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June 22, 2013 11:39 AM Well Shut My Mouth!

By Ed Kilgore

I take no pleasure from the trouble food “personality” Paula Deen got herself into this last week, culminating in her firing by the Food Network after she stumbled through efforts to save herself via heavily massaged apologies. I admit to have enjoyed a couple of her recipes over the years. And I usually found her over-the-top “Well Shut My Mouth” embodiment of outworn southern cultural stereotypes annoying rather than deeply offensive—just another Cracker playing the fool for the tourists, basically.

But as a Cracker myself, not that much younger than Deen, I know that she cannot plead ignorance or even innocence of the dynamite of the South’s racial history, and how perilously and inherently her own Old South shtick has skirted the thin line that separates the light side from the dark side of our heritage. The Southern Cooking Icon who occasionally forgets she needs to play error-free baseball when it comes to race is a lot like the southern white politicians who occasionally forget they represent African-Americans.

Paul Deen will do a lot to redeem herself if she refuses to let herself be used as a martyr to the cause of anti-anti-racism—a victim of “political correctness” and all that. The campaign is already developing:

Todd Starnes, who also hosts a Fox News Radio segment, wrote on his Facebook page that the “liberal, anti-South media is trying to crucify Paula Deen. They accuse her of using a derogatory word to describe a black person. Paula admitted she used the word — back in the 1980s - when a black guy walked into the bank, stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to hand over the cash. The national media failed to mention that part of the story. I’ll give credit to the Associated Press for telling the full story.”
Starnes also defended Deen via Twitter, writing: “The mainstream media hates Paula Deen […] I think it’s because most of them don’t eat meat.”

Oh good God. The multi-millionaire celebrity Paula Deen is hardly up there on the cross, and I can testify there’s at least one white southern carnivore—a biscuit eater as well—who thinks that those who work so hard to identify themselves with southern cultural stereotypes are courting controversy and disaster if they don’t watch their mouths. There are many, many southern white chefs and TV stars and book authors and even politicians who don’t set themselves up as regional paragons, yet also manage to steer clear of discrimination suits and admissions of casual, “innocent” racism. Paula Deen played with fire and got burned. She can best heal herself by refusing to be used by those who aren’t “innocent” at all.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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