Paula Deen The Butter Queen: Falling Like A Cold Souffle
I know most of you have heard Savannah cooking guru, Paula Deen, utter that phrase at least once while flipping through the channels on your television. Well, apparently those aren’t the only words in her vocabulary. And what started an explosion of nationwide anger was one particular word that slipped from her lips one too many times.
Yes, it seems that Ms. Deen has jumped out of her own personalized frying pan into a really hot fire. A few days ago, the massive empire she’d built from the ground up began to crumble, like the crispy and flaky batter on the fried shrimp that’s served at her brother’s restaurant, Uncle Bubba’s.
First, the Food Network canned her. Next came Smithfield Foods followed by Walmart. Even Caesars is yanking Paula’s name from the buffet line at four of their restaurants. And more companies are keeping a close eye on the events as they unfold. QVC and Target are currently “evaluating” the situation.
So how did this disaster begin? Well, sometime last year, Lisa Jackson, a former manager of Uncle Bubba’s restaurant, filed a discrimination and harassment lawsuit against both Paula and her brother, Bubba Hiers, co-owners of the establishment.
In the filing, Ms. Jackson referenced inappropriate goings-on, such as when Jackson asked Ms. Deen about what she wanted servers to wear for an upcoming wedding party. Ms. Deen allegedly replied, “What I’d really like is for a bunch of little n*****s to wear long sleeve white shirts, black shorts, and bow ties.”
Jackson’s other issues included Bubba Heirs showing her pornography on the office computer, assault and battery, and a hostile work environment.
The Deen camp probably anticipated the fallout from the public hearing or reading the details of the case, so their attorneys asked the judge to issue a gag order back in early 2012. No dice. Chatham County Superior Court Judge Louisa Abbot denied the request. And the snowball began to slowly make its way downhill.
And that’s where we are today, with Paula Deen making bizarre apologies that seem to paint her as the victim in this nightmare situation.
Public reaction to the Deen situation has been mixed. Her diehard fans are rallying behind her. In fact, sales of Deen’s cookbooks are on the rise, and business at her downtown Savannah restaurant still sees long lines of tourists waiting to get inside to try out the “As Seen On TV” fare. Uncle Bubba’s Oyster and Seafood Restaurant on Wilmington Island is also as busy as ever.
However, there are plenty of people who aren’t happy with the Butter Queen’s use of the n-word. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, though, has made the statement that he thinks Paula Deen can be redeemed and he’d like to be the one to help her make amends.
I will say this…Paula Deen grew up in the south and her childhood was in a time and place where things were far different than they were for most people in other areas of the country. I can say this because I, too, grew up in the south and have seen “things” with my own two little pea-pickin’ eyes. In fact, some of the “old ways” continue to this day.
Now, I’m a new transplant to Ms. Deen’s neighborhood, but I can sort of understand the situation and how some of the older generation in this area still live and operate as if time stopped 50 years ago. For example, I needed some help around the house when we first moved in—general labor, yard-raking, etc., so I hired some people I located in the “help wanted” ads.
Well, I and the crew worked our butts off in the southern heat and humidity, and when it came time to break for lunch I invited everyone inside to join me in the a/c, and for sandwiches and something cold to drink. One of the gentlemen, an older fellow, said he’d like to have his lunch in the backyard under the shade of the trees. I wouldn’t take no for an answer, though. It was just too darn hot outside. Besides, have you seen the bugs down here. Holy cow! They’ll make a snack out of an arm or leg in nothing flat.
After we finished lunch and headed back outside, the man called me to over to thank me for lunch and for allowing an old “colored fellow” inside my house. His comment stopped me in my tracks, as you can imagine. Then he went on to say he’d never been inside a white man’s house in his entire life. He’d never eaten a white man’s food. And he’d never in all his life seen a white man invite a “negra'” (his word, not mine) man to enter his house through the front door.
Well, my new friend and I became buddies and he promised to take me fishing sometime in the future. Of course, he’s still a bit wary of the whole thing. After all, he’s never had a white guy in his boat. He even apologized for it being a small aluminum craft with no motor. I assured him that I can operate a paddle with the best of them.
Anyway, it would be nice if we could all put the past behind us, along with hateful words and ugly speech, but I doubt we’ll see that in my time, unfortunately.
But isn’t it funny how we all came from Africa (some of my ancestors were sold as slaves to the Egyptians), which means every single one of us are related, but are now separated by the mere color of our skin.
Personally, I think we should all just go fishing and forget about our troubles, even if it’s only for one day. What do you think?
