Deen's Racism: More Than a Twitter Joke

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

(The Root) — So it turns out that Paula Deen — who, with her buttery Southern charm, cozied up to us by way of the tube — was really just a bigot who could burn.


Deen went hard. After being slapped with a lawsuit charging racism, she acknowledged in a deposition that she "of course" dropped the n-bomb and that she contemplated using a slave motif for her 2004 wedding. After hearing the news, I hit Twitter, expecting the collective black fist of Twitter to be held high in anger, protest and rage.

I have seen the Twitterhood publicly flog famous figures into apologies. Like Ashton Kutcher, who tweeted his disgust at Joe Paterno's firing from Penn State without realizing that it came on the heels of a cover-up of child molestation. Twitter went HAM and Ashton caved.

As vicious as Deen's admission was, I was expecting black Twitter at the very least to return the favor. But something happened instead on Twitter, aka the real black CNN. The Twitterhood didn't go in on her the way they should have. Instead of righteous indignation, we got a weak version of playing the dozens via hashtags.

The lack of outrage makes me think two things simultaneously: that Deen is the physical manifestation of an old Southern ideology that none of us are surprised still exists, and this new generation is more tolerant of racial slights then those before it.

Stand against racism, Tweeters. Or at least stand as tall as Deen did in her indignant admissions. Bash Deen. She is easy and she started it. If this is a rap battle of Deen versus all you out there, then I'm the hype man saying, "Ohhh. She got you! She went in! Go back!" Quips like "Honey Bunches of Ropes" and "Porch Monkey Bread" aren't enough. Finish her. Sweep the knee! This wasn't Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair or Manti Te'o's invisible girlfriend; this was off-limits, raw and uncut use of the n-word.

Maybe I'm old school. I barely tweet and don't have a Facebook page or an Instagram account. Most of my interactions happen in person or over the phone, so I can't say that I completely get social media. But I do know this: All of those places are public forums, and when I hit the Internet looking for a Paula Deen protest, what I found was jokes. What I saw was blatant racist statements under the #paulasbestdishes hashtag, like "Cotton Pickin' Fried Chicken." So my question for the Twitterhood is this: Is a hashtag the racial absolver of all statements said before it?


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.