Until recently, I didn’t know who Paula Deen was. I may have heard her name, but I’ve never watched her show on The Food Network.
I’ve heard about her now, thanks to the release of a transcript of a deposition Deen gave in a discrimination lawsuit. In the deposition, she admitted to using the n-word and telling racial and ethnic jokes. There was a firestorm of criticism — quite properly — and then Deen got canned by The Food Network. Now she’s come out with an apology video, saying in a syrupy Southern accent that she’s sorry for the pain she’s caused. It’s another example of a celebrity’s last-ditch attempt to salvage their career after confessing to racist comments, consisting of after-the-fact contrition — usually expressed in some kind of sympathetic, carefully controlled setting — and then hope for ultimate forgiveness. I doubt that it will work any better for Paula Deen than it did for Michael Richards.
Obviously, it’s no great loss if Paula Deen gets knocked off the airwaves; there are plenty of cooking shows being broadcast already. What’s sad, though, is that the incident just provides more evidence of inner ugliness and the prevalence of racial stereotyping. I’m sure that people who live in the South and hope to someday escape from the shadow of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and lynchings are cringing at Deen’s statements, just as young Germans must cringe that the anti-Semitic statements of neo-Nazi skinheads. Deen’s deposition testimony suggests that, for some people at least, the New South seems to be a lot like the Old South.