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ROBINSON: Food for thought on Paula Deen

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Paula Deen needs to give the self-pity a rest. The damage to her carefully built image is self-inflicted -- nobody threw a rock -- and her desperate search for approval and vindication is just making things worse.

Sorry to be so harsh, but come on. Deen is tough and savvy enough to have built a culinary empire from scratch, in the process becoming the most famous Southern cook in creation. She incarnates the whole "steel magnolia" archetype, with razor-sharp toughness beneath the flutter and the filigree.

"I is what I is," she said in her weepy exculpation on the "Today" show.

And that's fine. Go ahead, be what you be. Just don't try to make everybody else responsible.

For anyone who somehow managed to miss this whole melodrama -- distracted, perhaps, by trifles such as landmark Supreme Court rulings or shocking revelations of government snooping -- Deen's troubles stem from a deposition she gave last month in a lawsuit filed by a former employee.

Under oath, Deen acknowledged that "of course" she had used the racial slur known euphemistically as the N-word. This was years ago, she explained, and, well, people use inappropriate language when they're telling jokes, but she never used that word in a hurtful way.

On the contrary, Deen told "Today" host Matt Lauer, she is now the victim -- of "very, very hurtful lies" and the erroneous judgments of "people I have never heard of (who) are all of a sudden experts on who I am."

I guess that includes me. But I believe Deen is familiar with the Food Network, Smithfield Foods, Wal-Mart, Target, Caesars Entertainment and the Novo Nordisk pharmaceutical company, all of which have severed or suspended their business relationships with her in recent days. Executives of those firms are the constituency that Deen seems to have lost, even if much of her fan base remains loyal.

The question isn't just whether Deen used an ugly, forbidden word, or how many times she used it, or how long ago that was. The question is whether there is anything about race and diversity in this country that she really understands.

For me, the most jaw-dropping passages in Deen's deposition concern plans she was making for her brother Bubba's wedding. In thinking about how the food service should be done, she recalled visiting a restaurant "in Tennessee or North Carolina or somewhere" that she admired.

"The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie," Dean says in the deposition. "I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that somebody would misinterpret."

Her fears are well-founded.

"Of course I'm old but I ain't that old," Deen goes on, "I didn't live back in those days but I've seen pictures, and the pictures that I've seen, that restaurant represented a certain era in America."

Asked what era she's talking about, Deen replies, "Well, I don't know. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War."

The attorney questioning her says: "Right. Back in an era when there were middle-aged black men waiting on white people."

Deen answers: "Well, it was not only black men, it was black women."

She goes on to acknowledge that in antebellum years those well-dressed servants would have been slaves, but clarifies that she "did not mean anything derogatory." She needn't worry, because the only person she's derogating is herself.

The woman is 66, not 96. She was all of 7 when the Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision, which means she's had plenty of time to get used to it. She has spent her adult life in an America where black people are not compelled to be subservient to whites. She has made her fortune in an America where most people, white as well as black, consider warm-and-fuzzy nostalgia for the days of slavery and Jim Crow to be highly offensive.

I'll put it in terms that someone who missed the last 50 years might understand: Allblack people are uppity now. Every one of us, I'm afraid.

I hope she figures it out, because anyone that fond of the deep-fryer can't be all bad. A period of silence would be a good start. My advice: Eat some hushpuppies. And don't talk with your mouth full.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

notblind 1 year, 4 months ago

I just have to laugh when a 'staunch defender' of the First Amendment writes "...forbidden word...". FORBIDDEN ?!!??! FORBIDDEN TO WHOM??? Forbidden only to people who are not black. Words forbidden to some should be forbidden to all. The black minority in this country have carved out for themselves a double standard that no one in power will call out. Not to worry, Jesse Jackson says that Paula Deen can be REDEEMED [ for a few million dollars].

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jack 1 year, 4 months ago

Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson?

That Jesse Jackson?

How much did his redemption cost?

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royrfmcc 1 year, 4 months ago

Some white people are very tired of Affirmative Action, which is reverse discrimination, and are just venting. Quit discriminating against whites, and all discrimination will go away.

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FordGalaxy 1 year, 4 months ago

There are limits on free speech, such as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, which could create a potentially life-threatening situation. Apparently, a white woman using the dreaded "N-word" years ago is tantamount to yelling "Fire!" Never mind that young black men and women use the same dreaded "N-word" to describe one another all the time. It's only racist when a white person says it. MSNBC's Christ Matthews has told us that only white people are capable of racism. Listen to the prosecution's star witness in the Zimmerman Trial. According to her, a young black man using the phrase "creepy @$$ cracker" is not racist in any way.


Like notblind wrote, if a word is "forbidden" to one group, it should be "forbidden" to all groups. The alternative is that we have a healthy debate about what exactly constitutes racial issues in this modern era. Frankly, it's been my experience that liberals don't want to have that conversation.

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Jan 1 year, 4 months ago

Of course such words are not "forbidden" in the sense of legality; however, certain words in certain context demonstrate a personal bias by the speaker. Part of that context is the group to which the speaker is a part. If you are not African-American and use the 'n' word, you probably have some racist opinions. This also applies to the use of terms such as those used by Jack in reference to Jesse Jackson. The term "cracker" has an interesting origin - look it up on Wikipedia and check out "Georgia cracker" and "Florida cracker" These were terms applied to native Georgians and Floridians as opposed to people new to the state. When I was growing up, there was a baseball field on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta. The farm team that played there were the Atlanta Crackers. Only recently has the term "cracker" been warped into a derogatory term by those not raised in the south. It is used by as a derogatory term by Whites also. Though it was probably intended as an insult, I would not consider it to be racist in nature.

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Haughton 1 year, 4 months ago

Mr. Robinson is a journalist? He is representive of what is wrong with the current overwhelming media bias. For example here are a few facts that he has left out of his opinion of Paula Deen.

Paula Deen is a lifelong Democrat and Obama supporter. The President is very busy on his $70M + African vacation and is obviously too busy to comment on this matter of national importance. PD is also close friends with former President Jimmy Carter, who has come out in her defense. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have even given half hearted redemptions of PD.

Counterpoint, a true racist comment came out this week regarding the SCOTUS decision on Voting Rights. Minnesota State Rep. Ryan Winkler (D) refered to Clarence Thomas as "Uncle Tom". Winkler, a Harvard grad / History major, immediately apologized and pled ignorance on the racist term.

Thank You Mr. Robinson, et al. for confirming that Paula Deen is the most important person in the United States this week.

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kevin 1 year, 4 months ago

Free speech is still alive Mr Robinson. Nothing wrong with using words in the dictionary. Funny how those "people" are able to use that word amongst themselves, but you criticize others when they use it. Hypocrite maybe? Double standard maybe? Whatever suits you maybe? Paula doesn't need any of those folks to keep being successful. You don't have to apologize for using the English language. Just look at Oprah! She speaks out of both sides of her mouth and you don't say a word about her words and actions. Get a life, Mr. Robinson.

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