The real issue with Paula Deen’s racist statements

June 21, 2013


Paula Deen’s on the hot seat this week, with just about everyone excoriating her for racist statements. Someone foolishly booked her on the Today show.  Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed, realizing she’d do herself no good at all, and she cancelled–there is no way for anyone to talk their way out of the racist things she said. It was just going to be a beat-up-Paula-Deen session (think James Frey being taken to the woodshed by the faux goddess, Oprah). …so it really was best to do what she just did: release a video apology.

The thing is, there’s no sense in beating on Paula. It just obscures the real issue: the fact that racism underlies just about everything in our society. Oh, it’s well-disguised, at least most of the time. And yes, I know, we have a biracial President. Yeah, we do.

But racism’s lurking. God, is it lurking.

We don’t want to believe it, I know.  But think long and hard. Because when I do that, I can instantly come up with a few examples from my own, very white, upper-middle class life.

The argument I had with a Southern man who, red-faced, came up with the biggest insult he could think of:  “You–you—you have Moorish blood!” he sputtered.  Uh, yeah, probably. I’m Sicilian.  (I had to stop the argument to laugh. Is that the best he could do?)

Another came to mind: The client meeting in which a Southern man made a hugely racist joke in front of a black professional and the entire meeting full of white folk went on as if nothing had happened. AND the company retained the client. I guess racism in business is acceptable. At least it is in some parts of the country.

And how about all those racist depictions of Michelle Obama?

And the arguments I’ve had with pretty smart other white people in which they refuse to believe that some of the right-wing political attitudes toward President Obama are racially motivated. (It’s clear as day to me that some of them are.)

So, Paula Deen’s done us favor. She’s started a national conversation. If we’re smart, we’ll take her out of it, and focus on the REAL issue. Which is that racism is alive and well in the United States and it must be stamped out.

If you haven’t seen the video apology Paula Deen’s people released today, click HERE.

39 comments on “The real issue with Paula Deen’s racist statements
  1. Allison says:

    I agree. Well said. We have some horrific stories from when we lived in our home town.. things that could be said at an office meeting, etc. Doing everything we can to make sure none of it seeped into our kids.

  2. I am glad this conversation got started. Because I am against racism in any form. But I also have to admit that I would be nervous if a group of young African Americans approached me wearing hoodies. I am a product of my environment. Paula was blithely honest. This will not serve her well. But my point is that it is one thing to denounce racism, But it is another to admit to it oneself. We all stereotype, and we all have our own prejudices. Let’s just admit it and go from there. And if I signed this post “Tiffany Britney Cheeks,” what would people think? Would they be confused?

    • Eileen Brown says:

      “But I also have to admit that I would be nervous if a group of young African Americans approached me wearing hoodies.”

      Your comment makes me very sad because I have six teen-aged African-American grandsons who like to hang out together and sometimes they wear hoodies. They are all big goofy, loving kids. Please challenge yourself to look farther than brown skin and sweatshirts.

      • Molly Campbelk says:

        I am just being honest. So was Paula Deen. It is a tough thing to admit. We all have stereotypes. I just hate self righteousness, that is all. Let’s not crucify Deen . We are ALL guilty of stereotyping. ALL of us.

        • cosisaidso says:

          Was Paula Deen also being “blithely honest” when she expressed the desire to hire black men to pose as slaves at a wedding? I hate self-righteousness, too, But do not get it twisted. The covert racism many POC endure silently every day, and I do mean every day, would make most white people squirm, wring their hands, fume in outrage, and demand retribution. Paula Deen probably told the truth out of arrogance. I’m pretty sure she had no idea the reaction would be so swift, and so widespread. I wonder if, had she known that, she would have been so candid. And, in my opinion, her apologies seemed less than sincere.

          • Ricki says:

            Actually she was testifying in a deposition, so yes, she was being honest, even though that’s paraphrasing what she said. Her actual comments were about a restaurant she had been to.

  3. Ricki says:

    Ok, here’s my two cents. She was put in an impossible situation. She didn’t get caught on tape calling someone that word, she didn’t say it under her breath, she was asked, in a deposition, if she ever used the word. Ever. What was she supposed to say? The question was not “do you use this word currently?” “did you ever call the plaintiff the word?”, it was did you ever use the word. She answered honestly, and also said it was a long time ago, but she couldn’t win no matter what.

