Paula Deen doesn’t think she’s a racist.
And very likely, in her mind, she isn’t.
Certainly she doesn’t come across as your standard issue stereotypical racist, does she?
She doesn’t seem the type to don a hood and white sheets, to burn crosses in a black family’s front yard or scrawl racial epithets on the front door of an African-American church. I somehow doubt we’ll see pictures of Paula Deen with a shaved head and a swastika tattoo, chubby white fist upraised in the stiff-armed Aryan salute.
I suppose that you never really know, but I would think that scenario rather unlikely.
Mrs. Deen, from her public persona at least, appears to be a jolly matronly lady with a cloyingly overdone Southern accent and a talent for deliciously unhealthy food.
But if ever there was a metaphor for American racism, i.e. a particular kind of racism, Paula Deen is it.
The self-immolation of Deen’s media empire isn’t particularly surprising – nor will be its eventual recovery.
I won’t shed any tears over her current plight, nor any cheers at her certain return – because unless she actually does put on a robe and start burning crosses, her return is a virtual certainty. If she needs any tips on the process, she can always ring up Martha Stewart or Tammy Faye or Tony The Weiner.
Deen’s current shaming in the public stocks will likely follow the old familiar path, and in a year or so she’ll reappear reborn, contrite and properly chastised with a new best seller about her trials and tribulations and how she was able to cast off the chains of her past by begging the forgiveness of Jesus. The exact recipe will, of course, depend on which public relations firm she picks, but likely she end up loving brown people and/or starting some kind of Paula Deen Culinary Academy for Poor Black Children – I probably wouldn’t expect her to show up with a newly adopted African baby and recipes for kuku paka and chapatis, though stranger things have happened when there’s this much money at stake.
And then we’ll forgive her, or forget her charming old Southern racism – because, hey, she didn’t mean it that way, and she’s sorry and she cried real tears and all. And besides, she’s from the South. And she’s from the previous generation. And, really, haven’t we all said things we regret? And she’s lost a lot of money and she’s probably suffered enough already. And besides she doesn’t know any better and she can’t help herself. Just like an old dog that keeps shitting on the floor – it should be housebroken, but every once in a while it just craps in the middle of the carpet, and you know you should do something about it but hey, it’s just easier to grab the paper towels and pretend it didn’t happen.
We’ve forgiven much larger celebrities for far more egregious errors, if Deen plays the game correctly she’ll be right back in the Manor House in no time.
Then she’ll go back to making millions, just like nearly every celebrity and politician afflicted with hoof and mouth disease before her.
But she just doesn’t get it, and unless I miss my bet she’ll go through life blaming everybody else for this.
You have only to look at her tear-stained sobbing “apology” to see that she doesn’t get it – and she will never get it. And she’s not alone, not by a long shot.
Listen to her excuses. The expression on her face is that of a long pampered dog that’s been suddenly struck across the snout for shitting on the carpet, hurt and bewildered at how the world turned on her in such an unpleasant and incomprehensible fashion. She won’t do it again, not as long as she remembers the crack across her nose and how much it hurt – not because she actually understands why her behavior was so egregious. Then she’ll forget and crap on the carpet again, and we’ll sigh and say, well, see, she’s old…
Deen will never understand.
No one who pines nostalgically for a genuine old Southern Antebellum wedding reception complete with all black waiters dressed in identical slave livery will ever understand. You can shame them into (mostly) silence, but they will never get it.
See, because it’s a kind of racism.
Bigots like Deen just don’t get that they are racists – and truly, sincerely, they really don’t mean to be.
They don’t mean to give offense, they don’t mean to be hurtful. But they just don’t get it.
Just a few months back, my own ham-fisted congressman, a man that makes you proud to be an Alaskan, Don Young, waxed nostalgic about the “wetbacks” his dad used to hire on their California ranch back in the day.
Naturally people were offended.
But, Don, see, he just couldn’t understand why people were offended. Just like Deen, he immediately claimed age as an excuse. He grew up using that term, so it must be okay, right? He didn’t mean anything by it, he explained, wetback was the term he’d always used. His family had always called Mexican migrant labor wetbacks, of course. Why “wetback” is a term of affection where Don Young comes from – just like “darkie” and “nigger” were terms of genteel affection in the old Antebellum South that just happened to also mean “property.” Sure, practically a member of the family – like an old dog.
It’s always the same with these people, they always use the same excuse: We grew up in a different time. See back then, those words didn’t mean anything. That’s just how we talked. Black people didn’t mind being called darkies and spooks and pickaninnies and niggers, Mexicans didn’t mind being called wetbacks and spics, you could call a Jew a kike and an Italian a wop and a Chinaman a gook right to their ugly brown faces and they didn’t care, why they’d laugh! Sure. That’s just how we talked back then. But now, with this political correctness, everybody gets offended…”
What they just don’t get, what they will never get, is that yes, in point of fact, those words were just as offensive then, just as wrong and just as obnoxious and just as racist then as they are now – it’s just that minorities were powerless to do anything about it, so they smiled carefully and played along and seethed silently. Yes, Massa, ha ha, yes, Massa.
