When I first read the news that Paula Deen had been deposed in a trial accusing her and her brother of racism, I made a snarky comment. I had a close friend who worked for The Lady and Sons back when Ms. Deen was first becoming famous, and my friend wasn’t particularly fond of her or her sons. I found it ironic because Deen’s public persona was of a down-home “Come on in, y’all,” Southern-kind of gal. My two cooking network addict friends loved them some Paula. So yeah, I was rolling my eyes over the deposition.
I seriously did not expect it to turn into this massive shit-storm. I understand that Food Network has to bow to advertisers, blah, blah, etc., but it does feel like Ms. Deen is being hung out to dry for telling the truth. And that being said, when I originally read excepts from the deposition, the part that cause my mouth to drop was NOT her admission of having used the “N” word at some point in her past. No, what really rolled my eyes was her idea of having a real Southern Plantation wedding for brother Bubba, darky wait staff and all.
How could someone be so ignorant to see how insulting this was, I wondered? And then I remembered that much of what I knew about TRUE plantation life came from my college courses and NOT from Gone With the Wind. As a feminist, what really settled it for me was a discussion about how the white gentlewoman was expected to turn a blind eye while her plantation owning husband used his female property as he desired.
Since then the Deen brothers have gone on to make matters worse. One related a story involving Hank Aaron sheets to prove his parents weren’t racist; This anecdote shows what is the real problem here and a problem that is fairly common still in the South. We don’t know how to talk to each other about racism. We don’t even understand what racism is. Just because we aren’t burning crosses in each other’s yards, or yelling “that white girl” or “nigger” doesn’t mean that we aren’t insulting each other.
I remember a discussion in my Post-Colonial Lit class that was probably the most akward class I have ever sat through. I happened to be sitting on the side of the class that was largely African-American while the other side was a motley group. One particular young white gentleman announced that his father would being very unhappy with him if he brought home a black female (um, said young man will probably NEVER bring home any sort of female) and he was not cognizant of how offensive this comment was. The teacher was shocked to see the division in thought between the two sides of the class so we devoted the rest of the class time to furthering the discussion. As someone who abhors confrontation, I wanted to run out of the room. After this particular class, several members of the “white” side of the room dropped the class. After then, it became one of the best classes I have ever taken.
I’ll never be perfectly “NOT” racist. I don’t think most of us can be. We’re to exposed to all kinds of nasty things that inform us of how we are supposed to perceive each other and sometimes other folks do things that back up a certain stereotype i.e. the man who held a gun to Ms. Deen’s head. I am glad that because of my liberal arts education and am more aware of all kinds of structures that are in place that keep us divided and down.