  4. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    She may have said the “N word” in the past, but her idea for a Southern wedding with African Americans dressed as slaves shows a pitiful lack of concern for social equality and dignity. I’m glad the Food Network dropped her, but really they had no other choice,

  5. Ken says:

    I sorta agree, and I sorta don’t. I agree that racism is all too common in the U.S. (also elsewhere, no doubt), and that it usually hides its head. I don’t know how it can be completely erased, but I do think that making a public example of a relatively prominent person who makes racist remarks at least will serve to remind closet racists that they should stay in the closet. At least, publicly shaming a proven racist will show others, racist or not, that a lot of people won’t put up with that attitude and that behavior. Like Molly, we are all products of our environments, but sometimes some people can change some things, if suitably motivated.

  6. DarleneMAM says:

    I’ve got a problem with a woman who doesn’t admit she’s taking meds for adult-onset diabetescand still espouses high fat cooking. Until she decides to admit it. After she signs with a major drug company. Ahem…so why should I think that anything else she says has merit? Or is blatantly racist

  7. Racism is out there, we just have to open our eyes and we will look at it straight at the face.

  8. Rochelle says:

    As long as we live in a broken world, we’ll always have someone looking askance on another people group for some reason (whether they’re black, white, rich, poor, swimmers, non-swimmers — -you get the picture); and it leaves me wondering whether we need to be getting ourselves into a lather over WORDS as much as we do.

    I think the ugliness we see in these cases is a heart problem of the people that carry it. And to be honest, there’s not much we can do about other people’s hearts: we didn’t make ’em and we certainly can’t fix ’em.

    …and maybe we should watch how often and in what cases we should use the term “racist.” Just my opinion. Here’s my take on it:

  9. Magnolia says:

    Okay….so those who are bashing Paula are doing so because they are convinced that *they* would NEVER utter such an awful word, and *they* are above reproach when it comes to racism.


    It’s nothing but a self-righteous, mob mentality run a muck in this country. I find the hypocrisy despicable. We’ve turned into the Pharisees…….

    “Getchyer rocks, right here folks! Getchyer rocks! Three Rocks for a dollar! First one to hit her in the head wins a prize! Getchyer rocks!”

  10. Sabrina says:

    Nobody finds it suspicious that most of the mainstream media did not report that tidbit about Dean wanting a slave themed wedding for her dear brother Bubba? Cause that’s what many black people take issue with. It is isn’t that at some point in her life 95682 years ago she may have said the N-word, clearly she’s said it recently enough for the former general manager to come after her. For Paula to see well dressed black waitstaff and in her mind = slaves ??? Who but a racist would make a connection like that, smh.

    White people, some white people…. Sometimes, especially on racism, it isn’t about voicing your opinion. Sometimes you need to acknowledge when it’s time to simply LISTEN. Instead of writing off POC’s feelings as sensitivity.

    • admin says:

      Yes, that little tidbit reminded me of Atlanta restaurant I once went to called something like Aunt PItty’s Cabin that had little black boys reading the menu. This was years ago and it may not have the same little gimmick, but it was INCREDIBLY stereotypically racist to me. Crazy stuff. Bu, that’s the south, and I should know as I lived there for more than two decades.

  11. Ricki says:

    I think i heard somewhere that the former employee is white? Not that it makes it any less offensive than if she’s black, just a nugget of info I hadn’t heard before.

  12. cosisaidso says:

    The public created this celebrity monster, just as we have created many others. To simply boil this down to a “mob mentality”, “getcher rocks” response to the “N” word issue, is to continue to live in denial. The fact that her cooking show encourages incredibly unhealthy eating habits while she hides her diabetes from her fans; the slave wedding thing, the sexual harassment issue, all paint a disturbing picture of who she might be. The bigger question is, why do we create and support these obnoxious celebrity monsters in the first place?

    • Magnolia says:

      You can ask the question if that’s what you want to know. However, let me tell you this……I was born in rural Louisiana in the 1950s and grew up there in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I also lived in Memphis for a year – in 1964, when MLK, Jr was assassinated – and remember *vividly* the racial tension in that town.

