula Deen has found herself entangled in a damaging lawsuit involving a former employee of hers, who alleges that the TV personality and “down home cooking” chef and her brother Bubba (seriously) peppered workplace conversations with racist remarks and jokes. This week, the disposition she gave at her trial was released and among the numerous gems that lay bare her inherent racism are these:
Deen testified that she probably used the racial slur when talking to her husband about “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”
“I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” she said, referring to the robber.
Jackson lawyer: “Have you used it since then?”
Deen: “I’m sure I have, but it’s been a very long time.”
Then later she recounted having used, or been around her brother when he used, racial slurs in the context of jokes, saying:
When Jackson’s attorney asked Deen if she had ever used the N-word, Deen reportedly answered, “yes, of course,” and listed specific times she had done so. Regarding racist jokes, Deen allegedly said, “It’s just what they are — they’re jokes…most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. … I can’t determine what offends another person.”
The world reacted with an outrage that lacked the self awareness to realize that these two examples are instances where we have either been guilty of racism ourselves or have been guilty by association as they were said to us and we laughed politely or ignored it.
What Paula Deen has admitted to saying doesn’t make her special or even particularly racist. It just makes her dumb or brave enough to say it to a less than sympathetic audience who was ready to tar and butter her from the second they smelled this week’s outrage machine beginning to churn.
What gets lost when we publicly out and shame a celebrity for their racial indiscretion is the deeper, more troubling fact that their views aren’t uncommon. If we really hope to make a positive change towards a less racist society this is the most inefficient way to do it. We can’t simply change people’s minds one by one when they mess up (and they inevitably will since racism tends to pervade a person’s thoughts and speech no matter how hard they try to control it in mixed company). That is, for one, ineffective at curbing racism generally, but even worse it allows the rest of us a cop out as we can point to them and declare “racist” without ever having to turn that microscope back towards ourselves.
I wonder how well any of us would do during a three hour interrogation about our racist jokes, or racist family members, or our racist attitudes. I’m guessing Paula Deen would fall somewhere around the average racist mark. Half of us would be worse. That should scare us.
What’s also important about this Paula Deen story is how unapologetic she seems about the whole thing. She truly feels like she has done nothing wrong. Let’s take a look at how, by pulling apart the examples I quoted at the top of this article.
When Paula was working at a bank in the 1980s, she was robbed at gun point. Obviously, this was a terrifying experience for her and she testified to using the N-word when later describing the assailant to her husband. When asked for a justification for the racial slur she said the most telling line she could have: “I didn’t feel very favorable towards him”
That is the deep racism I am talking about. It’s the idea that we should be tolerant and “nice” towards minorities as an act of good will, but the second they cross certain lines or violate a white woman’s sense of safety, she feels justified in using a racial slur in regards to him. If she had just said he was an “uppity black”, people would have lost their minds. But this is no different. Minorities cannot be truly equal when the terms of their equality are tied to acting a certain way, being a certain way, and speaking a certain way. That’s still racism.
The second example I cited was her use of jokes. Paula seems to think that all jokes are in someway or another, jokes targeting a particular group of people. She listed “Jews, rednecks, and blacks” as some of the groups jokes are about. If you get past marveling at her ability to say that out loud with no sense of reservations, you would realize that for a large portion of the country, this is probably dead on true. Jokes are about targeting “others”. You make fun of them, and your friends laugh at how different they are. This is probably one of the most ancient forms of joke telling in existence because of how easy it is. A outside group’s behaviors or beliefs seem weird to us and it’s up to the would be comedian to harvest that sense of weirdness. What Paula doesn’t understand is the damage these jokes cause when we are trying to create a just and equal world. It draws lines between people instead of circling all of humanity. Jokes are kernels of truth surrounded by a meaty shell of the absurd, but if that kernel of truth comes from a place of xenophobia or hate or even merely condescension, the joke itself becomes a vehicle of racism.
None of this should surprise us. This should all sound familiar. And that’s the point, Paula Deen is a victim of her culturally ingrained racism when you remove self awareness and the conscious effort to be less biased. As her sponsors jump ship to swim towards another one that has yet to take on water, maybe Paula Deen will start to wake up or maybe she won’t. When Michael Vick went to jail for dog fighting he was probably my least favorite person on the planet, but I now believe that he somehow had not even known dog fighting was wrong. He grew up so ignorant of the larger abhorrence to dog fights by people who view dogs as cherished members of our society (if only other animals got the same placement) that even questioning what he was doing was beyond him. Since then he has seemed legitimately horrified at his previous behavior and contrite when speaking about it. It reinforces the fact that education and diverse perspectives can have real, meaningful impact in a person’s thinking where Nike voiding their sponsorship cannot.
I just hope Paula Deen takes this opportunity to learn why she is wrong and not just how she got caught up in another celebrity take down scandal.