Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Paula Deen exposes the racism of the "New South"

I’m struggling to express my thoughts regarding Paula Deen.  Now that I’m past my “no she didn’t” moment, I can share how I really feel about Deen and Southern living.

On center stage is Southern culture and how closely connected we remain to an ideology that assumes blacks are inferior to whites

Deen’s ouster as a Food Network host attempts to cover common thoughts and tendencies among those born and reared in a segregated society.  Although Deen, and many like her, have done the hard work to distance themselves from the mean spirited ways of their ancestors, some of it still lingers.

Ostracizing Deen by making her a rogue promoting a racist agenda fails to censure the culture that cultivates that racism.  Convicting Deen as a racist may take the covers off the charisma that made her the darling of Southern culture, but it doesn’t give space to the need for deeper reflection on what remains after she goes away.

"I believe that every creature on this Earth, every one of God's creatures, was created equal," she told NBC's "Today" show. "... I believe that everyone ought to be treated equal."

Deen has a different understanding of truth.  In her mind, she’s not a racist.  In her mind she has been misunderstood and lies have been told.  Deen believes she’s a victim of a conspiracy to undermine her work and reputation.

In other words, it’s not her fault.   

The national debate on Deen involves court documents that support allegations that she and people in her restaurant have been insensitive to blacks, women and other minorities.  She confessed to calling a man Nigger and to having used the word more than once.

The discrimination lawsuit filed by Lisa T. Jackson, a white woman, contends racial slurs about women, Jews and blacks were common in Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a restaurant run by Deen’s brother in Savannah, GA.  Lawyers for Deen’s brother filed a motion in the case arguing Jackson is pursuing race-based claims, but has no standing because she is white.

The unraveling of Deen’s empire bares before the public the behind the scenes culture of a Southern restaurant.  It’s clear that something is amiss in Deen’s kitchen, but could it be that the work environment in many Southern kitchens follows a long legacy of mistreatment of black employees?

Is the culture of “The Help” still enforced in the South?

If so, on trial here is Southern culture and the assumptions regarding race and privilege.  Maybe Deen, and others like her, believe their contention that they are removed from the grip of race.  Maybe Deen doesn’t believe she is a racist because her form of racism deviates from the form she knew as a child.  Maybe the movement away from the old model of racism leaves many convinced they aren’t racist.

She’s not racist, she just calls people Nigger.

Racism doesn’t look and act like it did when Deen was a young person growing up in the South. But if it looks like a racist, it is a…..You know the rest.

Racism hides under positions of privilege and power.  It robs people of their culture and voice and claims it as its own.  Southern cooking is the creation of the former slaves.  Deen’s wealth entrenched in a long history of black cooks who fed those who kept them entrapped to protect their power and privilege.  Those old cooks watch as people like Deen take ownership of their culture as if they crafted it themselves.

Racism is about owning what doesn’t belong to you due to the power and privilege needed to promote it in a way that separates you from those on the bottom.  Racism is calling people Nigger when your wealth and reputation is built on what they have given.

Racism is the celebration of a culture of exclusion.  Jackson's lawsuit claims Deen wanted to plan a party in the style of a Southern plantation, staffed with black waiters dressed to resemble slaves.  Racism is not knowing that desire is racist because Southern culture makes that fantasy normative.

Today’s racism doesn’t know it’s racist.  It places Southern culture and white pride above thoughts involving race.  Deen doesn’t know she’s a racist because racism is adjusted to feel normal.

On trial is the evolution of racism. Transformed racism is found among white liberals unable to concede their racism.  They invest time to prove they’re not racist, while refusing to acknowledge how their position of power and privilege discounts the contribution and work of black people.  They take the fried chicken and make it their own.  They reap the advantages that come with race while preventing a black person from getting what they receive.

All while refusing to concede the benefits afforded them due to their racial privilege.  This is the new racism.

Deen is a good white woman who loves black folks.  Behind closed doors she calls them Niggers and wishes for days when she was served by black people.

She’s not a racist. She’s a Southern woman living within a culture that continues to take advantage of the power and privilege afforded her because she’s white.

"I believe that every creature on this Earth, every one of God's creatures, was created equal," she told ... I believe that everyone ought to be treated equal."

Now, get back in the kitchen.

Welcome to the “New South”.


  1. It may be that this is particularly true for Southern culture, but note that the sales of her cookbook skyrocketed after this controversy was exposed. There are plenty of people all over the U.S. who think the way Deen does. They just don't express their racism as colorfully as she does.

  2. I moved to the Deep South (South Carolina) three years ago. I'm now searching for a job elsewhere, ANYWHERE that isn't here. The clueless racism demonstrated by Deen is commonplace, & a disturbing number of those who have those views consider themselves good Christians, patriots, and the fabric of America, such that the rest of the country should strive to be like them! I and my family can't wait to get back to a real world state!