      I grew up surrounded by racism, bigotry, and the KKK. In the early 1990s, I voted in a run-off governor election between a former grand wizard of the KKK and racketeering thug.

      So, you may disagree with my assessment of this situation, but I can assure you that I am not living in denial about anything when it comes to racism and the South.

      • Magnolia says:

        Correction……Memphis 1968

      • cosisaidso says:

        Ah, I see you missed my point. This is not 1968, and I believe the KKK is not able to operate as it once did. What I said was, “To simply boil this down to a “mob mentality”, “getcher rocks” response to the “N” word issue, is to continue to live in denial.” In other words, there is a bigger picture. This is more about that Paula Deen has shown herself to be somewhat insensitive via a variety of issues. That’s probably why she was fired. It is their prerogative to do so.

        • Magnolia says:

          No, I didn’t miss your point, or ANY point. I’m sincerely not interested in your assessment of the situation. It is simply your opinion, which I do not happen to share.

          I want it made clear, and I’m not, regardless of how many times you wish to suggest that I am, in denial about racism. I do not like the self-righteous, “let’s get her” mentality that has ensued surrounding this issue.

          But, if you want to talk about “bigger” issues, I believe the writer of this article said it quite well herself…..”we live in a punishing society….”

          True statement.

          You are now free to drivel on about whatever “bigger issue” captures your imagination.

    • JP says:

      You don’t have to eat of the the recipes she puts forth. Why does she need to let the world know about her medical issues.

      The bigger issue is that Alec Baldwin get a pass from the media & Capitol One when he utters his gay slur.

  13. admin says:

    I’m appreciating this candid discussion of a really important set of issues, and the multiple points of view expressed so articulately. Especially thought-provoking are the not-so-obvious issues a few of you have brought up, a much broader set of pointed issues than mainstream media or its commenter have discussed… I hope we can keep it civil, even when we disagree or believe we are not being understood. It’s less about being right than it is about airing the things no one else is talking about. Thank you all so much for doing that, because you’ve extended the topic in relevant ways that I hadn’t. Nicely done.

  14. Nancy Hill says:

    I agree the real problem is a systemic, endemic racism in our society. Paula has been scapegoated just like Martha Stewart was scapegoated for insider trading. They are today’s witches who have been sacrificed to appease the “someone has to pay” mentality of our country. Until we as a people are ready to put education, health, and equality into practice, and rewards are based less on the networks we are in rather than the value and necessity of our work, we will be a nation of two-faced, double-speaking, hypocrites. Sweet, little old lady racism may be even more insidious than white, male racism. Thank you for expanding the conversation!

  15. Nordette says:

    I appreciate your positive approach here, but I suspect that you do not know the details of the complaint against Paula Deen, her brother, and her corporation. And that’s probably because of the way the mainstream media has reported the matter.

    The national media has reduced the case to Paula’s use of the N-word and a plantation wedding. People seem to think it’s about some mildly offensive stupidity to which her sponsor are overreacting. Consequently, people mistakenly think that Deen’s sponsors are fleeing her side through some kind of secret black pressure. That, however, is not the case. These companies have undoubtedly read the full complaint against her, done a little digging, and are backing away from the imploding Ms. Deen we’ve seen on TV and YouTube.

    The willingness of people of all ethnicities that I have observed around the Net and on TV who seem to have heard only the sound bite version of the Deen case and then assume folks should let up off Deen may be why we keep having these shallow discussion about race in America: few people want to scrutinize racist behaviors and why they persists in American culture. They think they understand after skimming the Cliff Notes and recalling stories about everyday racism they’ve witnessed or experienced. But looking at the number of Deen sponsors who’ve jumped ship, do we really think this case is about use the N-word and an ignorant comment here or there?

    Given the precedence in American popular culture of white people (athletes, actors, etc.) using that word and then simply apologizing and moving on, don’t people find it strange that Deen’s sponsors are reacting by quickly dropping her and her products? Do folks really think this is merely a case of “scapegoating” Paula Deen, as one person’s said here?

