My father was a southerner of the same generation as Ms. Deen. He did not speak directly to the question of the “n” word and his culture. As a child I knew these stories:
His father owned a hardware store. He was taught to call people “sir” and “ma’am” and so he did so until his father told him these terms did not apply to the African American customers who came to the store.
Why? My father wondered. He never, as long as I knew him, treated anyone with partiality. He was not convinced by prejudice and racism. Always fair at all things except cards–in which case the man played to win.
Or the stories of the black women who raised him. They loved him, put up with him, nurtured him, and gave him his taste for butter on rice and pinto beans. A taste that is sewn into who we are and what we call home.
And then there was Tav–Octavia, the subject of the most explosive argument I remember between my father and his parents.
They objected to loans she got from the government to renovate her shack. She was their employee. If they had paid her a living wage then she could have afforded her own linoleum and shingles.
But this last story is mine: I was 4 or 5 at most and a relative repeated a familiar rhyme that often has the word “tiger” in it. Only she used the n word. I did not know at first what it meant.
My parents (Paula Deen’s age and no angels) explained that it was a derogatory term we did not use.
If you can teach a 5 year old that some words are painfully off-limits, well…you can teach just about anyone.
Trick is to get’em to understand God sees us all the same–His beautiful children.