Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Queen of Southern Cooking

by Dee Newman

There’s an old Phil Harris song written by Andy Razaf that comes to mind every time I hear Paula Deen open her mouth from the South. Here are a few of the lyrics:
Won't you come with me to Alabamy
Let's go see my dear old mammy
She's frying eggs and broilin' hammy
That's what I like about the South

She's got big ribs and candied yams
Oh, sugar cured Virginia hams
Basements full of those berry jams
And that's what I like about the South

Hot cornbread and black-eyed peas
You can eat as much as you please
'Cause it's never out of season
That's what I like about the South

Ah, don't take one, have two
They're bark brown and chocolate too
Suits me they must suit you
'Cause that's what I like about the South

It's a way, way down where the cane grows tall
Down where they say "you all"
Walk on in with that southern drawl
'Cause that's what I like about the South . . .

I didn't come here to criticize
I'm not here to sympathize
But don't call me those no good lies
Cause a lying gal I do despise . . .

She's got back bones and buttered beans
Ham hocks and turnip greens
You and me in New Orleans
And that's what I like about the South . . .

It goes without saying, Paula Deen has built a multi-million dollar empire as the Queen and televangelist of Southern Cooking, as well as, a caricature of a so-called bygone era that is, unfortunately, still (though not well) alive.

As an ethical vegetarian (vegan) I have never been partial to the cuisine and cultural lifestyle that Paula Deen promotes. I find them both wantonly decadent and morally corrupt.

Accordingly, I must admit, I have received some perverse pleasure from the reality that her way of life, particularly her food choices, are contributing ironically to her and her followers’ early demise (given the fact that nutritional epidemiologists have found that people who eat Southern cooking at least six times per week have nearly a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease and stroke than folks who just eat it once per month). 

As for her revealing in a court deposition that she had used a racially degrading term to describe African-Americans, I was no more surprised than her supporters. Like me, she came of age in the South during a time when our country was just beginning to institute the equality we had been boasting about for nearly two centuries. With that said, that is no excuse for uttering a racial slur.

Like many of her followers, she was raised in an environment where the n-word was socially acceptable. Once the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed Southern whites (many of my relatives) found themselves struggling to publicly restrain their vocabulary, trying to use certain words only among family and friends who had similar attitudes and feelings. The truth is that in certain cultural groups in the United States, blatant racism still endures.

Apologists for Paula Deen appear awkward as they try to articulate a defense. Although they wish others to be compassionate and understanding toward Paula, they seem incapable of understanding that a person of color whose race continues to be victimized in a nation that espouses equality can be justifiably thin-skinned.

Her recent admission of using the n-word in the past and that she once envisioned putting on a “plantation-style” wedding party (using black waiters dressed in a manner reminiscent of slavery) has been dismissed by her defenders with – “what’s the big deal – it's just a word”, “who cares what someone may have said or done 25 or 30 years ago?”, and my favorite rationalization of them all “if Chris Rock can use the n-word, why can’t Paula?” – as if one perceived wrong could ever justify another.

Despite the fact that many of her fans have expressed remarkable and irrational support for her, and that Deen, herself, has apologized in a teary appearance on the Today Show, biblically challenging those without sin to throw the first stone, the backlash has been severe. A number of Deen’s major sources of income, including the Food Network, Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Smithfield Foods, have all cut ties with her empire and condemned her use of the racial slur. Their actions are not creditable, nor commendable. I do not believe for one moment that they are motivated by anything but the “bottom-line” – profit. Their actions will not convince me to spend one dime at their establishments.

Look, I do not know if Paula Deen is a racist or not – that she considers her race better than any other race. But, I do know this. I lost a considerable amount of respect for her character back 2012 when she finally revealed that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years earlier. All that time she continued to aggressively promote an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. It was not until she received a lucrative endorsement deal from a drug company that she came clean.

What Paula Deen needs is what all of us need – a little introspective analysis of our characters – a self-examination of our feelings, thoughts, and motives. We need to stop defending the indefensible and rationalizing the irrational.

1 comment:

mythopolis said...

Well stated, Dee. I must admit that as a chid growing up in Chicago racial and ethnic slurs were commonplace...I'm sure I was guilty as a child until learning school, kids threw about such descriptors as: 'wop' (Italian), 'deigo' (Spanish/Mexican) 'jungle bunny' (black Afro/Ameri.), 'chink' or 'gook' (for Chinese or Japanese)and on and on...socially, in high school, there were the charmers, the greasers, and the mom used to talk about English/Irish prejudices (mom was Irish)....what a crazy world!!