Paula Deen Racial Slur: Sorry Paula, But "That's Just How I Was Raised" Won't Cut It

Let's talk about fried chicken.

It's a food that Paula Deen has a pretty good recipe for, and a food often associated with the American South. Coincidentally, all three of those subjects are also associated with racism.

Fried chicken, and chicken in general, used to be eaten by slaves when slavery was still legal in the United States. That was almost 150 years ago. So why did Southern star chef Paula Deen use racial slurs to refer to African Americans as recently as 1986? Even more troubling, why did she express a desire for a "Southern plantation wedding" where white people were served by black waiters in order to resemble America before the Civil War?

Those were the most shocking excerpts of the unedited transcript from a discrimination lawsuit filed against Deen. But that's not all. Her PR team defended the statement by saying that she was "born 60 years ago when America's South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today..."

Of course, they also clarified that Deen did not condone racism under any circumstances. But maybe they need to reconsider their definition of racism.

It's been a long time since the Civil War. Yet for some reason, people from the South and people from the North often have very different conceptions of racism. And sometimes, like in the case of Paula Deen, people from the South shrug off racist attitudes with platitudes like "That's just how I was raised" or "It's different down here in the South."

Let me tell you something: It's not.

I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and my parents are from small towns in Mississippi and Arkansas. I moved to New York three years ago to go college. I knew there would be a culture shock in terms of environment, accent, and political views. I didn't think about a culture shock in terms of race.

Remember when a fellow golfer remarked that he would serve Tiger Woods fried chicken at his house? That comment might be met with laughter or a congenial smile if it were said among friends in some of the southern states. The same goes for Paula Deen's wish for a plantation-era wedding. That's not because everyone in the South is racist; far from it. Most are not. But too many Southerners, myself included, would rather smile and change the subject than tackle an issue that could lead to an impolite conversation.

Well, it's time to be rude, because issues like racism are too important to gloss over for the sake of being gracious. Paula Deen can't get off the hook for being born 60 years ago in the South. Treating people badly just because of their skin color simply isn't good Southern hospitality. 

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Susannah Griffee

Susannah Griffee is a junior at New York University majoring in journalism and politics. In the past she has interned for ABC News, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and NBC New York. She also enjoys running, painting, and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter at @SusannahGriffee.

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