I've learned a lot from Paula Deen this past week. From porn being an acceptable recreational work activity, to slave-style weddings and proper usages of the N-word (apparently it's okay to use the racial slur when referring to scary black men), the Southern chef's important life lessons and questionable quotables just never seem to stop.
If you asked me a week ago who would be the next celeb to make headlines for their public slip of the tongue, Paula Deen would have been last on my list; in fact, the charming queen of Savannah style wouldn't have even made the list. But wow, was I wrong.
As I watched the 66-year-old former Food Network star sob tearlessly to Today co-host Matt Lauer, I found myself unmoved, unshaken and just plain annoyed.
Rather than owning up to her obvious ignorance, she attempted to justify her actions and supposedly prove she's not a racist by unsuccessfully diverting attention away from herself and offering one contradiction after the next. She even went as far as to call out her black kitchen staff members who allegedly use the N-word toward one another. Note to Paula Deen and all white people, no matter the usage, context, rap lyric, crime or Thanksgiving joke, there is a never an acceptable time for you to use the N-word... ever.
It's not that I think Paula Deen is a racist, because I don't. In fact I think she is as much a racist, as I think Love & Hip Hop should be nominated for an Emmy. What I do think is that Deen missed a critical opportunity to seek personal healing, and true redemption from the public by admitting her mistakes and lack of judgment.
Instead of seeing someone truly apologetic for their discriminatory comments and use of a notorious racial slur, I saw a woman upset that she got caught, and who in turn was obviously overwhelmed by the level of backlash she received. This was made further evident by recent news that Deen has hired crisis management expert Judy Smith to help sweeten the sour taste left in much of the public's mouths.
This isn't the first time Deen has had some suspect comments on race. In a 2012 TimesTalk interview, she referred to black employee Hollis Johnson's skin complexion as "black as this board," pointing to the jet-black stage backdrop. She then paraded the young man on stage, telling him, "We can't see you standing in front of that dark board." *multiple side eyes, Ms. Deen*
Given Deen's typically lovable limited filter and deep Southern roots, it makes you wonder if the beloved Southern gem isn't as finger-licking good as she appears to be once the cameras are off. If I were a betting woman, I'd say her use of the N-word was far from a hit it and quit it incident, and that her uttering of it some 30-odd years ago after being held at gunpoint by a black man was far from her first and only offense.
Now, in no way am I hurling boulders at the sassy chef, but when black men are being suggested as reception décor, the offender must be held accountable and endure the consequences, all in hopes they learn from their past transgressions. On the flip side, it does make it a little more difficult for someone to recognize their wrongdoings when Facebook pages of support are springing up, they're seeing increased business at their local restaurant, and their books are skyrocketing to the top of the New York Times best sellers list. Too bad Isiah Washington didn't know how to deep-fry a stick of butter or things may have turned out differently for the former Grey's Anatomy star.
But I digress. Like I said, by no means do I think Paula Deen is a racist. Like so many Southern folk, she is an unfortunate product of the South, breed and deep-fried in cultural ignorance, and raised in communities still harboring undertones of prejudice and racial caste systems. Don't believe me? Well, the proof is in the family tree. With a great-great-great-grandfather who owned 30 slaves and comments where she lovingly refers to blacks as an integral part of her family's lives, it's obvious the Southern belle has some deep-planted, highly misguided views on race relations.
I'm all for forgiving and moving on to the next one, but until the chef thinks long and hard about her views and why Southern-style plantation weddings are not okay, I'm hesitant to let bygones be bygones. Sorry, Ms. Deen but your homemade biscuits and ability to run off discriminatory comments against the backdrop of a delightful Southern drawl will not sway me just yet.