Paula Deen: Southern Fried Racism with a Side of White Privilege

Unless you live under a moist rock or just don’t have any excess time to stay abreast of viral news, Paula Deen has come under fire… again. And this time the type of flame that’s been ignited is ferocious enough to take out an entire forest. In the event you’re reading this and still happen to be perplexed, a simple Google search of her name will get you up-to-speed.

Anyway, as expected, America’s purveyor of butter, lasagna sandwiches, and deep-fried fare had a N*gger-gate moment and has incited the media and various social networking platforms to chorus: courtesy of an explosive deposition—(following a $1.2 million lawsuit filed against her last year by a former employee, for stressful work conditions fraught with errant sexual harassment and racial slurs)— in which Paula Deen basically admits that she and her p.o.s. brother, Bubba Hiers, are racists, and that she allowed sexist, inappropriate, and racially charged language and behavior  in her place of business.

After the National Enquirer broke the story and it was picked up by the national media, the reaction was immediate. Never a crowd to pass up a chance to upend a particularly hateful moment, ‘Black Twitter’ skewered the Food Network star via a hashtag called #PaulasBestDishes, and then another one called #PaulaDeenApologyBingo . Quite frankly, watching her fumble her way through three apology videos—the first one she scrapped and the third features her making an appeal for forgiveness to Matt Lauer for bailing on an appearance at the last minute— was awkward and painful to watch: painful because both attempts strike me as being disingenuous and was akin to watching an 8-year-old being forced to eat their vegetables.

When a person has spent the bulk of their life wading, almost proudly,  in a sea of racist rhetoric with impunity, I imagine suddenly being held accountable for it, in an age where people aren’t standing for it anymore, can prove to be difficult to reconcile. When overt racists, particularly if they’re public figures, have to be dragged kicking and screaming by their PR people, to make amends after having believed in something for so long… I suppose it’s hard to know what kind of caca words to string together, to salvage your brand and hold tight to those large paychecks that’ll go down the bog pan, when sponsors and endorsement deals start waning.

paula-deen-racism-lawsuitAlas, I don’t feel bad for Paula Deen, nor do I abide any person who uses oppressive language to exert their perceived supremacy over marginalized communities.  Because hash-tag parodies aside, more often than not, people like Paula Deen will use their privilege to readily hurt people; and when the heat is on them, they’ll uphold themselves as the victim, much like Paula Deen admitted to doing as a little girl, when she physically assaulted and hurt the young daughter of a black woman who looked after her. Racially insensitive people like Paula Deen will employ excuses about it being “just a joke”, that they’re simply a product of their environment, or will go on some rant about political correctness and whinge, “well black people use that word too!” without any regard for context and power dynamics. Because, as many of us with any modicum of awareness have come to realize, white privilege balks at being challenged, it’s a system that can’t stand not controlling the discourse or being able to tone police… so those who uphold it will shut down and sulk  when silencing fails.

Paula Deen has been outed and served a little bit of Shug Avery pee, because she’s now been fired from the Food Network, much to the chagrin of her equally as ignorant fans . And while many people argue that her behavior is no surprise and is typical of a white, middle-aged person from the south, it still doesn’t mean that she should be absolved of bearing any responsibility for using her influence to ridicule black people for her own amusement or discomfit people under her employ. While she probably deeply regrets being exposed, I honestly don’t think she’s sorry. She apologized to her family, friends, team, and Matt Lauer… but never directly addressed the group of people (some of who bought into her brand) she insulted.

And since it is par for the course in these sorts of situations, some people rallied behind Paula by either trying to decontexualize and derail the conversation, or by engaging in a little racism themselves, staying true to the script.