Paula Deen Is Confusing People
Politics

Paula Deen Is Confusing People

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American life is full of two groups of people: those who find racism abhorent, and those find this first group of people tiresome. Paula Deen's humilation this week seems to have brought out the members of Group 2. Why is everyone making such a big fuss, they ask? 

Thankfully, The New York Times has a very amusing report from Georgia on this subject: 

The line of Paula Deen fans waiting for her restaurant here to open grew throughout the hot, muggy morning Saturday. They discussed what they might select from the buffet inside The Lady and Sons, her wildly popular restaurant in the heart of Savannah. But they also talked of boycotting the Food Network, which dropped their beloved TV chef on Friday after she awkwardly apologized for having used racial slurs and for considering a plantation-themed wedding for her brother, with well-dressed black male servants.

And what are these folks really angry about? 

 “Everybody in the South over 60 used the N-word at some time or the other in the past,” wrote Dick Jackson, a white man from Missouri. “No more ‘Chopped’ for me, and I suspect thousands like me,” he said, referring to a popular Food Network show.

A white man? I never would have guessed. And, then, of course, the question that good white folks love to ask:

In the line Saturday, some pointed out that some African-Americans regularly used the word Ms. Deen had admitted to saying. “I don’t understand why some people can use it and others can’t,” said Rebecca Beckerwerth, 55, a North Carolina native who lives in Arizona and had made reservations at the restaurant Friday.

Really? You don't understand it? Ms. Beckerwerth doesn't say she wants to use it, but it sure sounds like she thinks she is making a real sacrifice by not using it. 

The article descends into unintentional hilarity when the writer decides to call an expert on race:

Tyrone A. Forman, the director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference at Emory University, said the use of derogatory words can mean different things to different groups. “People take a term that was a way to denigrate or hold people in bondage for the purpose of continuing their subordination and turn it around as a way to reclaim it,” he said. But that kind of subtlety is often lost in a discussion of race. “That nuance is too much for us,” Mr. Forman said. “We have a black president so we’re postracial, right? Someone uses the N-word? That’s racist. But the reality is there is a lot of gray.”

Thank God we have someone to address all this confusion, although the final sentence here left me, if anything, even more confused. 

The piece ends as follows:

[One man] was particularly bothered by a commentator on a national news program who suggested that Ms. Deen should have atoned for the pain of slavery, given credit to African-Americans who helped influence some of the country food that made her famous and offered a stronger statement against racism. “She’s a cook,” Mr. Hattaway said. “She’s not a Harvard graduate.”

Hold on, aren't we supposed to sneer at Harvard graduates? Now apparently you have to go to Harvard to understand that using racist language is wrong. The Deen case has brought with it a stange epidemic of people pretending to be a lot more stupid than they actually are. Ms. Beckerwerth and her ilk aren't really confused. I didn't go to Harvard, but I'd diagnose their problem as something a little worse than a lack of comprehension.

Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.

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