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Charmaine Nelson

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What Sergio Garcia's and Paula Deen's Racism Really Tell Us

Posted: 06/27/2013 7:57 am

Scene One -- Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods and "fried chicken":

The 33-year-old, white, Spanish pro-golfer Garcia was on stage at the European Tour awards dinner in late May. In the midst of what has been called "an ongoing spat" with Tiger Woods, when asked during the U.S. Open by Steve Sands of the Golf Channel, in jest, if he would be inviting Woods over for dinner, Garcia responded,

"We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken."

Scene Two -- Paula Deen and the "true Southern wedding":

The 66-year-old, white, American Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers are being sued by a white female employee, Lisa Jackson. Jackson who works at their jointly owned restaurant Uncle Bubba's Seafood and Oyster House filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging that racist behaviour was common. Specifically, while Deen was actively planning her brother's wedding in 2007, Jackson alleges that Deen stated

"What I would really like is a bunch of n-----s to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties...now that would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn't it?"

I would like to suggest that these two scenes, one by a 30-something, Spanish professional athlete and one by a 60-something, American celebrity chef, demonstrate the similarities within white stereotypes of blackness and the dangerous combination of white ignorance and fantasies about slavery that exist within both European and Euro-American communities across age, sex and geography. In Deen's rescheduled appearance on the Today Show (June 26, 2013), Matt Lauer seemed mainly focused on the issue of her loss of celebrity endorsements (she has already been dropped by The Food Network and Smithfield Foods) and her use of the "N" word; an accusation which Deen denies except for one incident 30 years ago.

Indeed, the "N" word is without parallel as a term of racial hatred. There is arguably no equivalent term for whites, Asians, Natives or other racial groups with the same amount of venom and violence. That is because the term was a part of the strategy of dehumanization used to terrorize blacks within enslavement and it came to be synonymous not just with blackness but with the colonial assumptions of African racial inferiority, pathology, immorality and inhumanity through which slavery was justified. So in other words, the "N" word, as used historically by whites, became a tool of white supremacy.

But in Lauer's close focus on money and the "N" word, he largely overlooked what to me is a much more revealing aspect of Deen's alleged misdeeds -- her nostalgia for plantation slavery. Both Deen's and Garcia's racist behaviours are haunted not only by the spectre of slavery, but by the complex place of food, and "hospitality" within slavery and how they were wielded as tools of marginalization and privilege. Both Garcia's "fried chicken" comment and Deen's desire to be entertained by an all-black, wait staff dressed in black and white derive from their knowledge of how food and sociability were defined and harshly circumscribed by the imposed racial limits of slavery. And while Deen's and Garcia's statements reveal that they have some knowledge of these histories of forced deprivation and cultivated privilege, it is not only the nature of their desires, but who is and is not included, that renders their understanding of this tremendously sad part of our shared history so disturbing.

Food was a large consideration for slave owners. It was a part of the way that they created and performed social hierarchies between themselves and their enslaved black property. But the politics of food on a plantation or in any slave-holding context were complex and, from our perspective today, bizarre. Slave owners obviously did not feed their slaves the same foods, which they and their white families consumed. Cost effectiveness became an urgent concern in the feeding and maintenance of slaves. Plants like the starchy breadfruit were deliberately transplanted from the Caribbean to feed slaves. As such, in plantation contexts slaves were often sustained on carbohydrate-rich diets, which were consistently lacking in protein and key minerals and vitamins. Nutritional deficiencies and a host of connected diseases were commonplace.

In places like Jamaica where planters routinely owned hundreds or thousands of acres of land, slaves were made to farm substandard plots of land during their "free time" in order to grow provisions like yam and potato that they used to feed themselves. This meant that after working 16 to 18 hour days, six days a week, they would walk the five to 10 miles to their provision grounds to farm on their one "day of rest."

Accordingly for slaves, meat or protein of any kind was a luxury. Instead, slaves most often had access to only the cheapest forms of livestock, and in the case of the American south, that was often the chicken (scene one). In places like the Caribbean, pig feet, ox tail, chicken neck, and even the intestines (tripe) were taken by slaves and ingeniously transformed into extraordinary dishes that are today largely considered delicacies. Meanwhile, slave owners dined on choice cuts of expensive meats, prepared for them and served to them by the slaves (scene two).

Garcia's "invitation" to Tiger Woods to dine on fried chicken was a racist slight intended to point out Tiger's blackness as a sign of slave ancestry and diminished worth. Deen's fantasy of a "true southern wedding" reconstituted the racial segregation of slavery by dressing up the desired all-black "help" in ways that would entertain and delight the presumably all-white guests. In both scenes, blacks are relatable to slaves for the purpose of pleasure or ridicule.

Both Garcia and Deen, despite differences in age, sex and nationality, drew upon a limited knowledge of slave custom to express demeaning visions of blackness, which made light of or sanitized the brutality and institutionalized deprivations of slavery. While their actions were without a doubt racist, for me, the larger question is what they reveal about the simultaneity of white nostalgia for and ignorance of slavery -- a dangerous combination.

