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Over the past few weeks, Celebrity chef Paula Deen's downfall has been complete and seemingly irreversible. Based on a deposition in which she admitted using the word "nigger" decades ago in response to an armed robbery, and the highly complicating factor of her more recent entertainment of a "plantation-style" wedding, she has been dropped by sponsor after sponsor.
A question I have is what, in this instance, is forgiveness? What does progress look like? And what price do people pay by being honest, and to what extent (if any) does honesty play into commercial aspects of past racist speech.
I don't have any objective answers to this. I don't even feel I have all the facts as concerns Deen's statements over the years. But I do think there is a conversation to be had here, and a constructive one. When we live in the midst of a rapidly changing society, do we credit people who acknowledge who they were before that change? Is that important -- that we have witnesses of personal change? In a society that changes year-by-year, when do we forgive and accept repentance. When is something said in hate and anger and bigotry unforgivable? When not?
In the end, the commercial fate of a celebrity chef is not as important as so many other issues facing the United States on the issue of race. But it seems to me to be an opportunity to discuss how we treat the ghosts of the past, both of others and our own.