Here’s the dry rub about the whole celebrity cook Paula Deen BBQ: it’s really no great shock that a Low Country Southern woman of a certain age once used the “N-word,” or maybe still does privately on occasion.
To keep it real, too many African Americans disparage their own with that painful racial moniker all too often these days. Just turn on the radio.
What’s more revealing about the Paula Deen roast is not only the intractable racial divide it reveals and revitalizes in 21st century America, but also how this deep-fried controversy has blown the lid off the dearth of African-American restaurateurs, cooks and chefs employed by television executives and producers, especially at the Food Network, which sacked her in the wake of the controversy.
No excuses: You can’t visit any city or small town in America without your nose leading you on a trail to the best soul food dishes and home cooked cuisine that jurisdiction has to offer. Think Sylvia’s in New York City, Darker Than Night in Baltimore, Horace and Dickie’s in D.C., the Croaker Spot in Richmond, Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans and Sisters in Savannah. Some of the most restaurants that serve soul food are not even Black- owned, like Miss Shirley’s in Baltimore and Annapolis.
However, while you will view Blacks’ “adopted” recipes, you have to hunt high and low to actually see even a few African American chefs on television. By the way, do “The Neelys ” or “Big Daddy” still air?
That glaring void of African American chefs and cuisine is what executives at the Food Network and the other cooking channels or segments need to fill. They should focus on fixing this sad state of affairs immediately. While the exposure of African-American chefs is an important goal for the sake of diversity and historical context, their presence could also generate businesses and jobs for African Americans from the lucrative spinoff that might follow the newly-minted chefs’ notoriety.
“I stopped watching the Food Network because they put all the Black shows on at times when you can’t find them and replaced them with food I wouldn’t eat, like ‘The Pioneer Woman,’” said my sister, Angela T. Shivers, a great cook whose specialty is a wonderful macaroni and cheese.
Is Deen losing her TV spot and sponsors for fear of a Black backlash or a green hemorrhage? Food—or the business of producing, promoting and selling it, from the roadside farmer’s market to the televised hi-tech marketplace—cooks up billions of dollars each year.
Yet African Americans are not enjoying much from the fruits of these enterprises.
Even with gentrification gobbling up so many urban neighborhoods, it is hard for African Americans to sustain—let alone open—restaurants, carry-outs and food trucks. Government and private investors could assist African Americans in becoming “job creators” by providing more small business loans and culinary training programs so Blacks, too, are able to get a foothold in the retail food industry.
Deen’s multimillion dollar Southern cooking empire includes her restaurants, tours, books, dishes, cookware, videos and cooking shows. Each of her sons now hosts his own show. Why didn’t Deen just settle this discrimination case out of court? It would have saved her reputation, as well as a Delta shrimp boatload of money.
The queen of fried meats and gravy set off a firestorm recently when she admitted to using racial slurs nearly 20 years ago, reportedly as part of a deposition in a lawsuit brought by a former employee who is suing her company and her brother for discrimination and sexual harassment. Deen curiously stated that although she used a racially-charged word, neither she nor her family condone racist behavior. Go figure. In an ironic twist, the former employee is a White woman who said she was offended by the racial slurs because she has biracial nieces.
True confession, folks: I love, love, loved to watch Paula Deen. (Emphasis on “ed”).
My first trip to the Savannah Jazz Festival, courtesy of my Johns Hopkins University classmates’ Anniken and Albert Davenport, included a much anticipated outing to Uncle Bubba’s Seafood Restaurant and to the Lady and Sons Restaurant.
Bubba’s is operated by Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers, Deen’s brother. She operates the other restaurant.
We couldn’t get in for the line out the door. The diehard supporters included many Blacks.
Let’s hope that the controversy she kicked up will lead to opportunities for the same people she disparaged.
Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.