*By the way, we’ve dined at Uncle Bubba’s and the food was pretty good, especially the shrimp. We did not, however, see a single server dressed in white shirts, black shorts, and bow ties. I’m just saying…
That story about your worker choked me up. My adult children are racially mixed. I married their father in 1969, when even in Anaheim, California, a statute had been on the books until the year prior that forbade people of color inside the city limits after sundown. 1969!!!! And years later, my kids found themselves on the receiving end of prejudice.
The only way to stamp out that kind of behavior is to put it in the spotlight, as PD is finding out. No doubt, like PeeWee Herman, after a while, she’ll bounce back. The public is pretty forgiving in the end.
My family called African-Americans “colored people.” I wonder if blacks think that’s disrespectful? I would imagine so. Archie Bunker took the term to a new low. I don’t like the term African-American because if black people were born here, they are Americans. I’m Irish, not Ireland-American. Seems if we’re whites, people of color are blacks. But then not all color designations work. We don’t call Asian people yellow as in the past. Children are quick to learn what is offensive and what isn’t. Paula Deen knew and apparently thought reeling off a cute little phrase wouldn’t matter, and now knows it does. Just stop crying on TV, Paula.
I’m older than Paula Deen, was born and raised in the deep South, grew up in a poverty-stricken racist family. But as a teen-ager I saw and did not like the way people of color were treated. When I was about sixteen a post office clerk (Federal employee) was going to serve me before a black person already there. I declined and motioned him to serve the first person there, common courtesy. Being born into a society’s so-called norms does NOT mean you must accept them. I also hate the hypocritical, elitist media’s condemnation and judgment of those they choose to pillory.
I think it is enormously sad that so many people are “reserving judgement”. Would they do the same for Ted Bundy? After all, they weren’t present when he murdered his victims, and Paula D has admitted using hateful language — and she didn’t caveat it her answer by saying that she stopped using the terms decades ago. If you are a public figure and can’t figure out how to act, then you can be guilty of both racism and stupidity. As are some of the commenters on your blog, IMHO.
What Bud said.
I think it’s sad that people, like Paula, who tell the truth are still punished (losing her job and sponsors) when sports figures who lie about taking steroids get away with lying even when proved that they did. What happened to innocent until proved guilty? And the charges in this case are against her brother who she helped open a restaurant. Is it a crime to help family? Even if he is proven guilty, if Paula didn’t know what he did, why should she be punished by society? I think with the media we have today jumping on every little thing doesn’t help.
As far as the diabetic thing, I was just told two months ago I have it. I knew it was coming because my doctor had been monitoring me for 5 years and it ran in the family, and let me tell you, it is not that easy to adjust to when you crave fats and sweets and have had them all your life and now you have to change your whole lifestyle. Like Hubby says you can give up cigarettes and booze but you need food to live so that makes it more difficult. I guess he should know since he’s a former smoker.
I’m a Yankee, born and raised, and I had an eye-opener when I visited a sister in Ga. I had no idea that people lived in neighborhoods and shopped in areas by color. I thought that ended with the civil rights movement.
If the case goes to court and both Bubba and Paula are found guilty, then the network, etc., have the right to do what they are going now. But if the case goes to court and they (or she) are found innocent, will the network, etc., come calling on Paula? I doubt it. I think it is sad that the media helps society to jump to conclusions too quickly. A sad place for our country and society to be in. Just my opinion.
I was raised in the north, so this is all so astounding to me. What I’ve been hearing on the Paula Dean thing is, apparently, just the tip of the iceberg. Thanks for the rest of the story. It paints the case in a different, well, color.
I went to school, from kindergarten, with Hispanics and blacks, and really don’t understand the Southern racial thing, but I do see that it’s there! When I was about 8 or 9, our family took a trip to the Smokies and I saw two women’s rest rooms. One said “white” and one said “colored” over the doorways. I headed toward the one that sounded prettier, but my mother pulled me back and led me to the boring “white” one, saying she’d explain later. It didn’t make much sense. Still doesn’t.
I grew up in Los Angeles. In Junior High (late 50’s, early 60’s) a new student showed up from the south. We delighted in her accent, and also asked her what she thought of life in our place. She said she liked it, but the first time she was waited on by a “colored person” in a department store, and the woman took her money and gave her change, touching hands–it was a new experience for her.
