Lidia Celebrates America: Freedom & Independence

Note: My blog is my happy place and I strive to focus on the positive. That is why the title of this post doesn't mention Paula Deen and it does not begin discussing her. However, being a black woman food blogger who also happens to be an attorney, I had to give my opinion on the news surrounding her.

Have you seen Lidia Bastianich's newest  PBS special on Freedom & Independence? I just saw it this past Thursday and it is not to be missed. Check your local PBS listings, so you can see it too!

My mom and I have been fans of hers for years. Sprinkled throughout our conversations will be, "Did you see Lidia last night?" Or just randomly out of the blue, "I love how Lidia suggests cooking it this way." 

Lidia never lets me down. Loved her Holiday Tables and Traditions special too. I love all things Italian, so that's how I first learned about her shows where she makes the most amazing Italian foods and takes us on travel adventures in Italy. But what I also love about her is that while she is fiercely proud of her Italian heritage, she celebrates others as well. In her Lidia Celebrates America series of specials, she meets with people of all races and ethnicities and cooks with them. Through cooking, we all learn about the diversity of foods and cultures in the United States.

In her most recent special, Lidia has a segment on Juneteenth. The timing was perfect, because Juneteenth is June 19th and her show was on in the Boston area, this past Thursday, June 20th.

For Juneteenth, Lidia traveled to Galveston, Texas with Anna Deavere Smith. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about JuneteenthTake a look if you like. Juneteenth was new to me until just a few years ago. Now more people are celebrating it all over the United States and the world. Did you know that in 1994, there was a Juneteenth celebration in Paris, France? 

When my cousin moved to Texas, she started celebrating it and told many of us in the family about it. Many of us are still in the Boston area, so some of us just didn't know about it. There are still so many regional differences in this country. Slavery didn't end the same way or at the same time in Massachusetts the way it did in Texas.

Below is an edited portion of an article that I found in the Bay State Banner, the local black paper for Boston, which I thought was quite poignant. It's a response by the Executive Editor, Howard Manly, to a reader's question, where she asks why the celebration at Franklin Park is just called a reunion and not called Juneteenth.
As you know, Juneteenth was about the shameful story of slaves in Texas and how they learned from Gen. Gordon Granger of their freedom months after the Emancipation Proclamation and end of Civil War. It’s only natural that the descendants of those slaves there would have a decidedly different view of U.S. history and would plan their celebration accordingly. ...

As you also know, Boston didn’t have quite the same celebration. It could be the result of Boston’s history, where people of color were “free” dating back to well before the Civil War and into the 18th century. Rightly or wrongly, slavery as a practice doesn’t hold much currency here. But slavery as a moral outrage does, and no other place in America can argue with Boston's historical place as the home of the abolitionists, the fieriest of civil rights advocates.

But the history of slavery — and the role of abolitionists — does not play a major part in the annual Juneteenth celebration in Franklin Park. 

What appears to matter most is the idea of family and reuniting with old friends. Some people traveled hundreds of miles to be a part of the homecoming, and while Juneteenth was frequently mentioned in conversations, it wasn’t the dominant theme of the day. Being at home with family and friends was.
One particular part of the segment that I found most interesting, was the discussion about the "teenth" part of the name. Teenth can refer to any of the teens, so some might get confused about the actual day of Juneteenth, which is the 19th of June.

What I took from it was that "teenth" could be though of as not a real day, but that elusive day we have yet to reach, when we all will truly be treated equally regardless of the color of our skin. That does not mean race blindness or not seeing color. Those are ridiculous propositions. Of course we see color! Why pretend we don't?  It means seeing color differences, but that it doesn't matter. It doesn't mean being tolerant. In my opinion, tolerance is a rather hostile word meaning that you really don't want someone around and there is probably some underlying anger, but you will tolerate them because you have to.

This week, ironically on June 19th, thanks to Paula Deen, we all got a big dosage of the level of racism still existing in this country. Take a look at the Complaint against Paula Deen which started everything. Especially from page 14 on. What's been in the press, isn't even close to all that is being alleged against her. We're talking allegations of being required to use separate entrances and separate bathrooms based on race. This is 2013! Not 1813. But it appears that Deen probably wishes that it were.

Allegations of her using the N-word are bad, but that's not the worst thing. What's most horrible is her love and nostalgia for slavery times. She longs for that era so much that she wanted a slavery themed wedding. It's the whole finding Gone with the Wind a romantic time. No! There is nothing romantic about it! A race of people were kidnapped and held in bondage for hundreds of years. Their free labor was used to build this country and allowed that accumulated wealth to be passed on for generations into the future.