    The actual complaint against Paula by Lisa Jackson, a white female, is not that simply that Deen used the N-word once or twice and talked about a plantation wedding. In her complaint, Jackson alleges that Deen & co. practiced the worst kinds of racial discrimination, especially at Uncle Bubba’s restaurant: making racist jokes regularly, requiring that black employees not use the customers’ restroom, but allowing white employees to do so, not wanting black hostesses out front to seat customers. Furthermore, she alleges that Deen’s brother Bubba, treated black employees like subhumans, calling them “monkeys,” violently handling them, and also sexually harassing Jackson and other female staff by showing pornography in the workplace.

    His racism was not restricted to African-Americans either. Because Jackson was good at saving money, Bubba allegedly referred to her as “my little Jew girl.”

    Not surprisingly, Jackson also alleges that Deen’s company openly discriminated against women in pay. One of its corporate administrators said that women were “stupid” to think that they could have babies and get paid the same as men. You can read the complaint on Scribd.

    While we don’t know whether the allegations against Deen and company are true, Deen hurt herself in how she handled the case publicly. Her reactions showed an unbelievable level of ignorance of the past and current era business practices and modern race relations and made the allegations against her sound plausible; therefore, she is an obvious business risk. Consequently, any business (as well as any person) who appears to support Deen’s behaviors, in particular her unwillingness to shut down her brother Bubba as alleged in Jackson’s complaint, seems to be condoning more than simply the occasional slip of the N-word; they appear to be condoning gross discrimination and the kind of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism rarely tolerated in a presumably enlightened, fair society. This kind of behavior should not be tolerated her excused anymore than one would excuse flagrant masturbation in a business office. Who would want to work around that, who would want to be forced to accept it?

    Even if one excuses Deen due to her likability factor, her handling of the allegations in public indicate she has a deplorable lack of awareness about America’s current socio-political climate and how a CEO’s demeanor, questionable emotional IQ, poor logic, and handling of race in the workplace may harm a corporation’s brand. She’s a business liability. And more than likely, she’s a typical Southern racist NOT of the aggressive “cross-burning” variety but one of the antebellum-ideation, white entitlement sort excused in so many Southern cities. Jackson may have exaggerated some of her allegations, but Bubba’s general attitude toward blacks, Jewish people, and women, as well as Deen’s tolerance of such behavior and her own romanticizing of Gone-With-the-Wind values as presented in the complaint, is probably true.

    Recognizing that racism is a real problem is good. Making excuses for Paula Deen & Co. or arguing that people should go easy on her or declaring that she is simply a scapegoat without knowing the depth of the allegations is a slippery slope that takes us backwards. If the allegations are true, Deen is reaping what she’s sown and what she let her brother sow in her name.

    • admin says:

      Thanks so much for taking time to post a thoughtful and thought-provoking response. Actually, I am well-aware of the complaint’s details and have read all of the official documentation. I am retired from a career in reputation management, in which I was a paid consultant to high-visibility people who got in trouble with the media over their own stupidity (usually). I make NO excuses for Deen–actually, quite the opposite. I have no respect for her at all. But I believe she’s not the issue, just the catalyst for discussion of the real issue, which is institutionalized racism. I stand by my opinion that it’s by dialogue that we’ll come together, and only by dialogue, and to the extent that media coverage of her fosters national dialogue, all the better. Perhaps her purpose was to bring a subject that had “died off” to the forefront. And I still believe it’s time to take her out of it–the Universe is already taking care of her–and for us to progress the dialogue in useful ways. Deen is completely tone-deaf, and I’ve written a future post that talks about how this happens, how people can’t step out of their own frame of reference to “get” how their words and actions might seem to others. I appreciate the time you took to lay out these important points. If you want to see what i mean about “tone deaf”, friend me on FB and look a few days back at several huge, emotional discussion that people were having. It was very clear to me how few people are self aware and also how they twist and turn to bring their opinions inline with their emotions. Thanks again/C.

  16. Robert says:

    And not just in the Southern US and you are so eager to point out.

    • admin says:

      Paula Deen’s Southern wedding idea is part of Southern history & is not an idea that would generally occur elsewhere. Having lived in the South for several decades, but being a northerner by birth, I can say that with some assurance. So when i refer to Paula Deen, her comments are culturally based. It is entirely true that racism happens everywhere. Everywhere. But what doesn’t happen everywhere is dialogue.
      And that’s what it’ll take to change things. Thanks for commenting.

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