Monday, June 24, 2013

Paula Deen and her Time Machine

I can't say I was surprised when news broke that in a legal deposition related to a harassment suit against her Savannah restaurant,  TV-"chef" Paula Deen* admitted to using the n-word. And it didn't surprise me when an overwhelming number of her minions (mostly, though not exclusively, white) expressed outrage when Food Network cancelled her contract as a result.

What surprises me is that, in this day and age, we are still giving blanket sanction for people of a certain age to use racial epithets at will.

Let's face it: Paula Deen has been a businesswoman for decades. She didn't just fall out of her backwoods cabin into the public eye. She's been an employer for over 30 years. She has traveled all over the world and logged in countless hours on television. She didn't just stumble into a time machine in 1961 and stumble out into 2013, with no cultural preparation.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, my father used to train young men to be salesmen. One of the challenges he faced, since we lived in a pretty ethnically diverse area, was how easily these guys fell into racial or ethnic language without even realizing it. It was how they grew up and the discourse they heard every day around their dinner tables. But it was also a dangerous habit for a salesman whose livelihood depends on sales to people other than their own race or ethnic extraction. You'd be surprised how quickly they managed to clean up their language with such motivation.

Of course, Paula had no financial motivation to edit of her arrogant and insulting vocabulary, but with all her cloying, over-the-top posturing of warmth and affability, you'd think just decency would prevent certainly the most egregious of offenses.

And you would think that when she developed that dramatic Southern Belle act (did you ever see old, old versions of her show? Her accent isn't as thick and those "y'alls" are eerily absent) she could have also developed tolerance, politeness and professionalism.

Not that it should matter, but this was not a simple slip of the tongue or thoughtless faux pas. This was a reflection of a particular mindset that needed an outside party to inform her how inappropriate is a "plantation theme" for a wedding featuring black men as servants.

It all just shows that, in spite of what many of Deen's defenders insist, race is still an issue in this country and sometimes it's just underneath the crust...the thick, butter-drenched, overly-rich crust.

*By way of disclosure, I have to admit I've never really liked Paula Deen's show or her recipes. Her accent is put on and sounds it and her food is just...too...much...everything. And this is a food addict speaking...


Anonymous said...

Well-said! I wholeheartedly agree with you.

Leslie Shelor said...

I sort of looked the other way when my GRANDFATHER said things that were racists, although my grandma knew better and taught her children and her grandchildren better. But this woman is NOT in my grandfather's generation. Those people are gone and it's way past time these attitudes were gone, too.

And I'm a true-blue, 8th generation Southern Highlander and ashamed of how some people act that claim to represent us.

Anonymous said...

She is annoying , course all y'all knew that already.