Before that, in another primarily Jewish neighborhood, a “colored” family moved in. He was a dentist. His daughter was in my 6th grade class. My mom said she wished the girl was less flamboyant and outspoken (not her words at the time, but the meaning was there) because she said “minorities have to be extra careful because people will generalize all their actions as part of their ‘group’ and she said people might take anything I said or did and apply them to Jews in general. (She also said that the neighborhood had taken up a petition to make the family move, and she was so proud of her mother for refusing–especially since my mom and her family had been lucky to get out of Germany right before the war.)
Whatever happened to, “You have the right to remain silent.”
Every ethnic group has it’s n-word. The Italians, the Jews, the Mexicans. I’ve even been called White Bread. If you’re in the public eye…you’re fair game. Her ‘people’ should be working on damage control. keeping her out of the lime-light. Think the person who started this whole ball-of-wax has already signed the contract for the book rights?
Racism is a problem which hurts individuals as well as American society. One problem is the emphasis on the South when it affects the entire country. We have super segregation in Detroit where black people may never see a white person or majority black prison populations in states with less than a ten percent black population.
I need to know when Paula made her statements. At this point, many are being hypocritical. They do not consider their own past or actions.
Donna Albrecht called it when she pointed out that Paula’s fans have started realizing they are little more than “marks” to be scammed.
She’s coming across as a phony now, her y’all schtick a thin veneer. Don’t know what to make of the odd apologies filmed in that dentist’s office.
Michael Twitty (Culinary Historian, Food Writer and Living History Interpreter) wrote a kind and insightful essay on her troubles and invited her to come cook with him at Stagville in Sept. http://afroculinaria.com/2013/06/25/an-open-letter-to-paula-deen/
I hope she does.
I grew up in Charleston and the blacks called each other nigger. We called them negroes until the early 60’s when MLK pushed for the label of blacks or african americans. Today, they call us cracker and don’t think that is racist, however if you’re white you can’t use the n-word. Inviting a black worker, or even a white worker, into your home for a meal is still not the thing to do in the south. You wouldn’t eat with your servants and that is what most southerners would think. In this day of political correctness, when you’re sure to offend someone somewhere makes Paula’s behavior rather dumb. She got caught. Will she recover? Maybe, maybe not. The media will play a big role in that.
Well, I’m a southerner, raised all over as a military brat, but was born in NC, spent 3 years in Germany then came back to Virginia and finished kindergarten in Savannah GA, then did first, second, and third grade there. Next stop Pennsylvania for 2 years, then Japan for 3 years and back to the South for 1/2 a year in Alabama. Then finished HS in NW FLorida (called Lower Alabama by some), 3 years of college in Mobile AL, another year in NW Florida, then 5 years in Middle Georgia before moving to Ohio, where I lived for another 20 years. My parents and my mother’s mother never used that word, but I had occasion to hear one or other of my grandparents to say it, and they did not say it to be derogatory but because the word was the word they grew up with to refer to someone with a certain color of skin. It was a pet peeve of mine for anyone to use that word, but I took it in the vein of what they intended and let it go with my grandparents. They didn’t have occasion to use it often (maybe twice in all the years I knew them, which were 40 plus). My grandparents would be almost 100 years old now. My own parents are hitting 80 this year. I think Paula Deen is young enough that she knows better, and she knew better. My generation was tail-end of the hippies of the 60s and there was a lot of publicity about the civil rights movements. That they would feel free to perpetuate that thinking behind the backs of people they work with speaks to some kind of elitism, if not one of race. I’m not sure I can forgive her for that based on where she grew up, Lee, because she is not that old that she didn’t know better. I can forgive her for being an ignorant puss, but it won’t make me like her any better. We all make mistakes, and if you do get the chance to eat in Savannah, I highly recommend the Sunday Brunch at The Pirate House and Williams Seafood, on one of the islands, if they are both still there. Scallops at the second one.
Lots of us who grew up in the South were raised by folks who used that kind of language. But not all of us grew up and continued to use it. We got smart, and realized how harmful it can be.
Lee, thank you for sharing. I will reserve judgment until I get more information.
The n-word has a dark and ugly meaning that’s associated with slavery and the poor treatment of African Americans in the years after. When spoken by whites it conjures up the days when white people bought, owned, and sold slaves, and it’s extremely condescending and hurtful. In fact, it was a word used long ago by slave owners when speaking of the slaves.
I’ll never forget the day when my parents took me to the doctor and there were separate waiting rooms for “whites” and “coloreds.” There was a child on the non-white side who was quite ill but had to wait until all the whites were seen. The kid’s mother asked if there was any way her child could be seen a little earlier, and an older white man spoke up and said, “N****rs gotta wait. You know that.”
