I’m Sorry Y’all

Dear Paula Deen,

I know you are having a BAD WEEK.  First, you get inexplicably outed by the National Enquirer for remarks that you think are perfectly ok. Remarks about people of color especially.  And then somehow, everyone gets all up in your business about it. These remarks, incidentally, display a deeply imbedded racism so obviously part of your cultural dna that you seem to be more confused than sorry.  You were so confused you were a no-show on the Today Show this morning.   Now the media, while simultaneously enjoying this moment of deep-fried dirt, can also put you on the “black”-list. Sorry Paula. That’s what it’s called.

Lawyer: Have you ever used the N-word yourself?
Deen: Yes, of course.

As if this weren’t enough, someone told you to make a You Tube video to apologize. Not your best recorded moment, I must say. You seemed, well bewildered to find yourself sitting in some random chair in some random room fiddling with your pinky and trying to say something your agent told you to say that might as well have been in Swahili it was so foreign on your tongue. Alas, to no avail. By the end of the business day, the Food Network announced it had cancelled your contract. I’m sure you are stewing over this. After all, you apologized! On You Tube! Much better than the Today Show, more potential viewers. Isn’t that good enough?

Paula Deen's new book
the bible of southern hospitality

But what’s worse, at least from my bookseller’s point of view, you’ve got a big new cookbook coming out this Fall from Random House. Paula Deen’s New Testament. The announced print run is 750,000 copies. Somebody got a nice advance! I am pretty sure that you have just ruined a few publishing executives’ weekend, if not their entire year. I’m pretty sure that employees of the Random House will not be seeing that $5,000 bonuses they got last year for the stupendous sales of the 50 Shades of Gray “erotic” novels again this year for the anticipated sales of your book.  At 750,000 copies, it has the largest announced advance print run on Random House’s entire fall list.  I just bought that list today and the next biggest print run I recall came in at less than half that.

But it is possible that as I write this, Random House has already stopped the presses on Paula Deen’s New Testament.  I feel bad for them. I like the folks at Random House. They publish some of my favorite writers, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and Jeanette Winterson and Gertrude Stein. Black, and/or gay, and/or Jewish.  What a pickle you have gotten yourself in Paula!

You must be extra confused about this. As you testified in a court case last year, you saw no problem with your brother Bubba making anti-gay/Semitic/black jokes or looking at porn in front of his and your employees.  Yet last year, everyone at Random House got Christmas bonuses for selling porn, and you will probably be lucky if your book gets published at all just because of something you said. Something you also said everyone else says. Everyone you know, that is. Apparently in your world, it’s acceptable to make racist jokes and download porn at work. I’m sure it must feel like a double standard. But of course, Random House hasn’t issued a statement as to how it is handling your new book. Maybe you still have a chance. Especially if you keep your mouth shut.

But Paula, the real reason I am writing to you is that I have an apology of my own to make.  An apology and an immodest proposal. When I spoke to you at a Random House party a few weeks ago, I complimented you on how good you looked. And you do. You look great, especially for someone who was single-handedly responsible for elevating butter to its own place on the food pyramid. You have managed to take the inevitable diabetes diagnosis and turn yourself around. I expect that took a major effort. It wasn’t just your birthright and lifestyle, this advocacy of a diet that kills, it literally made you millions of dollars. I admire your fortitude. I admire the fortitude of your staff who most likely coordinated your new diet for you.

But that’s not what I have to apologize for. When we spoke, you had just met a high-ranking suit from the company that will be selling your book, if it gets published, to Walmart and Hastings and Target and the like. He promised to sell a ton of your books. (Of course, that probably isn’t all that many, calorically speaking.) He turned and left immediately and you turned to me. I told you that Left Bank Books wouldn’t be selling a ton, but we’d probably sell a half ton.  You seem satisfied with that.

So here’s the thing: we won’t be selling a half ton. We wouldn’t have sold a half ton even if you hadn’t revealed your true colors. And now of course we won’t be selling any. Because I didn’t order any today, when ironically, your book was being presented to me by my Random House sales rep, right about the time you were posting your “apology” and the Food Network was cancelling your contract. Talk about timing! So sorry, Paula, but I sort of lied when I saw you last month. You could say I “misspoke”. That’s a term you might want to borrow from your conservative friends, incidentally. You can use it to pretend that you didn’t mean all those things you said that got you into trouble.  It’s like saying you told a little “white” lie.

Paula Deen, I don’t think you are ever going to learn anything from this experience. You have lived in a bubble of Southern hospitality, a phrase I have come to see as meaning, “well honey bunches, I think you are a piece of deep-fried doo-doo and I have no intention of accommodating your wishes but I am going to slather you in buttery falsehoods so greasy that when you manage to stand up and wipe yourself off, you will think I was actually nice to you”.

And because you have perfected the art of Southern style “playah”, you have come to believe your own pretenses of actual compassion. There may be a way out of this for you, Paula. But you are not going to like it. I make this proposal inspired by where I live, St. Louis, Missouri. We are not regarded as a healthy town. We have high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the very sorts of health problems that result from following the diet you have profited from promoting all these years. And black folk, the very ones you seem to think make decorative slave motifs for wedding parties, suffer the most.

So why not use this opportunity to make it up to us, Paula? Why not—wait for it— give away your new book to poor communities and communities of color? Why not lead free community cooking classes in those communities to teach better dietary choices to the folks who have been harmed the most by your previous food religion?

No cheating either. No new syndicated “Feed My People” show. You have to actually look people in the eye. The revolution will not be monetized. After all, you can afford to do this. The only thing more over the top than the amount of butter you have consumed over the years is the amount of money you have made preaching its virtues. Could you do that, Paula? Could you go among the common people and do the right thing?

That, Paula, would be what the folks in AA call making amends. THAT would be a real apology.

Not holding my breath,

Another 60+ year-old white woman