The Paula Deen Implosion
I have mostly ignored the Paula Deen implosion. But a friend recently sent an email asking if I had seen her appearance at NY City’s October 2012 Wine & Food Festival. While there she gave a videotaped interview with The New York Times Atlanta Bureau Chief and, months before her recent trials and tribulations, it would not have been too difficult to see the mindset that would eventually get her into trouble.
Deen goes into some of her family history with a story of how her great-grandfather “was devastated” after the Civil War. He had lost his son and the war and “didn’t know how to deal with life, with no one to help operate his plantation. You know there was 30 something [35, actually] people on his books” [euphemism for “slaves owned] and then the next year zero. He committed suicide. She goes on to say, “I feel like the south is almost less prejudiced because black folks played such an integral part in our lives, they were like our family.”
(Presumably she was not thinking of dysfunctional families like the one in Cleveland where Ariel Castro is alleged to have kept three women and his child by one of them in captivity, often chained.)
The real highlight and moment of revelation that told me Cholesterol Queen* Deen is largely clueless, like many of her peers, was when she called one of her black employees Hollis Johnson, up to the stage. “He’s black as that board” she said, pointing to the stage backdrop, adding “Come out here Hollis, we can’t see you standing against that dark board!” The audience began to laugh and Hollis came up on stage as Deen talked about him, “This is my son by another father.” He bent over and gave her a peck on the cheek as he departed.
The whole scene was one of those encounters where you feel mightily embarrassed for all the people on stage. Deen, apparently, has no clue to how 21st century race relations ought to be conducted. It was similar to being at a dinner party where someone begins telling racial or ethnic jokes in a mixed-race crowd. It just isn’t done. Period.
See the lengthy New York Times event video here. Go to minute time stamp 40:09 for a look at her learning about her great, great-grandfather’s slave ownership. For her interaction with Hollis Johnson see time stamp 46:07 — 50:07.
*To be fair Paula Deen says she does not advocate eating, on a daily basis, the style of food she has become known for.