I've been mulling over the Paula Deen disaster for days now, amazed at how much attention it is getting and how little people seem to understand about it. So many are saying things like "How can we condemn her for something she said 27 years ago?" Or, "Who hasn't said something they regret 30 years ago?" Paula herself asked, tearfully playing the victim, "If you can say you've never said anything wrong then throw the first stone, please, as hard as you can." As if one word spoken several decades ago were the problem...
This is not about one word spoken in the past. This is about the whole private persona of Paula Deen, wealthy southern white woman from a slave-owning plantation heritage with consequent social beliefs, versus the genial, down-home, warm fuzzy Paula Deen of commercial success: the real woman versus the marketable commodity. Paula Deen is a product, a brand, a commodity on the market. Her empire is vast and lucrative, her marketing is intense, she is in it to make money and she is the sole face of her brand. That is what her sponsors and publishers and TV producers are banking on: her smiling, genial persona selling her product with southern charm and grace. The lawsuit against her and her family has brought to light behavior and attitudes that are far from her projected public persona. Because of this, the Paula Deen brand has been damaged, perhaps irreparably.
Some of the things brought to light in the court documents are very disturbing. No one wants to be associated with such behavior. It is alleged that in her restaurants, and with her knowledge, her brother refers to their African American kitchen staff as "monkeys," and once told a supplier who sold them game for the restaurant, "You don't have to go out to hunt. I have a whole kitchen full of coons you can shoot." It is said employees of color are not allowed to use the front door or bathrooms commonly used by whites. Paula Deen admitted in her deposition wanting to have a slave-themed wedding for her brother with black waiters dressed up in short pants and bow ties "like slaves." She stated on camera that she does not know if using racial epithets is demeaning or insulting to African Americans, but admits having used them more than once, and far more recently than the 27 or 30 years ago her supporters allege. All of these things together have tarnished her brand to the point she is damaged goods and many of her sponsors have dropped her. Her publisher has also pulled out of a 5-book contract. They were selling the sizzle, not the steak, and the sizzle has fizzled.
Her tearful appearances on TV have not helped. The opportunity to apologize and move on has been lost and she has damaged herself further by claiming to be a victim. It isn't pretty.
People, this is 21st century America. In the midst of this "Is Paula really a racist" bruhaha, the Supreme Court has overturned the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No one is paying attention to that, possibly the most racist legal ruling that has come down in this country since 1965, but instead we are devoting all our time and attention to an aging southern bell who has besmirched her own reputation and is drowning in bad publicity. Martin Luther King's legacy has been overturned by the courts and we are too busy gossiping about a fading TV personality to notice this serious damage done to the social fabric of our nation.
It's time to wake up and really do something about the persistent racism in this country. Stand up and make your voice heard on this issue!
Link to the original complaint document:
Link to Paula Deen's deposition:
Photo Credit CBS News