Daniel Levinson Wilk: Paula Deen's Racist Wedding Fantasy Was Once RealityRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: racism, African American history, Bloomberg Echoes, Paula Deen, Daniel Levinson Wilk
Daniel Levinson Wilk is an associate professor of American history at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The opinions expressed are his own.
Paula Deen is in trouble. Last month, in a deposition for a discrimination suit brought by an employee, the Food Network star blithely admitted to using racial slurs. Perhaps equally disturbing, she also said she had fantasized about throwing a slavery-themed wedding for her brother, an idea that came to her after eating at a restaurant with an all-black staff.
Deen has apologized, though the Food Network has announced that it won’t renew her contract. Whatever her motivations, she tapped into a long history of slavery fantasy in the U.S.
In the years preceding the Civil War, as northern states gradually emancipated their slaves, many expensive hotels in New York and other northern cities made it a policy to hire only black men to wait tables in their dining halls. Although it seems that these waiters were all free men, some may have been only recently emancipated.
The theatrical tradition of blackface minstrelsy developed over the same antebellum decades, feeding a parallel longing for a not-yet-past plantation slavery; New Yorkers could take in a blackface show and then walk down the block for a meal served by black men....
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