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The n-word

(article, Culinate staff)

Once upon a time, Paula Deen was just one of those Southern eccentrics — the lady with the thyroidesque eyes, bouffant 'do, and gout-inducing recipes. Last year, though, she began to catch flak for her endorsement deals and her complicated relationship with her diabetes. 

And last week, in the wake of caught-on-video comments judged by many to be racist, Deen began to watch her food-media empire crumble, losing lucrative contracts with her TV network, her book publisher, and various food producers. (All this, just a few weeks after a Cheerios television commercial featuring a biracial family stirred up similar controversy.)

New York Times food writer Kim Severson, who is based in Atlanta, has been covering the latest Deen saga, including interviews with patrons at Deen's signature restaurant in Savannah, Georgia. 

Last October, in fact, Severson conducted a videotaped interview with Deen that included other questionable racial comments. A few days ago, Severson's colleague Frank Bruni published an op-ed condemning Deen for "willful obtuseness."

Bruni noted that the public response to Deen's latest scandal has been very mixed, with many people (including the celebrity author Anne Rice) rushing to her defense: "Others have urged clemency, noting that she’s 66 years old and has lived her life far south of the Mason-Dixon line." But he's not buying it:

bq. Please. All of her adult years postdate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and she’s a citizen of the world, traveling wide and far to peddle her wares. If she can leave Georgia for the sake of commerce, she can leave Georgia in the realm of consciousness. 

The most interesting response to the brouhaha, however, was Michael Twitty's '"Open on his website, Afroculinaria. As another blogger summed up, Twitty's riff is really "about the invisibility of black influences on Southern food due to systematic racism, and what that means to this man as a culinary historian, a cook, and as a Southern black man."

Here's just a taste of Twitty's musings:

bq. Don’t be fooled by the claims that Black people don’t watch you. We’ve been watching you. We all have opinions about you. You were at one point sort of like our Bill Clinton. (You know, the first Black president?) . . . You were our sorta soul mama, the white lady with the gadonkadonk and the sass and the signifying who gave us a taste of the Old Country — which is, for us, the former Confederacy and just beyond.  

bq. We don’t despise you; we don’t even think you made America fat. We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else, and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when, during the last election, the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro — like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois — was a national cause célèbre. Hell, today the Voting Rights Act was gutted, and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.”