Paula Deen's Comeback: Proof Racism Still Sells in America
Paula Deen has been rather quiet since a June deposition exposed her use of slurs and racial discrimination; a revelation that led to a loss of all of her endorsements and her television show. On Saturday, she made her first public appearance since the big scandal as part of a cooking demonstration in Texas. When Deen walked on stage, she received a 10-minute standing ovation.
She told the crowd:
I've said all along that the one place that I would want to make my first step back out was Texas. Y'all's hearts are as big as your state.
Before that event, a survey of Georgia Republicans showed that Deen – with 73% support – was more popular than Martin Luther King Jr, who only received 59% positive reaction.
Appalled? I'd imagine so. Surprised? You absolutely shouldn't be.
When the revelation was made that Paula Deen had a past (and not-so-distant past) of racist behavior and use of racial slurs, I knew one sad fact about her career moving forward: she is going to be as popular as ever before. Sure, Deen lost endorsements and television shows, but she earned a passionate fan base. Paula Deen guaranteed that she'd always have a substantial population of fans who would support her after she was revealed as a racist. Because racism will always have a market in America.
Paula Deen is the perfect symbol of perpetuating racism in America. For some in the south, she doesn't represent bigotry as much as she represents a tribute to the past. Southern pride is indelibly linked to a racist past. I'm not saying everyone in the south does this. It's perfectly normal and prominent for southerners to celebrate their rich history without embracing its roots of slavery and racism, and I've seen people do this firsthand growing up in Mississippi. However, it's so easy to accept and recreate even the nastiest parts of the south under the guise of tradition so many hold on to so tightly. That's where Paula Deen comes in.
Deen's racism has been defended as just a woman trying to enjoy her southern roots and any accidental racism that results is just collateral damage. So while Deen lost endorsements, she gained the label as a normal gal who cooks, talks and carries herself in the southern way and is getting persecuted for embracing her tradition. Naturally, now people are rallying around her as a beacon of Southern pride as if an accent and an ability to make shrimp and grits is a prerequisite for thinking it's appropriate to dress African Americans as Aunt Jemima and make them ring a dinner bell.
After Paula Deen's racial slur soundbytes first went public, I saw countless comments along the lines of "Paula Deen is an old woman from the south. Of course she's racist" as if it's a foregone conclusion that being older than 40 and southern makes someone a bigot. This is a dangerous way of thinking about race as it excuses Deen for her actions, vilifies an entire region and allows the rest of the country to feel as though it doesn't have its own racist histories.
Paula Deen isn't a racist because she's from the south. She's a racist because she's a racist. However, whenever a story like Deen or theAlabama sororities refusal to admit African-American students makes the national news, the story usually turns to how backwards the south is or how the south is the only place in the country perpetuating the subjugation of African Americans.
Meanwhile there's a combative debate over unjust Stop and Frisk laws in New York City targeting African Americans. Chicago is shutting down schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. And in Seattle, there's outrage over the treatment of black students in the education system. By pointing to the south as the bastion of racial regression, it allows the rest of the country to pretend its issues are non-existent or, as some would say, "at least we're not the south".
Paula Deen, though, isn't a southern racist. She's an American racist. Those simply tagging her insensitivity to black culture as a symptom of her southern-ness are only enabling America's macro racism. Sure, Paula Deen's first public appearance was in Texas, where she received a standing ovation from 1,400 supporters. But don't think there aren't thousands of people in Des Moines, Portland, Phoenix or New Haven who would give Deen the same affection.
Paula Deen will have speaking engagements for the rest of her life. She'll have fans and more standing ovations. Her books will still sell and thousands of Deen-inspired biscuits will get baked. Because racism has always been a lucrative endeavor in not just the south, but across America; don't let the accent fool you.