But see, that’s what people like Don Young and Paula Deen remember, everybody knew their place back then. Minorities knew their place, they didn’t talk back, they didn’t complain, they didn’t demand equality and they sure didn’t run for President. They knew their proper place – and back then they’d damned well better, because those that got uppity learned their place jiminy quick, didn’t they? At the end of a rope, if necessary, for the ones that were hard headed about it.
People like Paula Deen look back on that time – and they mistake that silence as contentment.
In their nostalgia, they see quiet summer evenings on the porch of the big house, ladies in hoop-skirts like colorful birds, men in frock coats and smoking cigars, lightning bugs flickering over the neat green lawn, mint-juleps sweating in their glasses on a silver tray and it’s all just so wonderful and magical and perfect. They watch Gone With The Wind over and over and cry every time, cry at the loss of all those wonderful things, that perfect content magical world. And those servants, the ones Deen thinks look so fine sweating in their woolen livery, are part of the set dressing, like a favorite well-trained pet, decorations, part of the culture, part of a lost age of music and fine food and high culture, and people like Paula Deen and Don Young just can’t imagine why they would resent their roles in this fantasy.
In fact, those black folks ought to be grateful.
Grateful that Americans scooped them up out of their own backward heathen countries and taught them about civilization and gave them a place to sleep and clothes to wear and food to eat. Yes, Massa, yes, yes!
In his essay, A Brief for Whitey, Pat Buchanan argued that slavery in the Antebellum South was a good thing overall – and, in point of fact, Buchanan specifically said, “America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”
The mind boggles.
You’ve really got to admire the dexterity it takes to get from “600,000 black people brought from Africa in slave ships…” to “greatest levels of prosperity blacks have ever known” without bothering to journey through the bothersome intervening centuries.
Well, Boy Howdy and Salt My Grits! Black people got to meet Jesus, so, hey, slavery smavery, it’s a win win! Gooo Jesus!
Buchanan, of course, isn’t alone. Arkansas Republican John Hubbard likewise wrote a book last year, wherein he called slavery “a blessing in disguise” see because it “helped blacks come to America.” That must be why Hubbard was so glad to see all those black faces at the Republican National convention, not to mention the ones looking out the White House windows.
As an aside, I wonder why porous borders aren’t a blessing in disguise for Latinos, after all it helps them come to America, right? But I digress.
During the recent presidential election, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum signed a pledge written by uber-conservative Bob Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, proclaiming that “A child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.” Because that makes it all ok, right? And hey, does it really matter if it’s not even true? As long as you’re rationalizing for Jesus and all, I mean?
David Horowitz, president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, editor of the ultra-conservative FrontPage magazine, declared “If slave labor created wealth for Americans, then obviously it has created wealth for black Americans as well, including the descendants of slaves.” The Antebellum version of trickle-down economics, no doubt, let’s see I get all the money, you get chained to a plow, seems fair. Meanwhile, down in Arizona, Trent Franks believes that blacks were far better off in shackles,“Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery.” Well, geez, Trent, who was it made those policies again? Hello? And then there’s Arkansas state legislator, Loy Mauch, who famously offered the following observation during last year’s election, “If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?” Yeah, why didn’t Jesus condemn slavery, do you think? Big font of morality and all, that he was. Hey, I’m just asking. It’s a puzzler. Say, you don’t suppose folks back in the past used the Bible as justification for slavery, do you? Naw, that would be crazy, right?
We could go on, I haven’t even tapped the fertile ground of Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, or Glenn Beck, but let’s wrap this up with a little Ted Nugent on tour with the Romney campaign: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”
But when you call out people like this, they always make the same protest, “I’m not a racist, I have a black friend!”
In fact, that’s exactly what Deen famously did, pulled the “I have a black friend!” dodge, because that’s always, inevitably, the go to card. I have a black friend!
No you don’t, you don’t have any black friends.
I call Shenanigans.
What it is, is that you happen to know a black person, sort of. You work with a black person. You’ve never gone for drinks – unless it was part of an office thing. You don’t chat on the phone. You don’t text recipes back and forth. You don’t hang out. You don’t go bowling together. You’ve never been to their house and they’ve never been to yours. You don’t see movies together. You don’t confide in each other. You don’t have a black friend.
In fact, were this person white, given the bare level of association you two do have, you’d say, “Friends? Ur, Bill? Yeah, he’s just some asshole I work with. I don’t really know him.” A white person would have to meet a much higher threshold to be your friend, but any random black person that you happen to pass in the hall – instant buddies, right? I’m not a racist, I have a black friend, see?
