Culture

The Dark Side of Paula Deen?

Paula Deen, center, and her sons Jamie Deen, left, and Bobby Deen

Paula Deen, center, and her sons Jamie Deen, left, and Bobby Deen.

Here in the South, the closest thing we have to living royalty is Paula Deen and her family. We love our Southern cooking, and Deen embodies it — as do her sons Jamie and Bobby and, to a lesser extent, her brother Bubba Hiers. Paula Deen has cashed in on her knack for perfect Southern cuisine and her ebullient personality and become a genuine celebrity. And we all know that one of the pitfalls of celebrity is that no part of a star’s life is completely private.

Radar Online and the National Enquirer have gone through the videotaped deposition Deen and Hiers have made in the lawsuit against them from a former employee. Both media outlets use exploitative headlines, the Enquirer breathlessly boasting, “WORLD EXCLUSIVE COVER STORY: PAULA DEEN RACIST CONFESSIONS” and beginning their story with “CAUGHT ON VIDEO—PAUL [sic] DEEN’s secret confession – her racist rant EXPOSED in a bombshell ENQUIRER WORLD EXCLUSIVE!”

Radar Online’s story summarizes the deposition in this way:

Celebrity chef Paula Deen has admitted to using the N-word and telling insensitive racial jokes during a May 17 deposition that was videotaped — and also confessed to her brother’s cocaine, pornography and alcohol addictions!

Paula, 66, admitted to using the N-word and wanting black waiters to play the role of slaves at a wedding party she was putting together, a new bombshell report from the National Enquirer claims.

“The personal disclosures uncovered have stunned Paula’s family and could mark the collapse of her entire empire,” a source told the tabloid.

The Emmy-winning kitchen queen was questioned for three hours because of the $1.2 million 2012 lawsuit in which the former General Manager of their Savannah, Georgia, restaurant, Lisa Jackson, claimed use of the N-word by Paula and sexual harassment and infliction of distress and assault by her brother Bubba Hiers.

When asked by Lisa’s Atlanta-based attorney if she’d ever used the N-word, Paula responded, “Yes, of course,” and gave examples of times she used the offensive term.

The Enquirer also makes issue of Hiers’ abuse of cocaine and alcohol, both of which were already public knowledge.

Paula Deen's brother, Bubba Hiers is also a party to the lawsuit.

Paula Deen’s brother, is also a party to the lawsuit.

Both Radar Online and the National Enquirer appear to cherry-pick quotes from the deposition for maximum exploitative value. A more balanced approach to the story comes from an AP article. The AP looked at Deen’s  use of the N-word in more detail:

According to a transcript of the deposition, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, an attorney for Jackson asked Deen if she has ever used the N-word.

“Yes, of course,” Deen replied, though she added: “It’s been a very long time.”

Asked to give an example, Deen recalled the time she worked as a bank teller in southwest Georgia in the 1980s and was held at gunpoint by a robber. The gunman was a black man, Deen told the attorney, and she thought she used the slur when talking about him after the holdup. “Probably in telling my husband,” she said.

Deen said she may have also used the slur when recalling conversations between black employees at her restaurants, but she couldn’t recall specifics.

“But that’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on,” Deen said. “Things have changed since the ’60s in the South. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do.”

William Franklin, Deen’s attorney, said the celebrity was looking forward to her day in court.

“Contrary to media reports, Ms. Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable,” he said in a statement.

The AP also gives a better context to the all-black-waiters story:

Jackson’s attorney, Matthew Billips, also pressed Deen to explain whether she had once suggested that all black waiters be hired for her brother’s 2007 wedding.

Deen said she once mentioned the idea to her personal assistant and Jackson but immediately dismissed it. Deen said she had been inspired by an upscale Southern restaurant she and her husband had visited in another state.

“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,” Deen said. “And I remember saying I would love to have servers like that, I said, but I would be afraid that someone would misinterpret (it).”

Asked if she used the N-word to describe those waiters, Deen replied: “No, because that’s not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.”

Plenty of questions remain. Racism in any form is inexcusable for sure, but is Paula Deen the racist monster the tabloids paint her to be? Or is she simply someone who said and did some stupid things in the past — just like the rest of us? Will her fans forgive her, or will these accusations do damage to her career? I, for one, will keep my eyes peeled for an outcome, and you’ll hear about it right here.