Poor Paula Deen, she’s just the latest in a string of celebrity foot-in-mouth mishaps. We’ve all opened our mouths to say one thing, only to find an awkward or downright ugly troll has taken a running start and dove right off our tongue, saying something contrary to our intention. But, when our unconscious beliefs betray social form, is that always a bad thing?
It’s part of our social dynamic to judge and discriminate among other human beings. Our sense of safety depends on correct judgement. But, inaccurate or untrue assessments can live below our awareness, skew our perceptions, and alter our judgments, sometimes in profoundly negative and tragic ways. Another term for this dynamic is called implicit bias. Stereotypes and cliches about social groups, such as LGBT, women, the overweight, Jews, are all examples of implicit bias and tend to be more prevalent than more widely agreed upon, explicit biases towards groups such as Nazis.
Either way, biases can alter our perceptions and the way we assign meaning to a person or group’s needs or behaviors, driving our choices—who to befriend, who to hire, who to include on your team—that affects the lives of others.
So, when Paula Deen, who perhaps did not feel any malice when she spoke her faux pas, opened a drawer from her past to find an ugly truth, it offered a chance for all of us to dig deep into the recesses of our own minds, in search of hidden beliefs that may need to be swept out from the shadows now.
In his compassionate Open Letter to Paula Deen
, African American food writer and living history interpreter Michael W. Twitty, says, “It takes a lifetime to unlearn taught prejudice or socially mandated racism.”
In our present culture and generation, the greatest gift we can give to our future is to bravely look at what cobwebs spun in the past are obscuring the view of present reality.