Good comedy writing is rare, so I’m tempted to overrate Caity Weaver’s adventures on the January 2014 Eastern Caribbean Paula Deen Cruise. The essay is funny without being cruel, which is not to say it doesn’t patronize its subjects. That Weaver acknowledges her own complicity makes the difference:
In addition to Brad, there are four paying passengers in our group who are visibly African American (not counting at least one half-black sleeper cell agent who can pass for white—me): three women and one man, split into groups of two. All four are repeat Paula cruisers. I speak to each of them, briefly, at one time or another. None of them remarks upon the fact that there are not many black people here on the Paula Deen cruise, or gives any indication that this is the sort of thought that should ever enter one’s mind. All four appear to be having a fine time, though the female couple skips many events. Their absence is easily noticed, because they are The Black People. One tells me later that people always ask them where they were.
Everyone on the boat is racist and nice. Including me.
The non-Deen cruisers are racist. The amiable mother of a former Miss Virginia is racist and has a tenuous grasp of the concept of slavery: “Don’t I see [Paula] walking around with a black fella? He’s her bodyguard or something? That right there shows she’s not racist.” The urbane gay couple visiting from Los Angeles is racist: “Filipinos are pushy,” one of them explains shortly after telling me he is “not okay with” Deen.
This prepares the audience for the conclusion: “I am racist, because I get upset at the black people in our group for not acting like I think black people should act on the Paula Deen cruise.”
The afternoon of Paula Deen’s Cooking Demo is chilly and windy, but the chicken is wrapped in bacon and lacquered in cream sauce.
Her husband, a ramrod straight-standing white-haired man recently retired from a government job, demonstrates a unique talent for being able to stare out at the horizon without moving or speaking for hours at a time. I spend the next few days considering his inner monologue, wondering exactly what I am watching him see. (Eventually I settle on: himself, in his younger days, discreetly killing people.)