Everyone has heard about Paula Deen’s latest dilemma. According to CNN.com, “accusations against Deen stem from a lawsuit filed by a former manager of Deen’s restaurants in Savannah, Georgia. Lisa T. Jackson’s lawsuit alleges that Deen and her brother, Bubba Hier, committed numerous acts of violence, discrimination and racism that resulted in the end of Jackson’s five-year tenure at Deen’s Lady & Sons and Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House eateries in Savannah.” She is also accused of using the dreaded n-word and of being a racist. Deen has been very vocal about denying these allegations, claiming that she used the n-word when being held at gunpoint by an African American male about 30 years ago. She admitted that she has used the n-word, but it was a long time ago and during a time that our country viewed other races very differently. She also stated that she may have also said the n-word while repeating a conversation that took place between black people.
As a result of the lawsuit and the fact that Deen has admitted to using the n-word, she has been dropped by the Food Network, by Caesars Entertainment (she has restaurants at four casinos), by Wal-Mart, by Smithfield Foods, and other sponsors are considering cutting ties as well. Lucky for her, her cruise has gained so much popularity that a second voyage was added. As damage control, Deen went on NBC’s Today Show for an interview with Matt Lauer. This was her first appearance that did not involve smiles and cooking up some of her famous dishes. She stated the following:
[In reference to the sponsors who have let her go] “Would I have fired me? Knowing me? No. I am so very thankful for the partners I have who believe in me.”
[In response to being asked if she is a racist] “No, I am not. The day I used that word it was a world ago. It was 30 years ago. It’s very distressing for me to go in my kitchens and I hear what these young people are calling each other…It’s very distressing for me. Because I think for this problem to be worked on, that these young people are going to have to take control and start showing respect for each other and not throwing that word at each other. It makes my skin crawl.”
“If there’s anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you’re out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please — I want to meet you.”
Some say the apology was decent, or at least well coached, but others think it did more damage than good. David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, a public relations and branding agency based in Suwanee, Ga., called it “the worst celebrity apology in history” and says that she “totally bombed.” He went on to say that “by referring to “hurtful lies” and “someone evil” out to get her, as Deen did, “it’s obvious she thinks she’s the victim of this entire situation. This is a bigger issue than just her. Instead, there were crocodile tears.” Mark Pasetsky, CEO of public relations and marketing firm Mark Allen & CO stated that “it was really by far the most uncomfortable celebrity interview I have watched in a very long time. She really needed to take full responsibility for what she said, and it appeared to me that the strategy for this interview was to be pointing the fingers rather than to take responsibility.”
I fully understand that Deen grew up in a different era than I, a time that was still heavy with resentment, anger, and hatred towards other races. I get that the n-word was once considered an acceptable term. What I cannot accept is that during her younger years, the n-word was okay to say. She is close to my parents in age and they sure as hell knew that there were certain words you do not say unless you’re racist and insensitive. I won’t speculate on her level of racism, but I feel confident in saying that this beloved southern cook is most definitely a racist person, whether she will admit to it or not.
But let us not forget that Deen is not in hot water simply for using the n-word a few times in her life. Lisa Jackson’s lawsuit, filed last year, claims that Deen’s brother, Bubba Hiers, stated they should send President Obama to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico so he could n***er-rig it and that Deen used the n-word frequently in front of employees. Jackson says she was appointed by Deen to handle the catering and staff for Bubba’s wedding in 2007, and upon asking what the servers should wear, Deen told her “well what I would really like is a bunch of little n***ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. Now, that would be a true Southern wedding wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.” The allegations go on, including sexual harassment allegations against Hiers, but you get the jist of it. Jackson left the restaurant in 2010 after management did nothing to assist against her claims.
Deen has already admitted to using the n-word at the restaurant in her deposition, although she insists that it was only in recalling conversations that others had. She insists that the use was not derogatory. Now, I have recalled conversations that others have had and I state “n-word” and not “n***er.” I do not see how her reasoning is a valid excuse for the language. I do not see how “well he said it, so I can say it too” is an excuse that a grown woman should be using. I don’t understand why her defense is that everyone screws up, that people are out to get her, saying that the person trying to ruin her with allegations is an “evil opportunist.” She said, point blank, “there’s someone evil out there that saw what I had worked for, and they wanted it.”
I’ve heard a lot of people getting extremely worked up over these allegations. Their defense of Deen has been that she’s just a sweet old lady, that she grew up when it was okay to say the n-word, that it’s not a big deal, that people are jealous, and so on. If this was simply a case of jealousy, why would her sponsors be dropping her? Why would this lawsuit have gone so far? Why would Deen make those admissions? The bottom line is that Deen screwed up. The extent of the screw up has yet to be determined, but her fans need to quit feeding her innocent victim act. Part of being an adult (and especially a public figure) is accepting responsibility for the things you have done. Unless she does so, her empire could very well be destroyed and millions of fans will have to get their butter fix elsewhere.