It’s a kind of racism, a kind of bigotry.
The kind we tolerate and pretend that it’s actually something else.
The same folks who are immediately willing to dismiss this kind of bigotry with a hand wave and a disdainful lament about overly sensitive minorities who they believe have taken Deen’s comments “out of context” in an ongoing effort to oppress white people through “political correctness” are the very same people who are right now spitting blood over President Obama’s supposed “War on Christians” – based entirely on a single comment Obama made last week in Ireland. To wit, this:
“If towns remain divided, if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.”
Ah yes, obviously President Obama hates Christian and wants to outlaw Christian schools in America because he happened to give an acknowledgement of Ireland’s “Troubles,” i.e. the long history of sectarian warfare between Protestants and Catholics. Because, right, how dare a state leader mention such a thing, when speaking to a group of Irish college kids, Protestants and Catholics and the first generation in literally centuries to sit together without bloodshed and hatred, about that exact thing? Sure, obviously that’s a declaration of Obama’s hatred for Christianity (Or yet another example of most Americans’ staggering ignorance of world history, or their own history for that matter including that of the Antebellum South, but I digress. Again).
And it’s not just race, of course, bigotry is a symptom of hate and fear, rarely does it confine itself to just one target.
Take Pat Buchanan’s comments regarding the recent Pentagon decision to lift the ban against women in combat roles:
This decision to put women in combat represents a capitulation of the military brass, a surrender to the spirit of our age, the Pentagon's salute to feminist ideology
Perhaps Pat would be more comfortable living in a country where the military is not under control of the civilian population. A place where the military makes the rules and the civilians have no say in military matters.
I forget what that’s called, somebody help me out.
In the history of civilization, men have fought the wars. In civilized societies, attacks on women have always been regarded as contemptible and cowardly. Even the Third Reich in its dying hours did not send women into battle, but old men and boys.
Oh, yes, that’s right, Fascism. Thanks for reminding me, Pat.
Because, seriously, that’s your argument? The Third Reich? Honestly, how far down into your own festering belly button do you have to go, in order to use the fucking Nazis as an example of the kind of society you regard as a moral example?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, this is the same racist assclown who thinks slavery was cool because black people got some Jesus with their chains. I mean, what’s next? Are we going to learn how the Holocaust was a good thing for Jews because, hey, they got their own country out of it?
It’s just me, right? I’m the only one whistling Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Yeah, it’s just me. Never mind.
Nothing matches mortal combat where soldiers fight and kill, and are wounded, maimed and die for cause or country. Domestically, the closest approximations are combat training, ultimate fighting, boxing and that most physical of team sports, the NFL. Yet no women compete against men in individual or team sports. They are absent from boys' and men's teams in high school and college, be it football, basketball, baseball, hockey or lacrosse.
Women are absent from boys’ and mens’ teams?
You mean like that part where pinch faced old men such as Pat Buchanan repeatedly raise holy hell to keep girls off of school ball teams. You mean like that?
Jesus H. Christ, the stones on this guy.
And finally, Buchanan ends with this:
This is another country from the one we grew up in.
Finally, Pat Buchanan managed to get something right, there at the end.
And that takes us full circle, right back to where we started on this parade of bigotry.
This is another country from the one we grew up in.
This is a country other than the one we grew up in.
Yes it is.
Exactly as intended.
Exactly as it was designed to be.
Just as the United States was a different country from the ones our founding fathers grew up in.
Just as the country of today is not the one Paula Deen grew up in, or Don Young, or Pat Buchanan.
It’s a country where we (mostly) will no longer tolerate white sheets and hoods and burning crosses.
But it’s still a country where we tolerate a certain kind of racism, a certain kind of bigotry, a certain kind of hate.
It’s still a country where prominent politicians running for President, where sitting members of both state and federal legislatures, where famous religious leaders and pundits feel free to publically dismiss slavery as a good thing, to engage in overt bigotry and hatred towards minorities, towards women, towards differing religions and beliefs – just so long as they hide their intolerance inside nostalgia and wrap it in the Star Spangled Banner and proclaim it’s what Jesus would do.
And it’s long past time we stopped giving this kind of nonsense a pass.
Epilogue: Some folks seem to think that Paula Deen is being judged unfairly. According to my mail, some folks think I might be judging Paula Deen unfairly.
My first reaction to that is: Whoa, really, Mrs. Deen? Somebody judging you on the way you talk? The color of your skin? The place you were born? The culture you embrace? Why, how horrible for you. How unfair. It must be terribly frustrating to live in a nation that allows such things to happen. Now, imagine if you were black, and you worked for, oh, you and your brother Bubba. Wait, you know what, Mrs. Deen? You don’t have to imagine it, here’s a complete description of what that would be like (PDF).
Any other questions?