Saturday, June 22, 2013

Fry a Little Tenderness


I just wanted to take a second to follow up on the whole Paula Deen miasma, which culminated yesterday in what had to be Deen's worst day ever. In a period of less than ten hours she bailed on the Today show, posted a bizarre, rambling apology on YouTube, took that apology down, put it back up, and lost her home at Food Network after executives there decided they weren't willing to take the heat of keeping her around. You have to have a lot to feel the excruciating pain of losing a lot, and yesterday Paula Deen lost a lot. I get the impression that she'd love to figure out a way to just make the whole day go away entirely.

There are a lot of people gloating right now over Deen's downfall and I fully admit to not being a fan of hers at all. I also admit to gleefully taking part in the hilarious Twitter pile-on both yesterday and Wednesday when this whole thing first broke. Having a somewhat good-natured laugh at pain, even someone else's pain, is what we human beings do; there's just no way around it, I guess. But believe it or not there truly is a part of me that feels a little sorry for Deen. Obviously, she's still got a giant bag of money she's sitting on and there's no way in hell this controversy is going to sink her entirely, so my sympathy is tempered quite a bit. Still, Paula Deen's brand of racism, while potentially far more insidious in the big picture, isn't the same as the brand that shows a true internal hatred for people of color.

Yes, an argument can easily be made that it's casual, inadvertent racism that allows for the more blatant, in-your-face kind, but as I often say when someone gets in deep shit for saying or doing something the masses find reprehensible -- rightly or wrongly -- you have to consider a person's intent before deciding what punishment to mete out. If Paula Deen truly didn't understand that what she was doing could be construed as incredibly hurtful and that it both enabled and perpetuated the problem of racism in America -- certainly in the South -- does she deserved to be publicly eviscerated and lose a substantial portion of that for which she obviously did work pretty hard? It's absolutely fair to refuse to tolerate racist behavior or language of any kind, but I'm genuinely not sure Paula Deen had any idea what the hell she was doing. If that's true, isn't it better to give her a hand to hold rather than one that beats her over the head?

It may be tough to see it as a legitimate excuse, but Deen's apparently blithe attitude toward racist language really is a product of her surroundings. That kind of crap still goes on all over the place in the South and I'm certainly not condoning or suggesting we let it slide. Far from it, in fact; I generally hate the fucking South. Deen is a hugely popular face of that region and its sometimes intransigent beliefs, though, and rather than trying to take several pounds of very fatty flesh, would it possibly be a better idea to reach out to her in the spirit of the understanding we all purport to crave and let a public conversation with her on race and racial issues perhaps be an example to those who look up to her? Of course we all know that there's a part of her that's crying more for herself than anything or anyone else when she pleads for forgiveness, but that doesn't mean her transgressions can't serve a useful purpose for everyone.

Maybe it's a bitter pill for all of us who seek to eradicate racism to swallow -- and maybe it's easy for me to say because I'm a white guy -- but if creating an open dialog by showing a little kindness and compassion to somebody like Paula Deen furthers that cause, maybe it's worth it.

13 comments:

Claude Weaver said...

Wow, Chez, you've gone soft.

But seriously, I kinda expected you to take this route. Considering what you wrote on these situations before, you always did have a willingness to try and salvage something from such trainwrecks, even when you personally enjoyed the carnage.

It really speaks to your character as an ultimately decent and understanding human being who is willing to give people the benefit of a doubt.

Despite your best attempts at being the contrary, ya big Care Bear.

Matt Osborne said...

Chez, you've got me pondering this notion. What form would this outreach take? What's your "theory of change"? Movements are generally very good at coalescing around opposition to something, but we're not so good at organizing for the betterment of someone or something that we oppose. "Help Paula Deen Be Less Racist" -- I'm all for it, but can you define it a little better for us?

Mart said...

TV, cookbooks, magazines etc. = $17M annually for the Dean Franchise. If I was on the 4 extra tablespoons of fat Dean gravy train, I would be crying too when assessing the financial hit her team took.

She should go the full right-wing grifter route. Explain how southern cooking is based on the gospels. Appear on Fox and Friends to prepare meals that are in Mayor Bloomberg's face. Explain how white people have more trouble digesting watermellon seeds than blacks. She'd be back on top I tells ya.

pea said...

If she actively changes her behavior in ways that clearly contradict her past behavior - see: Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Elwin Wilson, etc etc

Anonymous said...

IMO, it's far more disturbing to read the vitriol that was splattered all across the internet yesterday than to hear someone utter the word nigger. Hateful remarks, judgements, condemnation all leveled at a woman who is a chef on tv. It is the modern version of a mob with pitchforks and ropes.

QueBarbara said...

Bullshit. I don't know much about Paula Deen, but I see she was born in 1947, not 1847. Would your mother use that word? A fellow Southern female's take on the subject:
http://juanitajean.com/2013/06/23/i-need-to-say-something-about-paula-deen/

Victor the Crab said...

This is why I like reading your work and listening to you on the podcasts with Bob, Chez. While we try to make sense of what's going on in society, you have the ability to put your finger on any subject and make everything make sense.

TK said...

Here's the thing about Paula Deen and her current predicament:

I don't care.

I'm sorry, but on the list of people I am able to empathize with, millionaire white ladies who think (or thought, whatever) it's funny to call black people "nigger" but worried they might get in trouble for it - not because it's wrong, but because they worry about public perception?

Just. Don't. Care.

Anonymous said...

What's truly bizarre is that her attitudes aren't that rare. A friend waiting to check into a hotel in NC -- and this was only a year ago -- reports that the man in front of him said to the front desk clerk, "Have your N____ boy come get my bags." The clerk told my friend that it happens all the time.

Hard for me to understand how these attitudes continue to get propigated but they do. That's the real failure of education.

Benoît from Ottawa said...

Anonymous @ 10:36: Is it really a failure of "education", whether that means school or home, or is it not more a basic lack of respect (or feeling; or empathy) that permeates many social groups of the US, and is (inevitably) aimed at the downtrodden, the easy targets?

What I'm getting at is that I've seen a lot of lack of respect coming from US sources over the years, for instance, to give another couple of examples, against the French (from France), or against anybody who speaks of US general responsibility with regards to various insurgencies against US interests.

My thought is, to summarize, the Americans are often no respecters of people they don't like, or identify with.

Anyway; a few thoughts...

Anonymous said...

Well, let's see if I can come up with any disparaging remarks about Canadians. You elected a conservative monster to run the government. How about that? But you'll tell me you didn't vote for him. Well, good, neither was I making idiotic remarks in the U.S. Congress about freedom fries.

I think it is education. How do you change attitudes? Where do you have an opportunity to changes attitudes?

JohnF said...

I think what this Paula Deen debacle proves, at least for me, is that sometimes the Internet Outrage Machine gets it right.
She had to go.

rob said...

Quit being the voice of reason. Burn the witch! Your point is well-taken, but I have no more patience for dolts like this. Until enough of them are beat down, in a way that is daily and becomes mundane even, they will continue to infect other dull brains to think the same way.