Paula Deen Is Not Racist?

Paula Deen (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Paula Deen (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Food critic Michael W. Twitty writes an open letter to Paula Deen at the Huffington Post, parsing out her public relations debacle through the prism of racism in the North and South. While not defending it, he determines that her attitude is more cavalier than racist.

When you said, "of course," I wasn't flabbergasted, I was rather, relieved … In fact we Black Southerners have an underground saying, "better the Southern white man than the Northern one, because at least you know where he stands … " but Paula I knew what you meant, and I knew where you were coming from. I'm not defending that or saying its right — because it's that word — and the same racist venom that drove my grandparents into the Great Migration almost 70 years ago. I am not in agreement with esteemed journalist Bob Herbert who said "brothers shouldn't use it either.." I think women have a right to the word "b…." gay men have a right to the word "queer" or "f…" and it's up to people with oppressive histories to decide when and where the use of certain pejorative terms is appropriate. Power in language is not a one way street. Obviously I am not encouraging you to use the word further, but I am not going to hide behind ideals when the realities of our struggles with identity as a nation are clear. No sound bite can begin to peel back the layers of this issue.

Some have said you are not a racist. Sorry, I don't believe that… I am more of the Avenue Q type—everybody's — you guessed it — a little bit racist. This is nothing to be proud of no more than we are proud of our other sins and foibles. It's something we should work against. It takes a lifetime to unlearn taught prejudice or socially mandated racism or even get over strings of negative experiences we've had with groups outside of our own. We have a really lousy language — and I don't just mean because we took a Spanish and Portuguese word (negro) and turned into the most recognizable racial slur on earth … in any language … because we have a million and one ways to hate, disdain, prejudge, discriminate and yet we hide behind a few paltry words like racism, bigotry, prejudice when we damn well know that we have thousands of words for cars — because we LOVE cars… and food — because we LOVE food — and yet in this language you and I share, how we break down patterns of thought that lead to social discord like racism, are sorely lacking. We are a clever people at hiding our obsessions with downgrading the other.


Read Michael W. Twitty's entire piece at the Huffington Post

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.