Unintended Racism that’s “All in Good Fun” is Still Wrong

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cornmazeA haunted corn maze, with a scene of a lynching, all in good fun — what could go wrong with that?

I grew up in the Deep South, in the hill country of central Alabama just south of Birmingham, during the Civil Rights Movement. Just about everything you saw happening in Birmingham during that time was also happening in the small town rural area where I grew up.

It was a time of great turmoil and great change. When it comes to race, and righting the wrongs of the past, there is no doubt that it was way past time for some serious changes to be made all over this country.

Things took a while to sink in. Even when you feel like you are doing your best to do things right, sometimes when you grow up with things a certain way, you don’t even realize that those ways are wrong. Maybe some folks see things different. It could be that people have been hurt in ways that you can’t understand because none of what they feel has ever been part of your own experience. Just because we take certain things for granted, or have always done things a certain way, that doesn’t mean they are right.

Take Paula Deen, for instance. I don’t think she honestly intended to be racist, but I do think that perhaps she missed a beat or two along the way. There is no doubt she suffered the consequences, probably way out of proportion to what she did compared to what others have done before her and the various consequences they all paid. She sure got people talking, though.

Despite some of the related discussions, she wasn’t actually lynched, and she walked away to see another day. After the biggest imaginable public shaming, she’s making a comeback. Something tells me she won’t be making the same mistakes again. Peer pressure can go a long way toward righting wrongs and getting people on the right track, mending ways and all that.

The latest ruckus involves a photo of a lynching scene from the haunted Mid-South Maze in Memphis, Tennessee. Mazes such as these are generally a lot of fun; they have all kinds of creepy gory scenes, scare your socks off, and are definitely an October tradition in many communities. As the firestorm erupted on social media, some say people are overreacting about the lynching scene and taking the PC (politically correct) thing too far. It was all just good fun, right? Maybe not.

I looked at the picture, which you can find at the link highlighted above. It is of a staged lynching; evidently, the actor being lynched has his face painted black. However, it was all supposed to be in good fun, and never intended to be racist. Supposedly the actor wears a mask at times, which would make it very different. That is not what showed up in the picture and was not evidently the experience of the folks who were there the night that the photo was taken.

Being as I too am a daughter of the South, I really don’t think those folks sat around thinking, “Hey, y’all, let’s all be racist today! Let’s think of the most offensive, hurtful and racist thing that we can do, and then do it!”

I don’t honestly think they did that. However, that doesn’t mean that the exhibit isn’t racist and it doesn’t mean it is not hurtful. Many have argued, in their defense, that they have done it that way for a number of years. People do a whole lot of things for years on end, but that doesn’t mean those things are right. The part about them having done it for years and nobody ever having said a thing about it is not honestly to anybody’s credit. Part of progress, righting past wrongs, and civilization itself, is that people eventually learn right from wrong — and they do indeed learn to have some degree of sensitivity toward each other.

I don’t think these folks need to be “Paula Deen’ed,” but they could perhaps use a  lesson in sensitivity. Sometimes it really is time for good people to say, “Enough of that, this is wrong.” It is way past time for that chapter to be closed on the history of the South.

Regina Garson

Raised in the hill country of central Alabama, Regina Garson has degrees in Behavioral Science, Communications, and English. A long time writer, editor and activist, her career has involved both the social and the hard sciences. She has devoted her efforts to a number of causes including the War on Drugs, equality issues: race/diversity/women, labor and workplace issues, NASA, STEM education, and space development. She is founder and publisher of MagicStream.org, which is among the earliest self-help and wellness sites on the Internet. She also publishes a blog, where you can read more of her writing: Regina Garson's Blog. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaGarson, like her on Facebook, and read more of her articles in the archives.
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  • Turnbo

    Being from the North, I cannot entertain any thoughts of such public racism by the people. I think that the South has suffered with poverty and poor education so long that the people who have matured there are unable to see other points of view. A few rich and influential politicians and ultra-conservatives have kept the Southern states poor by design, as a way to control the ideas and influences the people are exposed to. The per-capita income of the Southern states are the lowest, taken as a whole, in the U.S. The states which take welfare from the gov’t at the highest level in the US are the Southern states. Putting this all together has created a monumental problem for the rest of the country, as the Tea Party shut-down of the Federal Government has shown.

  • Karen Novotny

    Mock lynchings, no matter who is being represented at the end of the rope, are revolting images but it is especially so when it takes place in the southern part of our country where these were not rare or distant happenings and the primary targets were people of color. I should like to add that illegal lynchings of blacks or others were not limited to the South and have happened in the majority of our states. The only difference is many states are ashamed enough to hide the history of their lynchings versus areas that seem to take pride in them. If anyone took the time to research their state I am willing to guarantee they will find illegal lynchings to have happened there. There will always be people who think they are above the law and they have some innate right to harms others. That is why is so very important for the rest of us to resist going along with a mob mentality and to think for ourselves and speak up for those are being victimized. I truly believe there are more good people the bad. If we don’t stand up for what is right and fair then the mob wins and the rest of us
    lose.

  • louis

    wow you say this happened in the south…..get out of here. the people responsible don’t get whats wrong……no way…….is anyone surprised? I am not. Southerners are so ingrained with racism, they dont even realize when they are being racist.

  • oli3

    Good post, Regina!

    graduate of W.A. Berry, class of 1971

    • Regina Garson

      Cool, home folks! Thank you.

  • Read some of the disparaging comments left at the original article, it’s ridiculous. Most people trying to explain this away are of course white. Some saying things like ”Black people need to stop living in the past and start living in the now”, yet white southerners still have a chip on their shoulder about the south losing the Civil War even though not one of them were around when it took place.

  • Matthew Reece

    “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.” -Ayn Rand