The only genuinely shocking aspect of Paula Deen’s disasterously racist deposition is how completely the Southern cooking doyenne has confirmed what many have long suspected about Southern Whites: they’re all still racist, they just code it better now. They employ a gentrified, polite kind of racism, the kind that offers you sweet tea and a smile instead of equal rights. ‘We’ talk this ways amongst ourselves, but not in mixed company (and that includes non-Southerners). We cling to that sacred phrase, Tradition, to stave off change and explain away our antebellum balls and Dixie sing-alongs. We romanticize the “different era” and simpler time of the Old South instead of being “misinterpreted” by saying, We’d like to go back to a time when we prospered under a system of brutal human bondage. We live in a society in which white people casually use “nigger” to talk about “them” (but not “in a cruel or mean way.”) And when we say, Southern Plantation Wedding, what we really want is– as the deposition alleges Deen said– “a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.”
Of course, that is just what the suit elleges. When asked, Ms. Deen graciously explains what it was about a restaurant staffed with “middle-aged black men in white jackets” that was so utterly “impressive” to her:
PD: I didn’t live back in those days but I’ve seen pictures, and the pictures that I’ve seen, that restaurant represented a certain era in America.
Q : Okay.
PD: And I was in the south when I went to this restaurant. It was located in the south.
Q: Okay. What era in America are you referring to?
PD: Well, I don’t know. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War.
Q: Right. Back in an era where there were middle-aged black men waiting on white people.
PD: Well, it was not only black men, it was black women.
Q: Before the Civil War, those black men and women who were waiting on white people were slaves, right?
PD: Yes, I would say that they were slaves.
PD: But I did not mean anything derogatory by saying I loved their look and their proffessionalism
Q: So is there any reason that you could not have done something just like that but have people of different races?
PD: Well, that’s what made it.
PD’s lawyer: Objection
This is a PR disaster not just for Deen, but for forward-thinking southerners everywhere, who must now contend with smug people like myself saying, I knew it. Yes, white southerners use the n-word, but only when recounting a conversation between “them” in the kitchen (the black people, in the kitchen), or when referring to the kind of n-word who once robbed Paula (“I wasn’t feeling too favorable toward him”), or when Paula’s hilarious husband tells a joke that “someone” might find offensive.
Is this the way of all Southern whites? No, of course not. I have close, personal friends who are Southern whites! (I don’t judge people on their state of orgin. I, like Ms. Deen, believe that it is only “what’s in your heart and in your head that matters.”) And of course, as many like to point out, the South does not have a monopoly on racism. There are verilent racists in California (where I’m from), and New York (where my yankee husband is from), and in Maryland (where we live now, which is actually in the South, which makes me a Southern white?) But the South perfected racism, and Paula Deen is obviously not helping to dispel this stereotype. Instead, she is showing us all how the modern racist codes her bigotry, burying it within a sweet and inviting traditional whitecake.