It was midnight, my wife’s car is kind of a train, but when I saw the Georgia state sign my smile was missing.
“Whatcha readin’ baby?”
I didn’t want to respond but the kids were asleep in the back and there wasn’t anything to distract her question.
“Paula Deen is off the Food Network because she’s a big racist.”
I know Bobina aka my wife’s sighs. She has hundreds of them. Like her same number of smiles, the sighs mean things like “I’m tired, rub my shoulders” to “Quick, idiot, do something to make me happy or you’re going to have a long night, idiot”. This sigh was somewhere in between.
“Honey, I know you like her but let me read you the sexual harassment lawsuit deposition and the stuff she’s admitted to actually saying and doing.”
I read the news article and halfway through Bobina, a trained chef of Le Cordon Bleu, Food Network fanatic and owner of more than one Paula Deen cookbook, took one hand off the steering wheel and framed the conversation.
“If she did and said those things, she’s so very wrong. But I also know she’s helped African-Americans get into the restaurant business, promoted chefs and cooks from all walks of life, and she’s a wonderful success story. This whole thing is bad but mostly, it’s another black eye for the south.”
Bobina’s expression went serious, then there was mention of potty and gasoline. The “bury Paula Deen under a post of snark and scorn” idea that I sheltered, left. This was like when we found out one of my musical heroes, Thurston Moore, had cheated on another hero, Kim Gordon, broken up their marriage and one of my favorite bands, Sonic Youth, forever. My wife didn’t pile on with hard, vicious truth about Moore being a scumbag and Sonic Youth being hypocritical in their songs and Indie approach to music and life.
For those out of the know, Paula Deen has long held a reputation for unhealthy recipes of butter, sugar, fat, more butter, and saying “y’all” every other word while flirting with anything in shoes on her Food Network shows. Her brother, Bubba Hiers (yes, really) and Paula, herself, are being sued by a former employee, Lisa Jackson, for sexual harassment. You can easily find the ugly details of the suit and Bubba’s bad acts but the lowlights are that in their Savannah, Ga area restaurant, Hiers made sexual remarks, had a separate restroom for black employees, and he and sister Paula dropped rhymes with trigger epithets as well as sexist and racist remarks about women and blacks being inferior. Paula testified that she’d used the rhymes with trigger word many times as well as possibly committed acts of sexual harassment and sexist attitudes. Her response has been unbutter. She’s posted two youtube. Both are hostage-like and very weird. Ostensibly her “defense” for being a bigot and a sexist and propping up her creep brother is “hey, y’all, I’m Paula Deen and I’m southern and I’m old”. This makes me dislike her more because I’ve heard these excuses from my own family members, friends, co-workers, politicians, and Chick-Fil-A apologist acquaintances.
I was born on September 10, 1970 in Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. My high school sweetheart parents grew up on the same street and were just 19 and 21 (mom and dad respectively) when I arrived weighing 8bs and 8oz. I grew up in metropolitan Atlanta suburbs Lawrenceville, Grayson, and Snellville. I went to college at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, where former racist Governor, the one Lynyrd Skynyrd sang about Birmingham, loving, in Sweet Home Alabama, once stood in the doors to disallow black students from entering only 50 years ago. Eventually I made my way back home and after hanging in the downtown Atlanta’s rock scene. I’m now in Sugar Hill aka “The Hill of Sugar” next to the famous Mall of Georgia where I’m married to the love of my life, the pretty Paula Deen fan driving the Expedition. We raise three girls, 17, 9, and 8 under an unplanted flag of liberal politics, no hate, and a lot of southern fried cooking and style.
I love being from the south. The weather here is terrific. If you don’t hold a door open for a child, female, or old person, you’re looked at with disgust. Sweet tea is sold everywhere, all the time, with extra sugar if you want. I’ve traveled all over the country and run around Mexico and Central America a couple of times. The nicest, kindest, most well-meaning folks live where I do. We also make really good music. Drivin N Cryin, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, B-52s, R.E.M., Allman Brothers, 38 Special, Cowboy Mouth, The Black Crowes, OutKAST, Ludacris, Goodie Mob, Ceelo Green, Atlanta Rhythm Section, James Brown, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Usher, TLC, T.I., Cat Power, Drive By Truckers, Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Black Lips are all from the south, a lot of them from Georgia and I didn’t even mention country artists. But the south has problems, mostly with misguided identity and a lack of self-awareness when it comes to race and sex. Paula Deen’s case represents a lot of it.
Deen has a lot of supporters down here, including, at least for her cooking skills and “good-looking sons”, my wife. But at age 66, the woman who has built a multi-million dollar empire from 200 bucks at her lowest point in 1989, needs to get over her hot-buttered self and admit she’s behind the times and her apologies are hollow. Maybe Paula Deen was too loyal to her pig of a brother. Maybe Paula Deen was just so self-absorbed and insulated due to her empire that she got arrogant and lost her way. But this lady hangs out with Oprah, a lot. It makes you wonder if the phrase “well, Oprah’s one of the good ones” left Paula’s mouth?
Southern culture has positives. But I suspect my wife is in the minority of people who liked Deen’s personality and cooking skills. The majority of Paula Deen’s fans dig her symbolism of the “lost cause”; the attitudes and ways of life that lost the Civil War, created Jim Crow laws, and make two thirds of the country cringe when they hear “y’all” at an airport or on television
My midnight train to Georgia Sunday taught me something. Now, it’s time for fellow Georgian Paula Deen to learn, make amends, and make people appreciate Georgia Rhythm and Southern Accents.
Here’s back to back videos and songs of the day. Georgia Rhythm was written and produced a half an hour from my house in Doraville, in 1976, by Atlanta Rhythm Section. Southern Accents is from the great Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers. Enjoy, and have some butter biscuits and sweet tea and think of your writer friend in Georgia. I’m one of the good ones…southerners, that is.