Paula Deen Whips Up Some Racism With The ‘N-Word’ And Wistful Longing For ‘Plantation Weddings’

Come on... the ‘N-word’s’ not bad if it’s ‘not said in a mean way’! (Tell that to the average African American.) Image @PaulaDeen.com

Come on… the ‘N-word’s’ not bad if it’s ‘not said in a mean way’! (Tell that to the average African American.) Image @PaulaDeen.com

It’s a not uncommon complaint I hear from southerners when I cover a story about racism in the south: “we’re being unfairly labeled.” When I wrote about the Georgia girls organizing (against some stiff resistance) their “first ever” integrated prom, commenters hollered that I was using broad strokes to “sully the entire region.” When I wrote about Florida police egregiously overreacting in their treatment of a black kid  playing on the beach, some were sure I was focusing too much on the dark side of southern law enforcement. Other southerners were not at all pleased when I covered the shocking announcement that Mississippi had somehow forgotten to ratify the Constitutional amendment to abolish slavery until just this past February!

But it’s not a lack of respect for the south – like any part of our great country, the rich, culturally diverse area has its good and its bad – it’s that too many southerners contribute mightily to the very stereotypes they hate: racist, backward, pre-civil rights, Jim Crow-ian, racially clueless good ole guys and gals. Take Paula Deen, for instance. The Queen of Southern Cooking, who’s made a brand of her own name on the Food Network, proudly wears her very down-home southernness with a wink and grin, from the drawl to the recipes (that much butter??), to the big hair and bigger personality. And, of course, the vernacular; gotta love the vernacular: her brother’s called “Bubba” and everyone else is “y’all.” Oh, and she uses the “n-word”… but that’s okay, she says, because it’s “not said in a mean way.”  Phew.

This nugget of nonsense was revealed as part of Deen’s deposition in a discrimination (no!) lawsuit that’s been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia against Deen (and brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers, Deen’s company, and the corporations that operate her two Savannah, GA restaurants) by a former employee, Lisa Jackson, who claims she was subjected to “violent, sexist, and racist behavior” during the five years she worked for Deen’s various businesses.

For those wondering, Jackson is described as a “white female.”

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Jackson claims she began working for Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House (run by Deen’s brother… Bubba… but “half owned” by Miz Deen) from 2005 until she quit in August of 2010. Her reasons for quitting were many, apparently, but included in the list, as delineated by her legal complaint, was “inappropriate behavior” and systemic, pervasive “discriminatory attitudes.” From Talking Points Memo:

Jackson claimed African-American employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from white staffers. Jackson also said African-Americans were held to “different, more stringent, standards” than whites at the restaurant and that Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks. In the complaint, Jackson is described as a “white female.” However the complaint noted she has biracial nieces, so “derogatory remarks regarding African-Americans are even more personally offensive to Ms. Jackson than they would be to another white citizen.”

[Sidebar from a non-biracial white: derogatory remarks regarding African-Americans are also very personally offensive to my very white citizen self.]

Along with the allegations of racism, Jackson’s complaint accuses Hiers of making inappropriate sexual comments and forcing her to look at pornography with him. The complaint also said Hiers violently shook employees on multiple occasions and came to work in an “almost constant state of intoxication.”

Wow… sounds like fun, doesn’t it??

But it’s not just Bubba; Jackson had a few things to say about Deen herself, accusing the silver-haired food queen of “enabling” and refusing to discuss her brother’s behavior, but, more egregiously, displaying “racist views” Jackson and others found offensive. In the complaint, Jackson details a 2007 incident in which she was discussing with Deen the arrangements for an upcoming wedding. When it came time to decide the uniforms for those who would be servers at the event, Deen’s response was noted as follows:

“Well what I would really like is a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around,” the lawsuit claims Deen said. “Now that would be a true southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.” [Source]

She didn’t say that out loud, did she? Hard to parse that…

But in her deposition of last month, Deen did attempt to parse her offensive comments. She says she might’ve referred to the phrase “really southern plantation wedding” (and what would that be?) but claims she never said the “n-word.” At least not in that particular conversation. There was “one” other conversation in which she did:

Deen said she employed the term when telling her husband about an incident “when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.”

“I didn’t feel real favorable towards him,” Deen said of the alleged bank robber.

Deen also admitted she was “sure” that she’d used the word since that incident. Specifically, Deen said she “probably” used the word while “repeating” a “conversation between blacks.”

Not sure how that jibes with “it’s okay if it’s said in not a mean way,” (I bet it was a little mean, that damn bank robber!) but let’s not nit-pick. I’m still trying to figure out what a big old “southern plantation wedding would be” if it doesn’t involve slaves. But, then again, Deen was kinda thinking along those lines…

“I remember telling them about a restaurant that my husband and I had recently visited. And I’m wanting to think it was in Tennessee or North Carolina or somewhere, and it was so impressive,” Deen said. “The whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie. I mean, it was really impressive. And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that somebody would misinterpret.”

Deen said “that restaurant represented a certain era in America.” When pressed by Billips, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Deen said she was referring to the period immediately surrounding the Civil War. She also said she knew people might “read something into it” if she used exclusively African-American servers at the wedding.

Hey, hey, Paula, you’re right: that is just the kind of thing people might “read something into”… like suspecting you’re a clueless anachronistic dunce. You do know that the “period immediately surrounding the Civil War” included the earlier part where African-American workers, however nicely dressed, were SLAVES, right??

There are a slew of other choice comments to shake your head at in the transcript linked below; enjoy/hiss at your own leisure. For now, the question remains:  beyond Lisa Jackson’s lawsuit, what will the Food Network do about their errant star? According to The Los Angeles Times, they’re distancing themselves for the time being (apparently the situation needs to “preheat” before poking a stick in it):

“Food Network does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is a strong proponent of diversity and inclusion,” said a statement issued by the network. “We will continue to monitor the situation.”

Mike Paul, a New York crisis management expert (and, interestingly, an African-American), made this comment about the situation:

“There is no TV [show], there are no products, unless you have sponsors,” he said, “and the last thing sponsors want is a phone call from [civil rights activists] like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson saying ‘Ban Paula.’ “

No kidding. Look at the sort of advertiser backlash Rush Limbaugh incited after his slut-shaming shenanigans!

So for now there appears to be a “wait and see” stance on all accounts. Like waiting for a big loaf of high-fat, high-calorie white bread to rise. Never one to enjoy the health-crushing recipes of the Deen dynasty, I’ve only watched from the sidelines, incredulous, at times, at Deen’s almost caricaturish depiction of southern women, but I have no doubt her fans are either shaking their heads in disgust or wondering what all the fuss is about. I wonder if it depends on what part of the country you hail from…

I’m thinking just add ‘a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties’ and BAM, you’ve got the perfect “southern plantation wedding” per Paula Deen! Image @MyHero

I’m thinking just add ‘a bunch of little niggers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties’ and BAM, you’ve got the perfect “southern plantation wedding” per Paula Deen! Image @MyHero

UPDATE: June 21, 2013: The Food Network will not be renewing Ms. Deen’s contract, despite her repeated public apologies. It seems life can sometimes be self-correcting. Read the whole story HERE

Click HERE to read full Paula Deen “Transcript of Testimony.”

Another interesting take on the story at Time; I even like the title: Less Than Accidental Racist: Why Paula Deen’s Comments Insult Her Fans Too