Whew! What a week, huh? It’s shaping up to be a pretty historic June. Like most of you, I’ve been thinking and discussing the fast-moving developments with friends and family, feeling my head whip forward, backward and forward again. I have noticed an increase in conversation, particularly in DIALOGUE, about things we as Americans don’t often talk about.
I hate to say “Mainstream Media” as if there is just one monolith of opinions by journalists (print, broadcast and online) but it IS difficult to avoid seeing these wide, vast issues reduced into in tart soundbites and simplified arguments. The Paula Deen controversy, in particular, has been boiled down to a few pungent ingredients, for example. Pun intended, obviously. Racism vs. scapegoat, obesity vs. healthy eating, empire-building vs. nepotism. The End.
Except, not. And here’s where blogging comes in. I get very cynical about blogging sometimes. It is a love/hate affair that comes around and around. And then I’ll discover a post that is illuminating and makes me think about many things entirely differently.
Because the greatest thing about blogging? It gives POWER TO THE VOICELESS.
Case in point: Michael Tweedy’s post, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen”
Tweedy makes a number of powerful points in this post about race, America and food and cuisine and language. He argues that the charges against Paula Deen (which he mostly pardons her of) obfuscate something much deeper: the real roots and collaboration (willing and unwilling) African Americans don’t get recognized for in the style of cooking she has made famous. It turns out, Southern Cooking and Paula Deen owe much more to African American traditions and ingredients and preparation than I think most of us are aware.
Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation. You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.
Not exactly what we’ve been reading about, eh?
He goes on:
We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when during the last election the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro—like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois was a national cause celebre. Hell, today the voting rights act was gutted and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.” If I want to be furious about something racial—well America—get real—we’ve had a good twelve years of really really rich material that the National media has set aside to talk about Paula Deen. Yes Paula, in light of all these things, you are the ultimate, consummate racist, and the one who made us fat, and the reason why American food sucks and ……you don’t believe that any more than I do.
Think about that for a while. WHEW!
And yet, Tweedy reminds us so powerfully that reconciliation, learning to work side by side, is ALWAYS the answer.
If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever.
In the closing passage that made me cry and want to be a better human being, Tweedy invites Paula Deen to come to an event and co-prepare with him a traditional plantation dinner: one that includes sourced ingredients from local farmers and takes place in the one of the biggest plantations there ever was in the South. In this simple gesture, Tweedy reminds us that while history and the past are ever potent, we have a choice to make the world a better place through forgiveness and understanding. Understanding what has made us ALL who we are, but also, ACTION, not just idle talk: we can CHOOSE to be better people. Less suspect. More welcoming. More hospitable. More, well, SOUTHERN.
To paraphrase JK Rowling, it’s our choices who make us who we are.
Have you come across any powerful posts from blogs which have illuminated your view beyond the media soundbites? Please share! I’d love to read them.
And don’t worry…more “How to Dress” posts and “Project: Dreamcatcher” to come!