Celebrity chef and notorious Southern talker Paula Deen is taking a pounding from the talking heads on CNN, Fox News and other news programs, and it is easy to see why. All those talking heads are prejudiced against people who speak Southern like Paula Deen speaks it. She uses a drawl in which one of the featured words is y’all. And I will admit that y’all can be a little grinding on the ears if one is listening to someone using it too freely, even in the South.
I spent about four years in the South — or in a part of the Midwest that considers itself the South, Columbia, Mo. I was a college student there, and before I went home to Idaho for my first Christmas break, I had picked up a drawl. It wasn’t a serious drawl, like some of my friends from places like Tennessee spoke. But to Idaho ears, it sounded like I had gone crazy, or was kidding them along.
When I said, “Hey y’all doin?” they told me to straighten up and talk right. Mom threatened to get the soap and wash my mouth out.
Some drawls are better than others. Paula Deen’s drawl is a bit over the top, probably because she’s from Georgia. She probably works on that drawl because she thinks her audience expects her to sound like a Savannah prom queen.
Bill Clinton (Arkansas) and George W. Bush (Texas) have southern drawls, but sound more like hicks than southern gents. (We’ve had enough southern presidents for a while, thank you.)
Deen is being flayed by her fellow media persons for having used a racial expletive some time in her past. And she has apologized in her southern drawl with grace. Right now, she’s paying a high price by losing much of her income and enduring ridicule from her television colleagues who probably use pejoratives every day, but just haven’t been caught yet.
Some black rap stars regularly use that same word in their performances and seem to get away with it. What’s up with that? Double standard? Maybe their mothers ought to wash their mouths out with soap, just as my mother would have done if she had caught me using the same word.