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If We Could Forgive George Wallace . . . . (A Conversation with Black Folks About Paula Deen)

Hi Black Folks,

Can we talk about Paula Deen?  Quite frankly, the question of forgiving Paula Deen for using the N-word in the past is, IMHO, a conversation that needs to reside within the black community since that word is used to demean us and strip us of our humanity.  So for all of my non-white readers, please excuse us while we black folks have a conversation about forgiving Paula Deen.

Oh, and for those of you black folks who routinely use the N-word -- rappers and the like -- you're excused from the conversation.  As far as I'm concerned, you're part of the problem.  I don't take a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude towards the N-word.  To my mind, there is no acceptable use of the word.  So, as far as I'm concerned, you have no place in this conversation, either.

Now, down to brass tacks.  First, I'll admit my bias.  I'm a Paula Deen fan.  I like her wit, her charm, her grit, her backstory of overcoming adversity and taking her greatest talent and making something of it.

I also adore her Grandmother Paul's Sour Cream Pound Cake recipe.  More on that later.

For now, the question we black folks "for true," to borrow a turn of phrase from our elders, should ask ourselves is this:  If we could forgive George Wallace, can we (or why can't we) forgive Paula Deen?

Mind you, racism is racism.  Governor George Wallace standing in the door of the University of Alabama stating, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," was as about as in-your-face with racism as one could get.  Yet, black folks forgave him and voted him back into office.  I've said it time and again -- we black folks are the most forgiving people on the planet.  We have to be given that we live side-by-side with the very folks who fomented our mistreatment.  George Wallace's political second act is a testament to black forgiveness.

That said, insidious racism on the down-low -- the kind Paula Deen is alleged to have practiced -- is the worst because it's shielded.  It's like being attacked from an unexpected source, especially one whose image is that of home cookin' and Southern hospitality.  Not white hospitality, Southern hospitality.  Anyone who's ever lived in the South knows there are no more hospitable people on the planet than Southerners of any race.

We as black folks can't answer the question whether we should forgive Paula Deen until we're sure what we're forgiving her for.  In her deposition, Paula Deen admitted under oath to using the N-word in the past.  She did not admit to using it in the manner alleged in the racial discrimination lawsuit against her -- her description of black men who were to serve as waiters at her brother's wedding using the N-word.  If indeed she did use the N-word as alleged in the lawsuit, perhaps she does not merit forgiveness because she hasn't really come to terms with her racism.  For me, forgiveness isn't just about what you did, but whether you have the potential to learn from it and not do it again.  Perhaps that's why black folks in Alabama forgave George Wallace -- the perception that he learned from his mistake and had the potential not to make the same mistake again.

My fervent hope is that Paula Deen isn't the racist she's portrayed to be and, if she is, she'll come clean about it, settle the lawsuit, and use this mistake as an opportunity to confront her racism and educate other whites who are racist about theirs.  If she does, she will be worthy of forgiveness.

And if she is forgiven by us black folks, I hope she'll stick to cooking.  I've made a lot of pound cakes in my life and tried a lot of recipes, including my owner mother's, and no pound cake I've ever tried, whether from a bakery or a home cook, comes close to Paula Deen's Grandmother Paul's Sour Cream Pound cake.  I've taken that pound cake to family outings and had it literally snatched off the table along with the plate it arrived on.  It's THAT good. 

In a perfect world, Paula Deen would go on Oprah's Next Chapter, admit all the times she's used the N-word, get forgiven by Oprah, and OWN would pick up her cooking shows, putting Deen in the curious position of having her ass saved by a black woman -- a Southern black woman, no less.

Should black folks forgive Paula Deen?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, download that pound cake recipe before the Food Network takes it off their website and make one while you think about forgiving her.


Therren Dunham said…
I’m going to take issue with some of the points you’ve made on this post. First, I believe that to omit anyone from this discussion—rappers, non-black people, and the like, does a disservice to all of us. This issue affects all of us, not just the ones we like, and if you don’t like the N-word, don’t use it, but other people’s use shouldn’t disqualify them from having their say. I respect that this is your blog, but this is not your discussion, and you don’t have the right to keep others from participating.
I also believe that it’s a false premise to conflate Paula Deen’s acknowledgement of racism with George Wallace’s. Wallace, at least early in his political career, was no segregationist, and perhaps not the racist he is known as today. He was a trustee at Tuskegee Institute, and ran on a populist campaign that was as inclusive as you’d expect a southern white man to be at that time. His daughter, in her memoirs, said that race was never discussed at home. It was only when he lost to a devout segregationist that he adopted that platform and never looked back. He may have renounced this racism late in his life (and then it was only after her was SHOT), which is commendable, but his actual sin was that he exploited and manipulated the racial fears and solidarity among poor whites in order to get into office.
Paula Deen is guilty of the casual racism that renders people invisible, as objects and not fully-fleshed human beings. And every white person is guilty of that at some point in their lives, just as we are guilty of the same when it comes to others. If she used the word nigger at a certain time in her life, like she says, and has since moved away from that, then I’m okay with it; if she uttered the word for a period of time after a black man put a gun to her temple, I can completely understand why she went there, and in that context (and that context ONLY), there’s nothing to forgive. HOWEVER, we’re not talking about an isolated incident that happened a lifetime ago; this is about issues rooted in her past that must be considered given the RECENT events that are still unfolding.
Deen had every opportunity in the world to get ahead of this situation and mitigate any fallout; she didn’t. Now, I have no axe to grind against the woman, I don’t see myself boycotting any entity that continues to do business with her, and I accept that she has many, many black fans who will stand by her as her white ones do. I also believe that her Savannah restaurants will continue to do well. But she’s through as a celebrity endorser and television personality; her reputation is tarnished. Just as Michael Vick, Michael Richards, Hank Williams, Jr., Charlie Sheen, and so many others have learned the hard way is that what you do on your own is one thing (to an extent), but when you are on TV pitching products, you represent the entity you’re shilling for; and you don’t offend the people who sign your checks.
Paula Deen shouldn’t go to Oprah unless she wants to be blasted like Mitt Romney was when he spoke to the NAACP. No, she should go to Ebony, TV One, or a similar entity that carries a lot more resonance with the average black life. Other than that, I don’t believe that the average black person thinks Deen speaks to them, so I doubt they’d treat her with anything other than a shrug.

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