The queen of butter’s show was axed by Food Network on Friday, following a leaked deposition that revealed how Paula Deen has used the “n-word” in the past. Deen currently faces a discrimination lawsuit — Lisa Jackson, a former manager at one of her restaurants, sued her for using racial slurs and allowing racist jokes at the workplace. Twitter users went wild, using #PaulasBestDishes to sarcastically accompany many made-up recipes: Kale and Kabbage Kasserole, Coon on the Cob and Cotton Gin and Tonic, for instance.
According to Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor, Food Network had no choice but to fire her: “Today a mistake becomes too costly because of social media. When it’s racial there is less tolerance.”
Her supporters beg to differ, vowing to boycott Food Network for its decision. They argue that it’s ridiculous to punish her only because she’d used the “n-word” in the past. One supporter even goes so far as to write, “If everything any of us ever did, at any point in our lives, can today be treated like a current sin then we’re all done for.”
However, these people are too focused by the “n-word” controversy to realize that Deen is indeed an ignorant racist — the kind who fails to realize her own prejudice even as she says it.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2012, Deen recalled how her great-grandfather, a slaveholder in Georgia, committed suicide after the Civil War was over. Why? Because after his 30 slaves were set free, he had no means of running his plantation. She added, “(He) couldn’t deal with those kinds of changes … Back then, black folks were such an integral part of our lives. They were like our family, and for that reason, we didn’t see ourselves as prejudiced.” Naturally, she failed to see that a) the “black folks” were working against their will, and b) they did not consider themselves to be her family.
To make matters worse, she even called a “black-as-a-board” employee, Hollis Johnson, to come onstage to show the audience that she is committed to racial tolerance. The farce would have been more believable if she didn’t instantly quip a joke about his skin color: “Come out here, Hollis. We can’t see you standing against that dark board” — a reference to the black studio backdrop.
This kind of inappropriate prejudice predates even the interview. In the deposition, Deen admitted to having thoughts about giving her brother a “really southern plantation wedding” back in 2007. That is, she wanted to use “middle-aged black men” as servers for the wedding because she had seen it done at a Southern restaurant, and she thought that it was “really impressive.”
It is hard to tell if Deen has reflected on her actions. Despite her awkward apologies on YouTube, she still does not seem fully aware of her racism. When asked if she had used any racial slurs in her jokes, Deen shrugged, “I don’t know … I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.” Yes, you can. It’s called thinking before you speak, Paula.
Anh Thai ponders about insidious world problems in her Tuesday blog. Contact Anh Thai at [email protected].