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  • Morning Of June 19: National Enquirer Reports On Racist Statements

    On the heels of Paula Deen's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/paula-deen-racist-comments-n-word-caught-on-video_n_3467287.html" target="_blank">finishing butters announcement</a>, the National Enquirer claims that it has obtained video of Paula Deen <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/paula-deen-racist-comments-n-word-caught-on-video_n_3467287.html" target="_blank">making racist statements</a>.

  • Afternoon Of June 19: HuffPost Obtains Paula Deen's Deposition

    And confirms <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/paula-deen-racist-comments-n-word-caught-on-video_n_3467287.html" target="_blank">remarks</a>.

  • Afternoon Of June 19: #PaulasBestDishes Trends On Twitter

    Mixing <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/19/paulas-best-dishes-twitter-reactions-allegations-of-racism_n_3467877.html" target="_blank">recipes with racism</a>.

  • Evening Of June 19: Food Network "Monitors" The Situation

    And <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/paula-deen-food-network_n_3471453.html" target="_blank">releases a statement</a>.

  • Afternoon Of June 20: Questions About Her Future Surface

    Is her career <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/paula-deen-racist-comments_n_3477536.html" target="_blank">doomed</a>?

  • Evening Of June 20: Deen Gets Skewered On 'Daily Show'

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/daily-show-paula-deen_n_3477924.html" target="_blank">Type II racism</a>, y'all.

  • Morning Of June 21: Deen Bails On The Today Show

    The program was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/paula-deen-today-show_n_3477825.html" target="_blank">supposed to have the exclusive</a>.

  • Morning Of June 21: Matt Lauer Was Not Happy

    Nor was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/today-show-paula-deen-cancellation-matt-lauer_n_3478187.html" target="_blank">Al Roker</a>.

  • Afternoon Of June 21: Deen Issues THREE Different Apologies

    Things got a little <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/paula-deen-apology_n_3479279.html" target="_blank">messy, and sad</a>.

  • Late Afternoon Of June 21: Food Network Drops Paula Deen

    Her contract was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/paula-deen-fired-food-network-cancels-show-after-racism-scandal_n_3480517.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_blank">set to expire</a>.

  • Evening Of June 21: Paula Deen Fans Erupt On Food Network Page

    They are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/21/food-network-facebook_n_3480903.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_blank">not happy</a>.

  • Sunday, June 23: More Allegations Arise

    It's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/23/paula-deen-scandal-continues-employees-tell-rainbow-push-alleged-discrimination_n_3484607.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_blank">not over</a> yet.

  • Monday, June 24: Smithfield Drops Dean

    Other companies still <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/paula-deen-smithfield-endorsement-over-company-drops-deen-in-wake-of-racist-remarks_n_3495314.html" target="_blank">mulling their future</a> with Deen.

  • Tuesday, June 25: Paula Deen Cruise Adds Extra Date

    Fans are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/25/paula-deen-cruise_n_3499047.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_hplink">standing by her</a>.

  • Wednesday, June 26: Caesars Drops Deen

    They are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/paula-deen-caesars-entertainment_n_3503411.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_hplink">re-branding her four buffets</a>.

  • Wednesday, June 26: Deen Gives Emotional Interview

    There are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/paula-deen-today-show_n_3501825.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_hplink">a lot of tears</a>.

  • Wednesday, June 26: Walmart Drops Deen

    The world's largest retailer said it will not place "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/walmart-paula-deen_n_3505258.html" target="_blank">any new orders beyond what's already committed</a>."

  • Thursday, June 27: Novo Nordisk Suspends Deen Partnership

    The company originally stood by her, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/paula-deen-novo-nordisk_n_3509855.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_blank">no more</a>.

  • Thursday, June 27: Target Drops Deen

    Not <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/target-paula-deen_n_3510753.html" target="_blank">too many left</a>.

  • Thursday, June 27: QVC & Deen Taking A Pause

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/27/qvc-paula-deen_n_3512942.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_blank">From the CEO</a>: "We all think it’s important, at this moment, for Paula to concentrate on responding to the allegations against her and on her path forward."

  • Friday, June 28: Kmart, Sears, Walgreens Phase Out Deen Products

    Domino effect <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/28/sears-walgreens-paula-deen_n_3516532.html?utm_hp_ref=@food123" target="_blank">here</a>.

  • Friday, June 28: J.C. Penney Drops Deen

    No more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/28/jcpenney-paula-deen_n_3517744.html" target="_blank">Deen merchandise</a>.

  • Friday, June 28: Publisher Drops Paula Deen's Newest Cookbook

    Even though it isn't out yet and it is <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/28/paula-deens-new-testament_n_3518997.html" target="_hplink">number 1 on Amazon right now</a>.