Paul Deen: Race and Revisionist History

By: Kurt Joachim von Behrmann


Paula Deen

Paul Deen


Pre-Civil war South means two vastly different things to its residents. To this day , the divide is still wide. When Paula Deen’s public remarks and romanticism of the South during slavery lead to a swift counteraction. She was fired from the Foodnetwork.  In succession sponsors quickly distanced themselves from Deen.

The use of the word that dared not be in mentioned in polite circles, “the N”, word means vastly different things to vastly different people.  For youth and rap artists it is just a flavoring word.  It has no historical context beyond it being a “hip” word to use.  For an older generation it is a word for derision.  For yet another group of Americans using the word is acceptable as long as it is not used in public.

Much like the ambiguous nature of the “N” word, its use varies. What is acceptable in one context is not in another. There is yet another argument that derogatory terms a race or group uses among its members is acceptable. It becomes an insult when used by anyone other than members of the group. Equality of insulting terms doesn’t exist.  What is acceptable for one group is clearly not for another.

Beyond words there is that revisionist version of history that sees the South as victim in a war where a proud lifestyle was ended.  For some southern people  the confederacy represents glory and a world where there was order.  Everyone knew  his or her place in society. There were winners and losers in the Southern feudal world.  Economic disparity seems to miss the proud Southerners who see the war among the states as nothing more than unprovoked aggression by the north.  What they fail to see is that only a small percentage of Southerners lived well off the labor of the fields.

What is always missing in revisionist southern history is the very real world of social inequity.  Southern whites, the vast majority, lived in a world of limited social mobility.  If lucky in the D.N.A sweepstakes, you won a place at the plantation enjoying a life of luxury.  If you are a looser, look for a hard way to go.  If black, expect the worst, if white don’t expect very much.  Just like a lottery there are more losers than winner. The very real truth that the high life of slave labor and being waited on hand and foot was for the minority is overlooked.  Just like a real lottery, most people loose.

Just like a lottery, everyone hopes to win.  In revisionist southern history inconvenient truths are absent.  Only hopes, dreams and being a have are left.  There are no Southern history books of the civil.  Writing history is only for the winners in war.  For the losing side, there are no histories written.

In the south a history was written from the confederate  point of view. It was just filled with inaccurate perspectives and oversights.  Why let truth complicate a nice narrative where the dominant class wins and the underclass loses.  Everyone steps up on the food chain when there is a group you can hate and abuse. What better way to feel superior.  It is easy, just demonize a helpless underclass.

Nostalgic southerners forget the gross inequities and brutality of the South.  That is a truth that dare not be mentioned. If overt racism never surfaces publicly, it is certainly alive privately.  In the world of Paul Deen,there are no problems seeing the South as glories and African-Americans little more than extras in a drama that has more to do with cinematic romantic dreams than cold reality.

Deen’s desires are not her own.  She shares them with a  population that feels needlessly put down and ignored. They still see the world as have’s have not and a racial status qoue that sees blacks as servants without feeling, needs, or lives.

Essentially Dean was caught doing what some do behind closed doors. Does that mean she was right?  Does it mean she was correct? No, in an age were racial equity is the goal, Deen was a throw back to another time and place immune to the march of progress.

Does any of this  make Deen a public enemy?  Does this make her a social pariah?  It may very well not.  What it does make Deen is an easy scape goat for those who feel guilty for their racist asides.  What better way to look progressive than to despise Deen from the vantage point of a privileged class in a world where African-Americans are  absent. What better way to feel progressive than to publicly hate Paula Deen from an exclusive club that has members of the privileged white class only present.

Deen suffered because she was foolish enough to be public and to low rent to know better as some might see all of this.  Hate in private, love in public.

There is a certain hypocrisy in hating Deen.  One group can use the word. Another group gets to feel good about itself for hating her.  Behind closed doors America is no more color blind that it was in 1968. In fact, the divide is all the more worse since it is voluntary and on the surface superficially invisible.

Deen’s apology was met with a worldly cynicism.  She is seen less than a person repenting for past ills than a survivor trying to rescue her butt from the fire.  Staying silent meant real trouble.  To speak up was a good P.R. move.  Was she sincere, or was she a shrewd actress acting the part of a woman lost in a modern world unaware she transgressed public rules on race and equality? Apparently Deen did not get the memo that most people around the world find treating African-American historical pain with indifference unacceptable.

The apologists for Deen claim she is simply a victim of  history. She is part of a past age when such things were acceptable.  In the confusing world of rap artist, entertainers and others who use the word, knowing what is and is not O.K. is confusing for a woman entrenched in Southern Group Think. Could there be truth to that? If it is true, Deen is at least insensitive to other people’s agony.

Paula Deen’s  apology and perspective are subject to the court of public opinion.  Was her apology sincere?  Are we still caught in the grasp of racial complexity that ignores history and pain for an even greater inequity?  Can a word no one in polite society use still be accepted everywhere or will time lead to an amnesia that sees all of this as little more than a foot note in history. The relevance of this will  fade with time.  For those of us living now, the pains of the past and its oversight means we are just replaying revisionist history blind to the truth.

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