I’ve got this great idea. Let’s wipe every vestige of Paula Deen from the media and go about our business. After all, she has admitted using the deplorable N-word — years ago, she says — that unfortunately has been part of the national vernacular forever and still is too often used, particularly by those it demeans.
This jumped-up fry cook also has assaulted our sensitivity by her inarticulate, insincere mea culpa on national television and in other interviews, her Southern glibness failing her when she most needed it.
She even had the temerity to cry while she watched her empire unceremoniously being dumped into the garbage disposal like overcooked grits. Now the publisher of her best-selling recipe books wants out.
I have watched “Paula’s Best Dishes” only a couple of times. The things Dean cooks and the ingredients they contain aren’t high on my diet. I remember my grandmother and even at times my mother using them.
But since I became an adult, I have learned that while they may taste quite good, their contents can be as lethal as a knife stuck into the paunch they create.
Truthfully, I never have found Deen important enough to grant the honor of being universally denigrated. Before I am placed on the same griddle for suggesting that perhaps this whole furor has gone a bit over the top, let me tell you I don’t use the offending word and it was never said in my household or that of my parents. In fact, my father once threatened to beat the stuffing out of a man who shouted it at an athlete in a crowded gymnasium.
That is not a claim of piety. Like most Americans of my generation, I have laughed at ethnic humor and have been guilty of telling stories that on reflection were hurtful.
And it can’t be excused by the fact that African-Americans were among the biggest fans of “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” an enormously popular radio series of the early 1950s in which two white guys portrayed the daily lives of blacks. Nor can we excuse the N-word’s utterance just because Americans of color — including talented actors, comedians and musicians — enshrine it by usage that is neither humorous nor tasteful.
Deen tried to defend herself by referring, not terribly well, to this inequity. One could only hope for her sake that, if a sympathetic note is now permitted by the guardians of our correctness, she is not paying much for the advice she has been getting.
She seemed not to understand the doctrine of racial license. It isn’t complicated. Members of any race have more freedom when referring to another member of that race humorously or otherwise than do those of a different ethnic background — especially if there is a history of persecution. However, the N-word is despicable, whoever is using it.
Deen clearly can make a case of having been raised in a culture that not only taught her to cook but also was utterly insensitive in its casual treatment of minorities, particularly blacks. In that, she is not unlike the rest of us of a certain age. That changed, thankfully, and Deen tried to tell us that she also realized some time ago the impropriety of that attitude.
Apparently in one of her restaurants that wasn’t the case. At least that’s what has been alleged in a discrimination suit, which Deen and her allies contend was vindictively filed after she refused to pay more than $1 million to the person who complained.
Is all this an outlandish overreaction? Does the punishment far exceed the crime? One could make a case for that. It seems clear there is no statute of limitation on when someone has used an offensive word or phrase: off with their heads, apologies unaccepted.
Had we been this intolerant 50 years ago, the father of the most important civil rights bills in history, Lyndon B. Johnson, would have been roundly condemned.
What’s left of Deen’s reputation and empire at least should be given a compassionate wake before she is forced to slink away to wash dishes.
Dan K. Thomasson, a Hoosier native and Franklin College trustee, is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.