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Rheta Johnson: Keeping Paula Deen down

 

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

 

Now that the world is rid of a dangerous Deep South cook named Paula Deen, we can rest easy. Stripped of her epicurean empire and rode out on a rail through the virtual streets all buttered and feathered, our nation finally is free of racism. 

 

Isn't it? 

 

I pledged to leave the defense of Paula Deen to the Northern wags, or Southerners with Nobel Peace Prizes. No good would come of my weighing in; as a white Southerner myself I'd be suspect. 

 

But this hits close to hometown. 

 

Paula hails from Albany, Ga., about 50 miles from my birthplace of Colquitt. Neither of those is far from Plains, and you remember Jimmy Carter gave the Northeastern elites a thousand field days with his accent -- "Eye-talian" for "Italian" -- his redneck brother and even his Boy Scout sincerity. 

 

Carter, like a multitude of others, was victim of an acceptable kind of bias -- that against Deep South people, both black and white. We talk real funny down here, to quote Randy Newman. 

 

I do not condone using the word that Paula Deen admitted to using. It is an awful and ugly word heavy with history. But if 100 honest white Southerners of her vintage were deposed, 99 would have to admit using it. Some maybe only in youthful ignorance, others in an ironic way to make a point, a la Mark Twain. Even in song. Randy Newman's brilliant "Rednecks" comes to mind. 

 

I don't know much about Paula Deen or her heart. I've never seen the show or eaten at her Savannah restaurant. I cannot lambast or defend with any authority. Her latest bye comes courtesy of a federal judge. I think the glee of her accusers, however, speaks volumes and deserves analysis. 

 

I really can't decide if this tempest in a measuring cup is an overblown reaction to a bad woman who made good, to a Deep South diva or to all of the above. 

 

What's most telling is how it doesn't stop with Paula Deen's presumed racism but goes on to her recipes. I don't remember Julia Child being pilloried for pushing butter, and more butter, but then she was from California and a Smith graduate. That Deen aligned herself with a pharmaceutical company is questionable, but a hanging offense? 

 

I'll admit to my own prejudice, and it's not against blacks. It's against those ignorant and sanctimonious scribes who think racism has geographical boundaries aside from the human heart.  

 

I guess growing up Southern I've known too many white folk who regrettably used the racial epithet but had black friends whom they cherished. And I've known people who wouldn't utter the offensive word even with a gun to their heads but also never would think of stopping to help a black motorist stranded on the side of the road or anywhere else. 

 

Which is worse?  

 

But then I'm a redneck, redneck. Don't know my arse from a hole in the ground, as Newman said in his infamous satirical song. He also said nobody ever gets satire. 

 

Maybe we all should be taking a harder look at certain politicians, the courts, the voting apparatus in states like Ohio, the demographics of this nation's prison population and working poor. We should be questioning the killing of Trayvon Martin. This crucifixion of a television cook is like winging a titmouse while a vulture soars. 

 

 

 

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