Paul a Deen had a successful public appearance yesterday. Tears of remorse polished her presentation. What better place to relaunch her sullied reputation? Publicized as the “queen of southern cooking,” Paula Deen was greeted with a standing ovation at the Houston, Texas Metro Cooking and Entertainment Show. This despite her admitting to using the N word.
Deen has successfully positioned herself as a family friendly southern chef. Although she admitted to using the N word more than 27 years ago, this new instance has been calamitous for her current reputation and at the Metro Cooking show, Paula announced that she had not been in public for 3 months. Then she wept with remorse. It was clear that her fan’s still love her.
Paul Deen is fresh of a lawsuit that branded her as a racist, sexist employee. A Caucasian employee in a restaurant that is owned 50% by Paula Deen claimed that she had been the victim of sexual harassment, use of the N word and emotional distress. Given that Paula Deen has never personally managed the restaurant and given the efforts of the accuser’s attorney to get a pre judge settlement of more than a million dollars, the case seems dubious at best. Court papers were leaked to the National Enquirer and this served to smear public opinion against Paula Deen. Surprising as Paul Deen, under testimony for this suit said of the word, “it’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on.”
But the smear campaign worked. Fallout was fast and furious. Deen’s sponsors, including family friendly stores Target and Wal-Mart, cancelled her sponsorship deals. Ballantine books announced they would not release her new book cook book in the fall. Public opinion seemed unanimous. The American people cannot enjoy the recipes of a southern cook who has ever used racial slurs.
The use of the N word has remained sensitive since being used by slave owners to note disdain and superiority over Negroid slaves. Today some African American urbanites have taken the phrase as a term of endearment and some of the degrading nature has been mitigated. Let’s be clear, however, Paula Deen does not consider the word as anything except a patronizing insult to African American’s. This is why she has been out of the spotlight for the last three months. This is why Deen showed palpable emotion at the Cooking Show. Tears of remorse were to be expected.
It is not surprising that her vocabulary needs some polishing, even at this stage in her life. Orphaned at 22, twice married and divorced, Deen originally developed a home cooking business because of a need to survive. Her life was bitter, her cooking was sweet. She needed to forge a life and a way to support herself and her two children when her second marriage failed. She has been magnificently successful but this all happened in Georgia, one of the Southern States that still harbors racist ties.
Now living in Savannah, Paula Deen first started her successful restaurant and cooking business when she was left penniless by her husband. She was 42; not the ideal age to build a career but two years later she opened her first restaurant, The Lady & Sons. She was the epitome of the strong Southern lady, racial slurs and all. Wal-Mart liked her and in 2009 Wal-Mart decided to back Paula Deen with a branded line of scrumptious pies. Gooey Butter Cake and Old Fashioned Fudge pies were the start of a new income. Books and TV shows followed on.
The fact that Paula Deen has a history of racist speech is hardly a surprise. It is a disappointment and something to trigger temporary career damaging publicity. But not a surprise. The harm to Paula Deen’s reputation and business earnings will be as short lived as a Dark Rum Pecan Pie.
Let’s hope she has learned her lesson and will reconsider her outdated vocabulary and values as she moves towards her mature years in life. She is herself burdened by her life’s journey. Her popularity is due to her success in getting herself out of that situation with homespun southern cooking. Now she needs to show public remorse and give back to her supporters a sense of respect. Her tears of happiness are a good start.
by Vicky Judah