At this point, I think Paula Deen has learned her lesson, whatever that even is. Like, what was the lesson, ultimately? You shouldn’t want to throw a slavery-themed wedding? Sure, but if you don’t already know that lesson it’s going to be a tough one to teach. And I am sure Paula Deen would agree! It has been a tough lesson! But now that we have stripped her of nearly everything she has, dragged her name through the mud, and made her a national punching bag as if she straight up INVENTED racism, as if racism was one of her RECIPES, you would think we could wipe our hands on our jean-clad thighs and get back to work. But no! This week, the New York Times publishes a profile and interview with Dora Charles, a woman who has helped Paula Deen throughout her career in developing her brand, her recipes, opening her restaurants, the whole thing. Oh, and she’s black. Oh, and she agrees Paula Deen is pretty racist.
For 22 years, [Dora] Charles was the queen of the Deen kitchens. She helped open the Lady & Sons, the restaurant here that made Ms. Deen’s career. She developed recipes, trained other cooks and made sure everything down to the collard greens tasted right.
“If it’s a Southern dish,” Ms. Deen once said, “you better not put it out unless it passes this woman’s tongue.”
The money was not great. Mrs. Charles spent years making less than $10 an hour, even after Ms. Deen became a Food Network star. And there were tough moments. She said Ms. Deen used racial slurs. Once she wanted Mrs. Charles to ring a dinner bell in front of the restaurant, hollering for people to come and get it.
“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’ ” Mrs. Charles said. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”
Eek! Look, again, I know that people in the south like to categorize their relationship to this stuff as “complicated,” and I understand why (because the only other way to categorize it is “racist”). It’s not anyone’s fault that they were raised a certain way, or that particular signifiers of a “down home” lifestyle is comforting to them and seems, at least in their minds, free of any racial overtones. I’m sure Paula Deen simply thought having someone stand out front of a restaurant ringing a bell and shouting “come and get it” was just her cute idea for a way to give it that old timey charm that customers love. The problem, of course, is that our nation’s history is anything but cute or charming, and the reason people used to ring a dinner bell was to call workers in from the field, and a lot of those workers didn’t necessarily want to be there. It’s just something to keep in mind! That’s all I’m saying! The problem with white privilege (and I am saying this as someone who enjoys white privilege) is that it kind of blinds you to the overwhelmingly pervasive ways in which white privilege affects everything and it makes you think that maybe nothing is actually a result of white privilege when in fact everything is white privilege.
Oh, but also this dinner bell thing is not even the egregious shit that bothers me. Whatever, Paula Deen dinner bell thing. Choose your battles and live to fight another day. No, this is the egregious shit that bothers me:
For a black woman in Savannah with a ninth-grade education, though, it was good steady work. And Ms. Deen, she said, held out the promise that together, they might get rich one day.
Now, Ms. Deen, 66, is fighting empire-crushing accusations of racism, and Mrs. Charles, 59 and nursing a bad shoulder, lives in an aging trailer home on the outskirts of Savannah.
MOTHERFUCKER! You are the head of a multi-million-dollar food empire that you literally built with the help of black people in the south, which is already a STICKY SITUATION, and not only were you pretty racist about it in the end, but those black people DIDN’T EVEN GET ANY OF THE MONEY? Oh god damn it. I’ve actually been convinced that Paula Deen was being punished for that diabetes thing last year, because that seemed worse to me in terms of net damage to human beings and the Earth than some privately spoken nastiness, but this actually does make my blood boil. To make matters worse, not only did this woman continue to make $10 an hour while Paula Deen’s career took off, which, OK, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, and sometimes a job is a job and you know what you’re getting when you sign on, but that she “held out the promise they would get rich”?! WHEN WAS THAT DAY OF GETTING RICH TOGETHER GOING TO COME? BECAUSE SOME OF YOU WERE ALREADY LIVING THAT DREAM!
Look, I don’t know these two women from Adam. I wasn’t there. The world is tough all around. And people in the spotlight sure do get accused of a lot of things more often than the rest of us and with much more serious consequences, but you know what? Sometimes it’s because they did bad stuff! Sometimes it is because they were selfish and greedy and manipulative monsters who were willing to go to great lengths to achieve certain goals. Incidentally, if you read that article, Paula Deen’s publicists claim that this is just a disgruntled employee who wants more money after 20 years of Paula Deen’s generosity and benevolence, which, again, CAREFUL GUYS. The funny thing is, and again this is just speculation, because that is what I do for a living, but if it really was just a matter of a disgruntled employee rudely demanding more money, I bet the amount of money she was demanding would be less trouble than having to now deal with this article. But also: be nice, Paula Deen. I thought that was your whole thing!
Dora Charles is mentioned in Paula Deen’s memoirs. So, if there is only one greedy asshole in this situation, I’m going to go with the woman who KEPT HER DIABETES A SECRET IN ORDER TO LINE UP A SPONSORSHIP DEAL.
I know Paula Deen is already down, and I know that no amount of blog rage or comment thread flamewars will change the real life circumstances of Dora Charles nursing her bum shoulder in a run-down trailer home, but kick away, man. Kick away.