I am certain that you have heard by now, about Paula Deen, the 66-year-old Savannah kitchen celebrity, who has been swamped in controversy since court documents filed last week showed that Deen told an attorney who was questioning her under oath last month that she had conveniently used the N-word.
Deen gave a videotaped deposition as part of a discrimination suit that she is facing in which she discussed her desire to have a “very southern style wedding” for her brother modeled after a restaurant where the “whole entire wait staff was middle-aged black men” wearing white jackets and black bow ties, according to a transcript of the deposition filed in federal court in Georgia. Deen also admitted to having used the N-word and discussed the ways the word could be “not said in a mean way.”
There was a tremendous uproar by many people, who were bothered by the details from the transcript that shows Deen describing her use of the N-word and her view of Black people.
Court records show that Deen sat down for the deposition on May 17, in a discrimination lawsuit filed last year by a former employee who managed Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, a Savannah restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, Bubba Hiers. The ex-employee, Lisa Jackson, says she was sexually harassed and worked in a hostile environment rife with innuendo and racial slurs.
During the deposition, the lawyer did a masterful job of asking Deen questions about her racial thought processes and her view of the N-word. The most comical, yet disturbing exchange was the following:
Attorney: Have you ever used the N-word yourself?
Deen: Yes, of course.
Attorney: Okay. In what context?
Deen: Well, it was probably when a black man burst into the bank that I was working at and put a gun to my head.
Attorney: Okay. And what did you say?
Deen: Well, I don’t remember, but the gun was dancing all around my temple.
Deen: I didn’t — I didn’t feel real favorable towards him.
As a result of the uproar surrounding Deen’s admission, “under oath,” The Food Network cut ties with her on last Friday, barely an hour after Deen posted the first of two videotaped apologies online begging for forgiveness from fans and critics who were bothered by her admission to having used the N-word and other racial slurs in the past. Her contract was set to expire at the end of this month.
Now, for all the people who were outraged about the revelation concerning Deen, there were many others who didn’t consider her admission “under oath” a big deal and were willing to overlook the fact that Deen used the word, making arguments that rappers and even Black people themselves, use the N-word.
I consider that to be a weak argument and a borderline excuse and I believe it is a huge deal, not simply because Deen used the N-word, but because of two important reasons that are bigger than just her use of the N-word.
First, Deen is not just some random woman. She is a woman of influence. The Food Network made Deen a star with her show “Paula’s Home Cooking” and that success has allowed her to build a vast empire of cookbooks, a bimonthly cooking magazine, a full line of cookware, food items like spices and even furniture. She is more than just a lay person; she is someone who has a voice and influence.
Secondly, and more importantly, Deen represents the many people who are in positions of power, whether it be Corporate America, society or the government, that abuse that power by their racist and bigoted personal beliefs.
I know what it is like to be called the N-word by a person in authority, addressing it and having nothing done about it, except an alleged reprimand or discussion. I know many others, maybe even you who are reading this, who have been the victims of discriminatory practices and dialogue and because there is a fear that you will lose your job or negatively impact your family or future, you feel obligated to say nothing.
This issue is so much bigger than Paula Deen and her use of the N-word
Keep in mind, we didn’t hear anything about this or get an apology about this until Deen was “under oath” in a court of law and had to promise to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I applaud Lisa Jackson for standing up for herself and seeking to address the issues that she felt were sexually and racially discriminatory to her. I can only hope that her courage will inspire others to do the same.
While you may hate the N-word being used by anybody, including other Black people, I would hope you agree that when a non-Black person with power and influence uses it in a disparaging and demeaning way, it’s a bigger issue than just the word itself.