Deen’s Racism: More Than a Twitter Joke

She should have been slammed; instead she got a humorous hashtag. What gives?

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Paula Deen hosting a Christmas special for Fox in 2012 (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

Look, I’m funny — arguably the funniest person I know — but there is a place and time for the funny, and this wasn’t it. But that’s me. Maybe this is all a sign of progression and that the new generation isn’t as preoccupied with race as the one before it. Maybe the words don’t hold the sting that they used to. Hell, I don’t even know what a “porch monkey” is or why I should be offended if called one, but I know that my father doesn’t play that, and as his son I don’t, either. It is a racial understanding that was passed down by generation, and this generational absence doesn’t feel like apathy, just racial un-indoctrination.

Our history isn’t a joke. So to me, coming back at Deen with phrases like “Lynchables” makes me cringe. Really? I had this argument some time ago with a friend of mine about the funniness of Tyler Perry’s movies. He argued that they were absolutely caricatures but that they were absolutely funny, to which I agreed and asked, “Does any other race clown their own race as much as African Americans do?” It seems that we are always on the receiving end of historical ribbing of some sort, and I just wonder when the joke stops being funny.

Which brings me back to Deen and her acknowledgment of guilty racism, and why I got mad in the first place. Deen got me. She sold herself as this sweet, old lump of butter and sugar: all Southern drawl and kindness, sass and catchphrases, always a little more mayonnaise or butter or cheese. She was a grandmother to us all in her insistence on making fatty food more fatty and sweet foods just a bit sweeter. I always thought she was turning it up for the cameras. It turns out that she really is the old South, which stands out like the bruised parts of the banana.

There is a history that just comes with the South that isn’t kind to those of color, and a meanness that is embedded into the cultural fabric of America. I know that not all folks from the South carry a deep-seated racial hatred, and I didn’t think that the one teaching me how to deep-fry asparagus did.

I wanted my Twitter family to have my back. I didn’t think that after Deen’s admission, the users would take a hard-right turn into jokes about lynching. But my anger isn’t yours, and that can be a sign of growth. Maybe my racial sensitivity is all “March on Washington.” Maybe this is my fight, not yours.

In the end, I envision all this playing out on Oprah’s Next Chapter. There will be tears and a confession of misunderstanding and a catchphrase about growing up and “teaching an old dog new tricks,” and her apology will be buttery and sugary and warm and clog up our arteries the way only Southern goodness can. And one day all of us — not just the Twitterhood — will look back on it and laugh.

Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a writer from Washington, D.C. He is currently finishing his first book, a series of interlinked short stories entitled Stronghold. 

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