Overt, Reverse and Old-Fashioned Racism: Paula Deen and the N Word


Home / Overt, Reverse and Old-Fashioned Racism: Paula Deen and the N Word
Social distance is a measure of racism. Image by Jillian2012.

Social distance is a measure of racism. Image by Jillian2012.

Attitudes Toward Racism and Beliefs about Reverse Racism

During the last fifty years, Americans’ attitudes toward overt racism have shifted. Tufts News, citing a study by Tufts University and the Harvard Business School, state: “Both whites and blacks agree that anti-black racism has decreased over the last 60 years.” In that study, whites perceived reverse discrimination as a bigger issue than discrimination against blacks.

The belief in reverse discrimination appears to fuel the Paula Deen debate.  Author Anne Rice, who lived in New Orleans for many years, has referred to “the High Tech Execution” of Paula Deen on her FaceBook page. Responses to Rice’s post range from one extreme: “I’ll never watch her show, or buy any of her products again,” to the other – references to Chris Rock and Eddy Murphy’s humor, which is labeled racist.

While most Americans don’t overtly discriminate any longer-there are no requirements for separate restrooms, public schools or job classifications based on ethnicity, we appear to be torn over the use of language, particularly the use of the n-word, and over power relations between blacks and whites, with whites now complaining there is a double-standard.

The Return of “Old-Fashioned Racism”

Ironically, the election of the first black American President has been linked to an increase in “old-fashioned racism” in politics according to research conducted by Brown University’s Michael Tesler.  Tessler defines OFR or old-fashioned racism as wanting a wide social distance from members of another race, disliking inter-racial marriage, for instance.

Tessler reported in The Journal of Politics “that the election of a black president from the Democratic Party—even one who has been virtually silent about racial issues during the first term of his presidency…has once again made old fashioned racism a significant determinant of white partisanship…”

Are Deen’s defenders supporting her out of a culture of forgiveness for past mistakes, or is it possible that the white complaints against the firing of Paula Deen are other evidence of the re-emergence of old-fashioned racism on the American scene?


Tessler, M. The Return of Old Fashioned Racism to White Americans’ Partisan Preferences in the Early Obama Era. Journal of Politics (2013).

TuftsNow. “Whites Believe They Are Victims of Racism More Often Than Blacks” (2012). Accessed July 6, 2011..

Woolner, A and Gilette F. For Paula Deen, Management Mess Leads to Career Meltdown. Bloomberg Business Week. Accessed July 4, 2013.

Rice, Anne.  Facebook. Accessed July 6, 2013.

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