Chef Paula Deen is still in the headlines for using racial slurs and waxing nostalgic for the Old South.
The Food Network has fired the folksy cook who was legendary for her “soul food” culinary fare. That Deen made millions of dollars churning out cookbooks and televised cooking choke full of recipes which originated from slaves turning “Massa's” scraps thrown to them into meals is itself a deep irony.
But that is a whole other topic for another day. Deen has since issued two apologies via YouTube, though one was hastily taken down with no explanation. All this hoopla over the aging Southern Belle’s use of the N-word and pining for a plantation style wedding for her brother have shone a glaring spotlight on race and what is still considered offensive.
But is Paula Deen’s mentality — where the casual use of the word ni---- and wishing she could have a bunch of middle aged “negroes” dress up in pre-civil rights era jackets and bow ties to serve her white guests — more common than we admit? Is that the Southern pride of being an “accidental racist” like country crooner Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J sang about?
At one point in the duet, LL Cool J rapped, “If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains,” and being a Southern gentleman, Paisley crooned, “walkin' on eggshells, fightin' over yesterday... caught between Southern pride and Southern blame" and "If you don't judge my do-rag / I won't judge your red flag," a reference to the Confederate flag and some of hip-hop’s urban style.
Both men were trying to bridge the racial divide, but the simplistic lyrics failed to capture what I think they intended them to do. Instead, they ignited a backlash of criticism.
Deen, a product or part and parcel of that “accidental racism,” also reportedly cracked jokes about not being able to see black folks in the dark in addition to using racial slurs. (See video above where she calls out her black friend but just couldn't help saying they couldn't see him against the dark backdrop).
During that same interview, she defended Southern attitude, and spoke about her great-grandfather who committed suicide after the South lost the war and he had to give up his pride and joy—his plantation of slaves. Seeing what he thought of as his "Negroes" go free sent him over the edge.
What right did those “Yankee Northerners” have to blow his livelihood away? Everyone in the South knew those black folks laboring for free in the fields and homes of their masters weren’t really 100 percent human and didn’t deserve to be free like he was.
Fast forward to today, some 150 years later, where some parts of the South still fly the Confederate flag—hiding behind the banner of “Southern pride” — and we understand why the Paula Deens of this country see racism through a prism of their personal history.
We see why singer Paisley was surprised at the swift backlash he and LL Cool’s duet unleashed; why many of Deen’s fans see the controversy as much ado about nothing and vehemently protested the Food Network’s firing of their favorite chef; why comedian Bill Maher thinks Deen’s use of the N-word is the same as a rapper using it.
I guess Deen’s longing for the good ole days where she could use the N-word freely and blacks existed to do the bidding of whites, even though we were technically “free,” is simply her being a product of a society that said, taught and legislated that racism was OK only until a few decades ago.
We know what they say about old habits: They die hard, or, as I like to add, they go slowly kicking and screaming in protest or never at all.
Some folks love to say they are not racist because they have a “black friend or friends.” It eludes them that racism is deeply psychological and can be present despite hanging out with their black folks. I once read where a woman wrote to Essence Magazine’s “Ask Abiola,” for help with her white husband, who consistently called her a "ni---- bitch" in bed.
How could he be racist and misogynistic if he is married to a black woman, many asked. I think they forget that slave masters use to have sex with their slaves more often than some of them touched their wives.
A state of mind is not the same as a state of being or doing. Interestingly, this woman did not want to leave her husband, just wanted to know how she can get him to stop calling her his "ni---- bitch" during sex. She loved him, she said. She loved a man who subjected her very spirit to constant degradation when she was at her most vulnerable and intimate.
I wonder what she had to tell herself to subdue her soul enough to stay in that marriage.
Click on the video above and links embedded in the article for sources and additional information.