Commentary: Paula Deen Longs for Days of Old and She’s Not Alone

It has become public that the celebrity chef from the Food Network has used the N word.

Posted: 06/20/2013 10:10 AM EDT

So it seems that Paula Deen, the doyenne of the world of television culinary celebrity and reformed fattening food addict, uses the N-word from time to time. She created a stir this week after the release of comments she made in a deposition in a case in which a former manager at her restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, is suing her for sexual and racial harassment.

"Have you ever used the 'N' word yourself?" the plaintiff’s lawyer asked. Dean replied, “Yes, of course."

Of course, indeed. Her response was rather like what one would expect if the question had been: “Have you ever prepared macaroni and cheese?” To Deen, the N-word is apparently standard fare, much like the butter and cream that were the staples of her fat- and sugar-laden recipes.

Equally fascinating was the additional revelation that Deen, the Food Network star, had planned a wedding reception party and thought it would be wonderful to have the workers dressed like slaves.

“Well, what I would really like is a bunch of little n—–s to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties,” she is quoted as having said. “You know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around.” Deen said, laughing. “Now that would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”

She added: “That restaurant represented a certain era in America. The servers in that era were slaves.”

Deen’s point of view is not so uncommon and it reflects a vision that seems very much in vogue: a longing for the good old days when people of color knew their place and happily accepted discrimination, inequality and bias as a fact of life.

Take one example. Not too far from Deen’s Georgia would-be plantation is Pat McCrory, the new Republican governor of North Carolina. McCrory this week signed into law the repeal of the state’s Racial Justice Act, a law that allowed convicted murderers to seek reduced sentences if they could successfully prove the outcome of their cases had been shaped by racial biases.

The Republican neophyte governor and his state’s legislature are intent on turning back the clock to the kinder, gentler white-dominated world of the 1950s, complete with efforts to restrict voting rights, particularly among low-income and minority voters.

Those efforts are coupled with the Republican officials’ desire to cut the payroll tax credit for more than 900,000 poor and working people in North Carolina as well as a rejection of federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage for more than 500,000 residents who don’t have health insurance.

Those who have gathered to protest the extremist actions of the state’s General Assembly have been labeled by McCrory as “outsiders,” a critique mastered in the separate-but-equal reign of Alabama Governor George C. Wallace in the early 1960s.

The desire to turn the clock back is very much in fashion now. Last year, more than a dozen states sought to enact requirements for new, restrictive voter identification laws that would have made it more cumbersome for Black and Latino people to go to the polls.

Deen is hardly alone in her dreams of antebellum paradise. But, alas, the country has changed and one can only hope that the folks who share her longings are steadily and increasingly outnumbered.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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