Saturday, June 22, 2013

Josh Marshall on Deen

Not to pile on or anything, but if you, like I, weren't sure how to feel about former TV cooking personality (you can't call her a chef) Paula Deen's racially insensitive remarks (see my last entry), Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has a pretty clear-eyed take. Usefully, he puts Deen into context by recounting how a genuinely conflicted white man, Lyndon Johnson, behaved in the throes of the civil rights movement. Read Marshall's post to get the full story. I'll wait.

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Done? Okay.

On the surface, Johnson's behavior wasn't that different from Deen's. However, Johnson showed both immediate awareness of his uncivil behavior and genuine remorse for it. Moreover, he was fighting a half-century's worth of instincts developed in a deeply racist culture.

Paula Deen? Not so much. As Marshall notes,

Paula Deen was born in 1947. So she was 8 or 9 during the Montgomery bus boycott, sixteen for the March on Washington and twenty-one when Martin Luther King was assassinated.
In short, one can understand Johnson's conflicted mindset: he was born in 1908. Having spent her formative years in the midst of the civil rights struggle, what's Deen's excuse?

Elsewhere, Marshall called Deen a "racial Mr. Magoo". That's about as apt, and as kind, a characterization as you're likely to find.

I still think her profiteering (see that previous blog entry of mine) is by far the more despicable behavior. However, I'm no longer willing to let her racially insensitive remarks slide. She claimed she had absolutely no idea that her attitudes were deeply retrograde. A half-century ago, during Johnson's lifetime, the obliviousness defense might have been valid. Not today.

In fact, her obliviousness is most likely a pose. After all, she also claimed to be oblivious to her blatant profiteering. Yet she has been savvy enough to make a multimillion dollar business not only for herself but for her family (her sons also appear on Food Network). You do not achieve what she has achieved by being clue-impaired. You can achieve what she has achieved while lacking a conscience, though. To me, that's a lot more plausible than her Mrs. Magoo act.

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