Michael Twitty’s open letter to Paula Deen

Paula Deen holds court

Photo by Bristol Motor Speedway via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I’ve been aware of the latest brouhaha surrounding Paula Deen, but I didn’t work to follow it closely. I don’t pay much (any?) attention to cable-TV cooking personalities in the first place, and I wasn’t interested in spending time and energy on Deen in particular. But a friend (thanks, R!) recently shared a piece from HuffPost, an open letter to Deen from cultural historian Michael W. Twitty. In part, Twitty writes to Deen that

I want you to understand that I am probably more angry about the cloud of smoke this fiasco has created for other issues surrounding race and Southern food. To be real, you using the word “nigger” a few times in the past does nothing to destroy my world. It may make me sigh for a few minutes in resentment and resignation, but I’m not shocked or wounded. No victim here. Systemic racism in the world of Southern food and public discourse, not your past epithets, are what really piss me off. There is so much press and so much activity around Southern food and yet the diversity of people of color engaged in this art form and telling and teaching its history and giving it a future are often passed up or disregarded. Gentrification in our cities, the lack of attention to Southern food deserts often inhabited by the non-elites that aren’t spoken about, the ignorance and ignoring of voices beyond a few token Black cooks/chefs or being called on to speak to our issues as an afterthought is what gets me mad. In the world of Southern food, we are lacking a diversity of voices and that does not just mean Black people — or Black perspectives! We are surrounded by culinary injustice where some Southerners take credit for things that enslaved Africans and their descendants played key roles in innovating. Barbecue, in my lifetime, may go the way of the Blues and the banjo… a relic of our culture that whisps away. That tragedy rooted in the unwillingness to give African American barbecue masters and other cooks an equal chance at the platform is far more galling than you saying “nigger,” in childhood ignorance or emotional rage or social whimsy.

Regardless of whether or not you are interested in the current media feeding frenzy surrounding Deen, Twitty’s full post is really worth a read; check it out here.

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