Wednesday, June 26, 2013

B74. Paula Deen and Chick-Fil-A

Is Paula Deen becoming for the Southern good ol’ girls what Chick-Fil-A became for the right wing political sub-branch of Christianity?  Will our Facebook posts that we’re cooking with butter become a euphemism for our white superiority?  We can’t say aloud that we advocate white supremacy, but we can say “We love Paula Deen” or join an "I support Paula Deen" Facebook group?

Although I’ve never once watched her show (or hardly any other cooking show), and although the unrest of my ever-questioning mind has made me a cultural misfit in the South (except for my accent and my aversion to cold temperatures), I admit to feeling a little sorry for Paula Deen.  Why?  Because I am a Southerner, and I think I understand her naivete.  She is my aunt, my uncle, my cousin, my coworker, and my student.  She exhibits like most other Southerners an empty understanding about racism and oppression.  Most will argue passionately that we are not racist, and we believe it.  We are church-going Christian people who have been taught to be kind to everyone, and we would never directly mistreat a black person.  Yet we are blind to the undercurrent of racism that we have innocently inherited from our families and surrounding culture, and blind to how obvious it is to our black acquaintances.

*Perhaps like so many other white Southerners, Paula Deen had never been challenged to examine the gap between what she would say among other white acquaintances and what she would say in front of someone black.  Perhaps she never questioned why she felt uncomfortable walking alone past a black man but not a white one, or why she avoided stopping for gas or food on the “black side” of town.  Maybe she never questioned her surface justification for the horror of thinking of a child or grandchild dating or marrying a black person.  Maybe she never considered the harm of laughing at her coworker’s (or brother's) racist jokes.

Maybe Paula Deen never really thought about the cousin with the rebel flag on his truck, or the neighbor with the “It's called the White House - Let’s keep it that way” or the “You have your X, I have mine” bumper sticker.  Maybe she never wondered why 150 years after the Civil War, so many Southern good ole’ boys are still obsessed with the Confederacy.

It’s all just a part of our Southern heritage, we say.  And indeed it is, but is it a part for which we need to be proud, a part we should defend and protect?  Could we preserve the endearing parts of our culture - the bluegrass music, the Moonpies and RC Cola, the way we can stretch one syllable into three - and let the undesirable parts go?

None of us, Paula Deen included, chooses our culture of origin, and none of us sees above our culture if we live our entire lives inside it.  Wanting to be good people, we convince ourselves that racism is a thing of the past, enclosing ourselves in a stagnate culture of denial, showing our Southern pride by announcing that we’re cooking with butter in honor of Paula, because, let's face it, we can’t eat all our meals at Chick-Fil-A.

*In paragraphs 3 and 4, the blogger does not intend to say that Paula Deen actually had these experiences - just that these are likely experiences for any woman of the South.

Photo credit: thrillist

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