Required Reading about the Paula Deen Controversy
Posted on June 28, 2013
I feel that others have analyzed what Paula Deen said and how the public has responded far better than I can, and so instead of adding to the echo chamber, here are a few of the most insightful things I’ve seen written about the controversy.
2. She doesn’t understand why African-Americans can use language white people can’t: Lauer brought up the section of Deen’s deposition where, when asked about racial and ethnic jokes, Deen said ” I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.” “That last sentence gets me,” Lauer tells her. “Do you have any doubt in your mind that african americans are offended by the “n” word?” Deen’s response is telling. “I don’t know, Matt,” she says. “I have asked myself that so many times because it’s very distressing for me to go into my kitchen and I hear what these young people are calling each other. It’s very, very distressful.” If Deen doesn’t understand that different words have different connotations when used by different speakers, that suggests an unwillingness to think critically about race, power, and historical context. This is a frequent strawman offered up by people who have spoken in racially insensitive ways. But that frequency doesn’t make it any less a missing of the point.
If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever. As a species we cannot conduct ourselves in this manner. As creations of the Living G-d, we are commanded to be better. You and I are both the descendants of people who lived, fought, died, suffered so that we could be better in our own time. I’m disappointed but I’m not heartless. And better yet, praise G-d I ain’t hopeless.
Food and race and the South—it’s a minefield. And I would love to see Paula Deen walk through it on national television. She knows exactly where she screwed up and why, and to have to face that with the whole country watching? Just imagine it: with no pause for “reflection,” with the eyes of a multiracial nation upon her and “the N-word” like a yoke around her neck, Paula Deen standing in front of a big Sunday spread of buttermilk fried chicken, barbecue brisket, collard greens, corn bread, fried okra, pigs’ feet, and sweet potato pie. Let her stand there and explain where all that good food came from and how her mama’s housekeeper used to make the best green bean casserole and see if she can learn how to do it without putting her racist foot in her mouth. Then, when she screws up, make her go back and do it again. That would be a punishment that fits the crime. It would make her a better person. It would make our National Conversation About Race a conversation worth having. And it would also make fantastic television.