It’s never easy to admit that one is a hypocrite, but I have to admit that the hypocritical shoes fit my feet snugly when it comes to Paula Deen and her recent firing over her admission of using the n-word, among other racially-charged impropriety.
I don’t think what she did was right. In fact, I think what she did was appalling – especially the issue of her wanting to throw a wedding that recalls slavery time by having middle-aged black men dressed in crisp white suits. She wanted to invoke a time in her warped nostalgia where black people knew their place, were subservient, and whites ruled over them with benevolent patriarchy. Of course Deen’s view of the South in regards to slavery and blacks is woefully out of sync with the reality: slavery in the United States was a brutal genocide of a race of people.
And I think her attempts at apologizing, so far, have been pretty shallow – the videos show a mortally-contrite Deen who begs for forgiveness. Her guilt may be sincere, but it’s self-indulgent at this point – she’s doing nothing to rectify the situation. Her cockeyed view of race relations is a perfect example of just how fractured race discourse can be in this country. Instead of offering mea culpas she should be putting her regret into action – reach out to black leaders of the cultural, culinary, and creative worlds. Do some real work to highlight problems and issues in the black community.
And if there is any doubt that there is still a huge chasm in our country, look at some of the comments by Deen’s supporters, all of whom resent Food Network for firing the celebrity chef. There are variations on the worn arguments like Deen’s of a “certain age” or it’s her “Southern roots.” Even more ridiculous is the “everyone’s said something racist” argument, or the “we all say something we shouldn’t.” The most ridiculous arguments I still see are folks who say something along the line of “Well black people use that word all the time!” I won’t go too deeply into why I think these arguments stink, because I did in an earlier post, but I will say this: none of these supporters seem to grasp that it’s not only the n-word that we’re having a problem with, it’s the slave wedding where black men are expected to suit up like slaves did in the olden days of Songs of the South and Gone with the Wind. The failure to see anything offensive in that idea betrays a lack of understanding, curiosity, sensitivity and empathy to the awful stain slavery has on our present.
Part of Deen’s appeal was that she brought out a cartoony South devoid of any of the messy history. It’s the kind of comfortable South that we can all agree was okay – she studiously side-stepped mentions of its darker history, and that may have been a mistake. Acknowledging that some of the cuisine she was peddling had its roots in slavery and the African diaspora would’ve shown a sensitivity and an awareness as well as an interest in history and culture.
But I write all this – wagging my finger at the woman – and I’m really bummed out about her behavior and her subsequent firing. I found her really charming – and there was something life-affirming about the way she went about her work. Until this happened, I always suspected she was of the South that reared Jimmy Carter, Cybill Shepherd, and Ann Richards. I knew she liked gays, but I always thought her Southern identity was a more evolved, sophisticated model that prided itself on being worldly and inclusive. It’s disappointing that even if this were true, she still had some vestiges of the cancerous old South that looked back fondly on the days when a black person’s sole role in life was to serve his or her white master.
So why does this make me a hypocrite? Because I have to admit, had this been a story about Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, or Bill O’Reilly, I would’ve been cheering. I would’ve given their bosses a standing ovation for cutting them free. But with Deen, I don’t have that smug schadenfreude. Maybe it’s because Deen was a seeming liberal (at least a softcore one), or maybe it was because she palled around with Kathy Griffin and Oprah Winfrey, but there is a sense of disappointment with Deen – almost as if she should’ve known better (which she should’ve – no one in their right minds should think a slave wedding would be a neat idea).
So yeah, in this case I’m full of shit and I’m a hypocrite. I’m not rejoicing like I did when Karen Handel – that dummy former CEO of Susan G. Koman for the Cure – had to resign because she forgot that breast cancer is apolitical and decided to use the organization to support her right-wing attitudes and take away grants from Planned Parenthood. When I see the really clever and witty parodies of Deen’s dishes on Twitter (“lynchables” “We Shalle Overcrumb Cake” “Massa-roni & Cheese”) I’m a little wistful and sad. But I get the outrage – and it’s righteous and justified.
So this will be the last post on this Paula Deen nonsense, I promise. The only time she’ll appear on my blog again is if I’m reviewing her work. I won’t give her thoughtless behavior more press – it doesn’t need it.