Now that Southern soul food maven Paula Deen has shown her true colors, the only question is how much her multimillion-dollar cooking empire will suffer. A discrimination suit filed by Lisa Jackson, a White former manager at one of Deen’s restaurants made little news until the deposition became public this week.
In it, Deen admits that she has tolerated racist jokes, used the “n”word, is OK with her brother showing pornographic content to coworkers at their restaurants and once imagined giving him a “Southern-themed” wedding that would have had Black waiters dressed in pre-Civil War attire. In other words, one that would have hearkened back to those good old Confederacy days when Black folks were, you know, slaves. Do we even have to mention that said brother, Earl Hiers, is best known by the nickname Bubba?
Although there are undoubtedly some Black folks who will shrug off Deen’s easygoing racism, there are others who prefer not to indulge in collard greens with a side of ignorance. Twitter, which is dominated by a vocal African-American community, has already weighed in re-naming some of Deen’s signature dishes with more appropriate titles. (One example: “Massa-roni and Cheese.”)
It was easy to believe that Ann Coulter, in a story that also surfaced this week, refused to board a plane because the pilot was a black woman, since Coulter makes little effort to hide her white-privileged, racist thinking. (Despite that, the story is not true.) But for someone like the telegenic Deen, who has worked with, fed, and interacted with Black people for years, it’s much harder to see her as a card-carrying racist. But let’s not get it twisted. She is.
That her racism is unthinking, such an integral part of her that she initially shrugged it off as little more than the result of being raised in the racist South 60 plus years ago, is all the more disturbing. It’s not the virulent racist that is most disturbing because they make no effort to hide who they are. They’ll just tell you straight up that they don’t like n—rs, and don’t believe that Black folks are good for anything but picking cotton and these days, collecting welfare and other entitlement checks. The 13th Amendment means nothing to them because in their limited minds, America started its slow decline from the patriarchal and misogynistic domination of the white man once they released Black folks from slave shackles.
The Paula Deens of the world are a greater problem. They are the ones who secretly continue to believe in white superiority. They are the ones who think a racist joke is funny when out of earshot of any of their black friends but who would deny their racism if called on that hypocrisy. They are the white liberals who know what’s best for Black people from their lofty place of white privilege, never considering that Black folks, like anyone else, deserve the ability to determine what’s best for themselves. They are the friends who tell you they are “color-blind” or “don’t see race” while earnestly wondering why some Black people find that offensive.
Since my grandmother was a better cook than Paula Deen could ever be, there’s no need for me to stop watching her show or buying her cookbooks or eating at her restaurants because I never did any of those things in the first place. And years of working in entertainment have already convinced me that carefully crafted public images are usually just that – images. It’s just too bad that it’s not as easy to ignore, deflect or avoid the unthinking racism that exists in every nook and cranny of life as a Black person in America. Paula Deen will learn her very public lesson – I’m sure she’s booking a sit-down with Oprah right now – and her transgression will likely be shrugged off.
Despite the publicity now surrounding her case, Lisa Jackson might not even win her suit. And since many of Deen’s customers share her views, her business might not even suffer – much. But for some, Paula Deen’s inability to face her own deep-rooted racism leaves a bad taste, a recipe for disaster one of America’s most beloved personalities would never have wanted to cook up.