I felt awful for that child and her/his mother, even though I was small and really didn’t understand. I still feel bad for that child when I think about that day.
The same was true in other businesses in town. Restaurants didn’t allow “coloreds” in the same seating areas—one didn’t have a seating area for them at all. Instead, they had to go to a side door to pay and pick up an order.
There were separate drinking fountains for each race, etc. But the thing that stuck in my mind for all these years was seeing the hurt in people’s eyes when a white person said things like, You can’t go in there, n****r.” Or, don’t touch that, n****r.”
Anyway, I guess since I grew up seeing all this first hand I can sort of understand. Now, do some take it to an extreme, using it to get something out of somebody? Sure, and that’s wrong too.
I have a suspicion that what really sank Paula Deen was not her honest answer to the question about whether she’d ever used that word–it was the addendum “of course.” That said she not only used it, but took it for granted. Which, given her age and background, she probably DID, but it’s not something people want to hear.
We’ve come an awfully long way in the past 50 years, but we have so much further to go. I wonder how many of those casting stones at Ms. Deen are without sins of their own.
I think every person gets a pass for the attitudes of the society they’re born into. But when you’ve lived through the shared history of the past half-century it’s on you.
Great post! Nice to see an unbiased reaction. While I understand some of the anger, truly. But you are talking about a different generation. I just have to wonder if there is anyone out there who has never said anything hurtful they wish they could take back. I believe everyone has at some point in their life and don’t think she should lose everything she has worked for because of it. Everyone deserves a chance to make amends.
The black man who slept in the bunk below me for 16 weeks at Navy Officer Candidate School went to the same first duty station I did, NAS Jacksonville, Fla., in 1957. He and his wife turned down an invitation to have dinner with us in our Jacksonville apartment because he was sure we would be kicked out if we let a black couple in. Coming from Minnesota, this was quite a shock to us. We could visit them but they didn’t dare visit us.
Great post, Lee. Thank you.
I think that while there is so much attention to her recent words, the real reason things going bad for her happened a while back.
Paula’s schtick was of loveable, trusted friend (who cooks amazingly high-fat foods). When she continued to do those foods after being diagnosed with diabetes three years before, she set herself up. So when she only talked about her diabetes once she had a product to sell, she broke the trust between her and her fans.
Her fans felt betrayed. She’d basically lied to them for three years, until she found a way to monetize her diabetes using her fans. When they bought cookbooks, they were joining her in a fun and slightly naughty relationship. When she started hawking medical supplies, many realized they were just marks.
I believe if that had not happened, a few apologies (of course, not the kind she gave on the Today show) would have been able to clear the air. But now Miss Sunshine and Butter has offended a whole lot of people who contributed mightily to her revenue stream. So…
By late fall, look for her new show on the Oprah Channel. Oprah never met a recovering social outcast she couldn’t embrace!
Thanks for that very insightful, unbiased opinion. I, too, have lived in the South my entire life. The baby boomers and older folks grew up and lived in a very different, tumultuous time than today. People from the North don’t have an understanding of the fear, anger, and diviseness that was daily life.
I guess some people cannot let things go, but we have new knowledge and are charged with not being judgmental and accepting diversity. We must love everyone and unite because we are Americans – not because we are black, white, red, or green.
Interesting, Lee. ironic that all this was going down while the supreme court was taking more teeth out of the Voting Rights Act because things have changed so much in the south!
I agree with LJ on this. I’m reserving judgment on this, but feel the sponsors should have held her innocent until proven guilty. The fact that she admitted to saying the word at some point should not be reason for this backlash.
My Alabama grandmother taught me that old saying” Sticks and stones might break my bones, but WORDS will never hurt me.” She didn’t know about the current political climate and judicial system, I guess.
I wonder how much of this is just vengeance and attempted extortion?
Very good article, Lee. I’m withholding judgment. In fact, I don’t feel I have any right to judge at all. We don’t know all the facts and we’ve seen, too many times, when people try to sue those who have achieved success.
I also believe people can change. I grew up with parents who were, and still are, very bigoted. Rather than follow their example, I became determined to NOT be like them. I think I’ve succeeded pretty well.
I don’t think Food Network, or any of her other sponsors, should have let Miss Deen go unless they had, for themselves, witnessed or hear her say things that were inappropriate. But then, based on what people have said, they’d also have to let Guy Fieri go.
I’d rather Ms. Deen’s sponsors stick with her and use her as an example of how people can change from their environment. But then, I believe in redemption.
Thanks for that, Lee.