Tag: racism

What Paula Deen Should Have Learned

booksBy now the story that Paula Deen casually admitted she had used racial epithets is old news. Further revelations that she also considered a “plantation-themed” wedding complete with white-jacketed African American men waiters contributed to the narrative of Deen as racially-insensitive at best, and racist at worst.

The admission by Deen that she has used the n-word sparked a social media debate about whether or not she is being treated fairly by the mainstream media. The New York Times reported over the weekend fans still waited in line at Deen’s restaurant in Savannah, while Deen’s defenders rallied online to her cause.

On the other side of the argument, Food Network revealed it will not renew her contract, which means her Emmy-winning cooking show will disappear taking with it her TV audience. Cable TV shopping channel QVC said it is monitoring the situation but it has no plans for Deen to appear to hawk her cookware anytime soon. USA Today quoted public relations pundits who said “Deen is done.”

Why do fans defend Deen while cable TV shows drop her faster than you can say buttered biscuits? Because Food Network and QVC understand what Deen and her fans don’t — in the US market, commercial brands cannot appear to be racist.

Of course, that wasn’t always the case. Brands like the Aunt Jemima brand and logo have been revised over the years, transforming Aunt Jemima from the bandana-wearing “mammy” of an idealized Southern plantation life, to a contemporary portrait of an attractive African American woman.

For their own economic survival, US corporations have made conscious efforts to change logos and narratives that were tied to a racist past. Paula Deen built a cooking empire on the idea of Southern charm and eccentricity embodied in over-the-top recipes and her Southern drawl. What Deen never learned was that her brand had to steer clear of the darkside of Southern history and life.

Deen’s casual “of course” admission revealed her obliviousness to the changing world around her. Gone with more than the wind is the fantasy of the South that Deen parlayed into a personal fortune. While US consumers may not mind the extra calories in her dishes, she can’t serve them with a side helping of racism.

Becoming Peacemakers In An Age of Chaos

This is the meditation I am giving at the Community Prayer Breakfast sponsored by our local hospital, Danville Regional Medical Center.

A Story of Prayer and Community

We have gathered here this morning because we believe in two things — the power of prayer and our responsibility to our community.  So we have come together to pray for our community, that we can find new ways to deal with old problems, that the promise of Jesus is true when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”  — Matthew 5:9

In a day when violence seems unrelenting, and neighborliness is a quaint sentiment, let me tell you a story in which we might find some hope.

Not far from here, just across the North Carolina line, lies the little community of Cedar Grove, North Carolina.  Cedar Grove is like many of the small rural communities around here.  A changing economy and hard times have reduced the once-thriving crossroads to a couple of churches and a post office.

But Bill King and his wife, Emma, had high hopes for the little bait-and-tackle shop they opened just down the road from the Cedar Grove United Methodist Church.  The Kings had to run the drug dealers out of the cinderblock building they bought.  But gradually business picked up, and families even brought their kids to the little country store for ice cream on hot summer days.

One hot June day in 2004, an intruder walked into Bill’s store and shot him in the back of the head.  Bill died from the gunshot wound, and any sense of security and innocence Cedar Grove might have had disappeared that day.

Outraged, the neighbors demanded that something be done.  One suggested to Grace Hackney, pastor at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, that they offer a reward for the arrest and conviction of the killer.  But Grace had a better idea.  She suggested they gather in front of Bill and Emma’s store in a prayer vigil for their community. Continue reading “Becoming Peacemakers In An Age of Chaos”

Zondervan Models Repentance, Humility By Pulling Controversial Book

Zondervan Publishing announced yesterday that it is pulling all the copies and support material for its controversial Deadly Viper Character Assassins book.   Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and others in the Asian-American Christian community pointed out the culturally offensive title and content of the book to the authors and to Zondervan Publishing. The company listened, and then did the right thing by withdrawing the book from distribution permanently.

You can follow this story as it has developed on Soong-Chan Rah’s blog by starting here and working your way back through his updates on this incident.  Professor Rah is author of The Next Evangelicalism:  Freeing the Church From Western Cultural Captivity.  Rah has challenged other Christian publishing house gaffes — one in 2004 from LifeWay’s VBS curriculum, Rickshaw Rally, in which Asian culture is co-opted for a cutesy but stereotypical depiction.  Zondervan had another faux pas regarding Asian-Americans in a skit book published in 2006 in Skits That Teach.

While LifeWay did not recall the offensive VBS Rickshaw Rally, and actually was rather hostile to the objections of Dr. Rah and others, Zondervan did recall the skit book and deleted the skit that stereotyped Asian speech patterns in offensive ways.  Seems Zondervan is batting 2-for-2 in doing the right thing.

To avoid future mistakes of this nature, Zondervan’s president, Moe Girkins issued this comment, which I have excerpted from the full Zondervan statement:

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is to be commended for the courage, humility, and sacrifice they have made in righting an inadvertent wrong so quickly and completely.  Their stock just went up in my estimation.

Soong-Chan Rah has acted as prophet to the white-dominant Christian culture.  Like many prophets, not everyone has appreciated Rah’s position and some have responded with insensitivity themselves, further compounding and confirming racial and ethnic insensitivity by our largely Eurocentric culture.

Futurists predict that by 2050 there will be no majority ethnicities in the United States.  That’s only 40-years from now, and the cultural landscape will look much different.  The United States has elected its first biracial, African-American president.  The national Republican party chairman is also African-American, and the Republican governor of Louisiana is of Asian Indian descent.  The lone Republican vote cast for healthcare reform in the U. S. House of Representatives was cast by a Anh “Joseph” Cao, Vietnamese born congressman from Louisiana.  My point is that the seeds of ethnic diversity and change are already apparent in our culture.

Churches and Christian organizations, such as Zondervan, are awakening to the new reality that their congregations and audiences are no longer just white, but consist of a rainbow coalition of ethnicities.  This is the future of the United States, the world, and of our Christian communities.  I am reminded of John’s description of the multitude which occupied the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation — “from every kindred, tongue, and nation.”  We might add to the “one anothers” in the New Testament “be sensitive to one another” as we follow Zondervan’s lead of repentance and humility.

How does your church observe Martin Luther King Day?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaching Does your church have special plans to observe Martin Luther King Day on Monday, January 21, 2008?  I wish I could tell you our church has observed MLK Day before, but that’s not true.  Like most white congregations, we just didn’t mention it.  We did close the office last year out of respect for our African-American neighbors, but that was all we did.

This year I am happy to say that we are hosting an MLK Day event.  We were asked to host the youngest African-American CEO of a publicly traded company in the US, Ephren Taylor.  Mr. Taylor is a 25-year old millionaire entrepreneur, and will bring a message of hope and encouragement to our community which is undergoing tremendous economic challenges.

But we were asked to host this event because we also host the Boys and Girls Club of Chatham at our church.   By our willingness to open our facilities to others, especially the children of our community, our church is becoming known as a uniter.   If you think racism is not a part of 21st century church culture, read Les Puryear’s blog posts, “Are Southern Baptists Racist?” and a follow-up here.  Les pastors a multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation in North Carolina, and lives spiritual leadership on this issue.

This year talk about what you can do to honor the memory of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pastor, civil rights leader, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  MLKDay.gov has excellent resources for observing “a day on, not a day off.”  Even the simple gesture of closing the church office will be recognized and appreciated in your community.   Small steps toward racial reconciliation will mean a great deal to those who have experienced social injustice.