Paula Deen: A recipe for redemption
It’s been a tough week for Paula Deen. After the contents of a sexual harassment legal complaint and her 196-page deposition were made public, she faced intense fallout for using the “n-word” and describing her desire to give her brother a “Southern plantation wedding” complete with black men in white tuxedos.
Seeking damage control she quickly made two weird apology videos which were a bust. Then she appeared on the Today show where she invoked the Popeye Defense, “I is what I is and I’m not changing.”
Paula Deen’s portrayal of herself as a victim didn’t play well. The Food Network quickly announced it was not renewing her contract and immediately pulled her shows. She then lost a number of corporate sponsors: Smithfield Foods, Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Caesar Entertainment, Whit-Ash Furnishings, and Novo Nordisk.
Ballantine Books announced it was canceling her latest cookbook. This was a surprise because the publisher was taking advance orders for October and it was selling very well on Amazon.com. QVC has said it is “taking a pause” from Paula for now.
A video from 2012 then surfaced adding more fuel to the fire. In an interview with the NY Times, Paula discussed how her great grandfather committed suicide after the Civil War in part because he lost all his slaves.
She then professed her love for her bodyguard and pilot, Hollis Johnson, who she called “black as this board.”
She asked Hollis to come on stage, saying, “Come on out we can’t see you standing against that dark board.” An uncomfortable, embarrassing moment to everyone but Paula who cackled with delight.
So can Paula Deen be redeemed? Yes, of course. Here is my recipe for her redemption and it’s very simple.
Paula, spend some time with Janus Adams and Michael W. Twitty, two noteworthy African Americans who have a lot to offer you.
Then go meet them and talk with them. You will learn more about racism from these two introspective, sensible people, than from anything anyone else could teach you.
So far Paula, you appear to be headed down the “PR damage control route.” I urge you to STOP now.
You’ve hired PR expert Judy Smith, whose clients include Monica Lewinsky, Michael Vick, and Kobe Bryant, to fix things for you. This is just lazy and empty. What will you do? Make some very visible charitable donations and offer a more staged, yet seemingly spontaneous mea culpa?
If you want redemption you need to work at it, not just toss some money at the problem and hope it goes away.
In “An Open Letter to Paula Deen,” Janus Adams, an Emmy winning journalist, historian, and producer explains how your great grandfather’s pain when he lost his slaves doesn’t compare to the pain the slaves experienced. “You are suffering because you refuse to understand that lives have been lost to the ‘I is what I is’ mentality in which you take such pride,” she writes.
She also explains why calling Hollis Johnson, “black as that board,” was personally insulting to her.
Do you know what it means to me, a dark-skinned person, to watch a man who looks like me publically humiliated for his skin tone?
His family had to see that. What were you thinking? Should you tolerate being “white as puss?” If you won’t, should I sneer at you for being politically correct?
Your laugh-line was the work denied me for being “dark enough to offend.” “Were you 5′ 9″ and blonde, I would’ve hired you in a minute,” said one network news executive.
Your employee’s humiliation was my first day of college. A white dorm mother had me stand for inspection — as if on an auction block — to give my assigned white roommate’s parents the option of having me removed from “their daughter’s room.” My family paid the same tuition with no such option.
It would be great to sit down with Ms. Adams over a glass of sweet tea and have a meaningful heart-to-heart talk. I bet you can reach common ground and understanding.
Michael W. Twitty, a food writer and culinary historian would like you to help him cook at a fundraiser dinner on Sept. 7, for Historic Stagville, a historic antebellum North Carolina plantation. The fundraiser is to preserve the plantation which once had 900 enslaved African Americans working the land, growing tobacco, corn, wheat, and cotton.
He issues you a heartfelt invitation: “I want you to walk the grounds with me, go into the cabins, and most of all I want you to help me cook. Everything is being prepared using locally sourced food, half of which we hope will come from North Carolina’s African American farmers who so desperately need our support. Everything will be cooked according to 19th century methods. So September 7, 2013, if you’re brave enough, let’s bake bread and break bread together at Historic Stagville. This isn’t publicity this is opportunity. Leave the cameras at home. Don’t worry, it’s cool, nobody will harm you if you’re willing to walk to the Mourner’s Bench. Better yet, I’ll be there right with you.”
Please go to that dinner Paula. It sounds like a worthwhile event with great food to boot.
In addition to raising her own self-awareness, Paula Deen has the special opportunity to bring people across our country together by dealing head on with the issue of deep-seated racism. This could be a valuable lesson for all of us. Your move Ms. Deen.