Michelle Gillett: Fall from grace; Deen now a pariah


STOCKBRIDGE -- Poor Paula Deen. You have to feel sorry for her.

She captured my sympathy when I heard her say, "I is what I is and I ain't going to change," to Matt Lauer during an interview after she was outed for using the "n" word some time in her past and has subsequently lost every contract and been dropped by every sponsor.

Deen is no longer a host on The Food Network, or a spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk, a diabetes drug manufacturer, after she revealed she had Type 2 Diabetes. Even her forthcoming cookbook has been canceled by the publisher. I felt sorry for her the way I felt for Scarlett O'Hara when she refused to relinquish Tara.

Only tomorrow might not be another day for Paula Deen.

The first time I heard Paula Deen was a number of years ago when she was being interviewed on NPR . She was outrageous and funny and authentic when she was talking about her recipes for food that were as alien to me as her traditions and experiences growing up in Georgia--recipes for things like a cheeseburger patty between two doughnuts , fried lasagna, a cake, called "Better Than Sex," made with cake mix, pudding mix, and heavy cream. I am a northerner and she is a southerner, and sometimes it seems that never the twain shall meet. In truth, I simply don't know what Paula Deen's is.

But I do know what racism is and that it is alive and well in this country, and Paula Deen is no longer the queen of southern cuisine, but a pariah because she was too honest about who she is.


Paula Deen is a Southern white woman, in her mid-60s, who uses her heritage to sell her products. She comes from a place where many people still use the "n" word in private and sometimes, public. Her confession and apology simply bring to the surface the truth that bubbles just below the murky waters of racism in America. As Francie Latour pointed out in a blog last year, we still have "intractable racial disparities in healthcare, Obama jokes about watermelons and monkeys, and black men who go to jail before they can get into college."

Paula Deen posted Youtube videos of herself declaring her regrets. "I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I've done. I want to learn and grow from this. Inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable," and, "I was wrong, yes, I've worked hard, and I have made mistakes, but that is no excuse and I offer my sincere apology to those that I have hurt, and I hope that you forgive me because this comes from the deepest part of my heart."

Did Rush Limbaugh apologize on Youtube, or lose his contract after he told an African-American woman caller to "take the bone out of her nose and then call him back? Do we ban all those anonymous comments on the Internet on sites like JD Underground that carry that carry threads like "N

-r President" with posts, "I'm hoping someone will do his public duty of putting a bullet through Obama's head," Another anonymous commentor suggests "bring[ing] back lynchings." Remember Rick Perry's family hunting camp, named, "N
--head." No one's suggesting he cannot run for president because his family used the "n" word when they named their property.

Poor Paula Deen.


Roxanne Gay wrote in Salon, "I'm actually baffled by how much play this story is getting in the news, where everyone seems shocked that an older white woman from the Deep South is racist and harbors a nostalgia for the antebellum era. Or perhaps my lack of surprise reveals my own biases. Though I know better, I have certain ideas about the South. Is this where I say, ‘I have Southern friends'?

And Frances Latour mentioned some of the more subtle versions of racism she has encountered like the suburban mom at my daughter's school who found it necessary to segregate a pile of Disney princess napkins at a birthday party, removing every single solitary black Tiana princess napkin and refusing to distribute them: Although that behavior seemed like a racist event in my daily American life, I now realize I must have been confused."

And, "the UPS man in my driveway, who kept waiting for ‘the homeowner' in our affluent, semi-rural town while I stood in front of him: I understand. As you held on to that package and asked, repeatedly, you . . . live here?, you were merely serving as my occasional racist comment. Nope, no lasting stains on you."

Poor Paula Deen.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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