"I feel like ‘embattled’ or ‘disgraced’ will always follow my name. It’s like that black football player who recently came out. He said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player. I don’t want to be known as a gay football player.’ I know exactly what he’s saying."
-- Paula Deen, in a new interview with People magazine, on her fight to recover from last year's career-devastating racism scandal
That black football player.
Sure, why not.
You know, I don't think Paula Deen's a terrible person or that she genuinely hates an entire race based on the color of its skin. She's just hopelessly tone deaf from years of being on top of the food chain -- if you'll pardon the pun -- in a region where casual racism has been an accepted fact of everyday life for decades to the point where no one even notices it anymore.
That Deen somehow felt like she had to specify the race of the football player who recently came out, as if anyone other than Michael Sam has been in the headlines for something like this, speaks volumes about how she sees the world. "Black" to her is merely the most basic of ways to distinguish between one person and another, even when a distinction isn't at all necessary.
My late grandmother grew up in the South and used to do the same thing. During an elementary school play she once told me, "That little colored girl has such a beautiful voice." She meant it as a compliment and there was zero ill-will involved in her use of a somewhat derogatory term and her feeling that she needed to point out the color of someone's skin at all; it was just how she was brought up. Still, didn't make it right.
The thing is, though, and I know this has been pointed out before, Paula Deen isn't from my grandmother's generation. She's from my mother's generation, and my mother was also brought up in the South and not once in my 44 years on this planet have I ever heard her use language that could even kind of be interpreted as racist. Never. Maybe it's just that Deen's entire oeuvre is one big implied celebration of the down-home quaintness of the antebellum South; if you've ever lived in the South for any length of time, you know that there are people there who still cling to grudges over the loss of the Civil War like it happened two months ago. For years, Deen's been the queen of the South as a genteel place where the food is comforting and white people are in charge.
It's tough to imagine she can change her stripes much at this point; her beliefs are too deeply ingrained. So, with that in mind, and since she's already kicked off her big comeback with a ride on a foreign guy's back and a casually racist comment about Michael Sam, I really think she may as well go all in and officially become America's Racist Chef. As Twitter suggested for her last June, go ahead and start whipping up dishes like "Lynchin' Lemonade," "Massa-roni & Cheese," and "Tar Baby Back Ribs" -- or say fuck it and just rename every dish "Toby." It would, if nothing else, take the pressure off her to watch what she says since it wouldn't matter anymore.
Because the way it's going right now, she can probably count on putting her big white foot in her mouth whenever she opens it.
Oh yeah, and none of this is even taking into account Deen equating her personal struggle with that of a gay, African-American man who wants to play in the NFL.