Tonawanda News

June 23, 2013

DUVALL: Pick on Paula Deen for deeds not words

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I’m generally wary of the argument we’re an overly politically correct society, usually because it’s used by people who want to say offensive things with impunity.

Besides, one flip through cable television, top 40 radio or any Internet message board will give you all the evidence you need to show there’s far more said that shouldn’t be in America than the other way around.

Mind you I’m no fan of hers — more on that in a minute — but in the case of Paula Deen, I think she’s getting more punishment than she deserves.

Let’s set the parameters for this conversation from the start: Racism is, always was and always will be wrong in any conceivable context. No exceptions.

During a deposition for a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee she admitted to previously using a racial epithet but said it was a long time ago and it was meant in jest. She apologized in several admittedly bizarre YouTube videos but she seemed sincere in admitting she’d offended people and was genuinely sorry for it.

People do wrong things all the time. We learn they’re wrong by how others react when we do them. There’s rarely a formal apology for the action. Most times it’s filed away under the mental checklist of things we shouldn’t say again. At some point most of us turn over in our heads why something seemed OK to us but was received poorly. And then we grow from the experience.

I can’t cast a judgment about whether she actually believes the comments she made — whatever they were — accurately reflect black people or if she’s just got a faulty brain-to-mouth filter.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt for one reason: The fact she now knows what she said was wrong (and it was) tells me regardless of the fact she once didn’t realize what using the n-word really means, she does now and is sorry for having done it.

She doesn’t deserve a free pass and if she really did discriminate against an employee she should have to suffer the consequences.

This whole public melodrama seems a bit, well, self-righteous. 

It’s through honest, open dialogue about preconceived notions about any group that we come to a greater understanding. Kicking someone off the planet for admitting they once held a stereotypical or insensitive view of a group of people does nothing but stifle the open and honest dialogue necessary to move past the crass punchlines.

I said I’m no Paula Deen fan and here’s why. If we’re going to pillory her for being a hypocrite it isn’t for belying her Southern Belle reputation by being a racist. 

There’s a substantive criticism of her work as a “cooking personality.” (On behalf of the chefs I know, I refrain from sullying their title by putting it in front of Deen’s name.)

She’s built an empire and amassed a fortune teaching people the easiest, cheapest and least healthful way to eat. Her recipes, if you can call them that, are a joke by culinary standards. A hamburger between two doughnuts isn’t landing her restaurant any Michelin stars, I promise you that.

Anthony Bourdain, the bad-boy food writer and world traveler whose work I greatly enjoy, got into a rather infamous feud with Deen over her fatty, sugary, flavorful yet tasteless offerings.

While all the fois gras Bourdain woofs down as a judge on “Top Chef” isn’t exactly healthy either, any good chef will tell you there are plenty of healthier ways to pack food with flavor than coating it in butter and deep-frying it.

And while she was pushing these fat bombs she was hiding the fact her own eating habits landed her with a Type II diabetes diagnosis.

It was only when she signed an endorsement deal for a diabetes drug that she revealed what eating her own food did to her body.

Perpetrating a fraud that actually harmed an untold number of people who took Deen’s cooking advice and put one foot in an early grave apparently isn’t grounds for termination at a network dedicated to teaching people how to cook better food.

Honestly answering an embarrassing question about race apparently is.

That’s the real recipe for disaster.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com. or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.