Food and Attitude: The Missed Opportunities of Paula Deen
I have never seen Paula Deen in action. I have never watched the Food Network. The only reason I know about Paula Deen, other than her two recent controversies, is that I saw her face on a magazine in Publix and loved her bright blue eyes and white curly hair.
When I heard about her ironic-but-expected diagnoses of diabetes I was not unsympathetic, but I wondered about the integrity of a person who would encourage people to kill themselves with the standard American diet (SAD for short). Once she was diagnosed she had the opportunity to make a real difference and educate the American public about how comfort food doesn’t lead to comfort, but she didn’t. That she hid her disease for years and continued to push the dangerous drugs of fat and sugar was reprehensible.
And now we discover she is a racist.
The thing is, both her racism and her diet come from the same cultural roots. On some level, we have to have sympathy for cultural ignorance. And, as the song from “Avenue Q” says, “Everybody’s a Little Racist.”
I think this recent Paula Deen scandal opened an opportunity for us to really talk about race and culture in a way that could have been healing and helpful.
But here’s the problem. Paula Deen doesn’t take opportunities for healing. Paula Deen doesn’t take responsibility for her actions, or for her need to grow. When asked about her use of the “n word” Paula justified it by saying she “didn’t feel real favorable towards him.” Deen’s lousy grammar aside, this statement says everything we need to know about Paula Deen. Deen feels that anger justifies the use of a racial slur.
I’ve been angry at people of all different races. I know a lot of off-color words one could use in anger that don’t make reference to race. Deen could have called the man who held a gun to her head an a*shole, a f*ckwad or a sh*thead and been perfectly justified. That she made it about race and justified it after the fact tell us everything we need to know.
For Deen, the race of the individual explains the individual’s actions. If a person of color did something wrong, they did it because of the color of their skin.
We understand that Paula Deen came from a family who owned slaves. A lot of us trace our roots to that regrettable time in American history. We can’t change the past. But when given the chance to help all of America heal and grow, Paula Deen simply used her culture to justify her attitude.
Paula Deen is not the only racist in the public eye. Ann Coulter recently made some inflammatory racist comments wrapped in misguided national pride. But Ann Coulter makes a living being offensive. She does it for attention, and she does it because she knows it’s shocking. Paula Deen is the worst kind of racist because she is too ignorant to realize she’s wrong.
On two occasions now the Universe has given Paula Deen the opportunity for redemption. She could have used her formidable position to help educate Americans about the dangers of comfort food once she had experienced them for herself. She could have helped us understand the racism inherent in our culture and understand why we have to grow beyond it. But she didn’t.
I will probably never watch the Food Network. But I am pleased with the stand they have taken. It is impossible to be an apologist for Paula Deen without being a contributor to the poor physical and moral health of our country.
It’s too bad. I still appreciate her blue eyes, and that she rocks her white hair so well. She is, and will always be, an American icon. In many ways she is an example of perseverance, and of using what you have to get where you want to be. In those ways it is easy to admire her.
None of us is perfect. But Paula Deen has shown no interest in using her situation to help anyone. That she is a product of her culture is understandable. That she refuses to use her position to make a difference for our country is not. I don’t want to poison myself by swallowing her foods or her attitudes.