That wealth gap still exists. When you look at the lifetime of a person and generations of families, slavery did not really end that long ago. The wealth disparity remains and civil rights legislation was passed only at the beginning of my lifetime. Affirmative action began to provide some level of equal opportunity and the voting rights laws allowed more blacks the ability to vote. What is very scary to me is that two very important cases will be decided by the Supreme Court next week on voting rights and affirmative action which could begin to wipe all the gains away. I hope the decisions are on the right side of history.

There is no post-racial America. Even with a black President. Remember the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr.? That was in 1998. Look at what happened to Trayvon Martin just last year. Any use of the phrase post-racial America only shows a certain level of ignorance about reality. I am so glad that the Food Network will not be renewing Deen's contract. It shows swift negative consequences to racist behavior and it will cost Deen real money immediately. Her contract was to be renewed next month.

Keeping serious negative consequences for racist behavior is the only way to keep it somewhat in check. Even though it really isn't in check, but it is not as full-blown as it could be. Because while Paula Deen may have apologized for using the N-word, it appears that in her ideal world, it would be okay for her to play out her slave wedding fantasy and have me and my family dress up like a slaves and serve her dinner. And not pay us. Of course.

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Mocha said…
First, I am not familiar with Lidia but just became an instant fan. Anyone who travels with Anna must be amazing, right?

Second, I love this and your ending is on point. Where, exactly, is her apology for the real offense?
So So Simple said…
Hi Lisa. Yes I have been a big an if lidia for ages since she first hit our screens. I have seen a little bit about Ms Paula.
And the racism Do you think she has just got a bit too big for her boots

I find her hard to watch now I am so sick of the you all that peppers her speech. It was charming at first but drives me mad now. I think that it is time for her to go.
Her Day Has Gone
Lisa Johnson said…
mocha - Lidia is all kinds of awesome! Her shows on PBS are such a treat. Sadly, I don't think Paula knows what a real apology looks like. Thank you for supporting this post Kelly. It means a lot. : )

gilli - I think Paula's racism is so ingrained that she doesn't even see it. Love that! >>> "Her Day Has Gone"
The Duo Dishes said…
Thanks for sharing the back story on Juneteenth. It's a big deal, but no doubt, many are not familiar with the celebration.
The whole case is disgusting, if true. I interviewed her once and he was super nice, giving no indication she's racist. But you never know someone's heart until they're in their most intimate moments with people close to them. Or when they become so big they think they are immune to being sensitive and respectful.
Lisa Johnson said…
tdd - You're welcome! It's an important holiday and I wish I had known about it sooner.

bren - It's true, you really never know until someone has to answer a question under oath!
Can-Can said…
FYI - Every year on June 19, the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists has a Juneteenth Celebration in Roxbury. This year, reenactors of the 54th were there; Charles Ogletree delivered a talk; the Emanicipation Proclaimation; there were vendors, etc., on the lovely grounds of the Museum. Mark your calendar and plan to attend next year.
Lisa Johnson said…
can-can - Thanks! It sounds like a nice event!
dmarks said…
I have some disagreements, such as on Affirmative Action ... which I believe makes opportunity less equal by putting arbitrary "tilts" in the playing field and completely ignores the situation of the existence of whites in poverty with little opportunity and of the existence of upper middle class and wealthy Blacks also. A policy which ends up giving the privileged group even more advantage over the underprivileged one is, in my view, counter-productive.

But I believe you are spot on on Deen.

I've always had a disgust with neo-Confederatism and nostalgia for the old South.... which to me is too similar to Germans being nostalgic for the 1940s. I guess the Dukes of Hazzard can get away with using Confederate flag symbol...just maybe.... but no one else. It is simply a symbol of slavery and extreme oppression. America's own Swastika.

The Confederate legacy is of slavery and nothing else.

Thanks also for explaining the teenth thing.
Lisa Johnson said…
dmarks - I'm glad you brought up these things, because you're right. The issue of class is huge when it comes to affirmative action and that needs to be addressed somehow too. I think that this causes problems just within the black community. Some of the poorest and most needy blacks may get passed over in terms of diversity for blacks who are already somewhat connected and middle and upper income.

I read an interesting article several years ago about Eminem. He was poor and white, grew up struggling, made his way as a rapper and now he's rich and white. There was an interesting program on PBS that I saw about white poverty in this country. It is a huge issue. But some poor whites are strangely conservative and literally are voting against their own interests.

On the other hand, anyone who is black and makes their way up and becomes rich, still has the issue of racial discrimination to contend with. How do we deal with this? I don't know.
dmarks said…
Thanks also for the podcast list. I started to get into podcasts heavily a few months ago, and am always looking for something good. As long as it can be easily downloaded, and isn't something I can only get through iTunes.
Lisa Johnson said…
dmarks - You're welcome! I was always searching for them and decided to put them in one place where I could find them easily and hoped that others might enjoy them as well.

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