The @Paula_Deen backlash: When is enough enough?

Here’s the latest count on business affiliates who have now broken ties with Southern cookstress Paula Deen over her admission to using racial slurs in the past:

The most recent one above, Ballantine Books, announced their decision Friday not to publish Deen’s upcoming book (via Memeorandum):

Paula Deen’s upcoming cookbook, currently the No. 1 seller on, has been dropped by its publisher.

In a brief statement Friday, Ballantine Books announced it had canceled publication of “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up.” The book was scheduled for release in October, and in recent days pre-orders have raised it to No. 1 on the online bookseller’s sales ranks. Her 2011 cookbook, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” has risen to the second spot.

Deen has lost many of her business relationships following revelations that she used racial slurs in the past.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that I haven’t done much digging on this issue but from what I do know, Deen admitted in a deposition as the result of a lawsuit that she used the “n” word one time back in the early 80s when she was the victim of a crime and back in 2007 she allegedly made a “joke” about how having black people dress up as slaves at a plantation wedding would truly make it a plantation wedding. Beyond that, I’m not sure if anyone even knows the extent of what Ms. Deen feels about black people outside of those who she knows and has either been friends with or worked with throughout her career.

Quite frankly, is it worth digging into to find out the answer to that? My thought on that is “no.” And I say that as someone who takes second to no one in condemning genuine racism when she sees or hears it happening. Why “no”, you ask? Because, to whatever extent she has said hurtful things in the past, Deen has profusely apologized for it and is being punished in a big way – even though her most devoted fans are questioning whether or not the punishment fits the alleged “crime.” I put “crime” in quotation marks because we don’t know the context of her plantation joke. It’s NOT a “joke” I would have made, but living here in the South where the topic of racism is particularly sensitive, in working environments and in friendships there sometimes develops this “understanding” about where you can go on the topic of race.

I’ve had black friends kid me about my obsessive love of fried chicken, asking me if I’m sure there are no black people in my family tree. Many years ago at a place I used to work at, some colleagues of mine were installing a door bell in the reception area, and a black co-worker was helping them select the tune it would play when it rang. One of them jokingly picked the General Lee song and instead of being offended, my black co-worker walked down the hall to and was literally laughing so hard he was tearing up, and laughed even harder when he saw my mortified face (I had been at my desk when they “tested” the doorbell and the tune rang out). I was sure he’d be offended, but as it turns out we had all worked together for so long that he thought nothing of it and knew it didn’t mean what it might have 40 years ago.

In some ways, it’s a way of “breaking the tension” – of “addressing the elephant in the room” ie, acknowledging that yes, we are different colors, but yes, it’s ok and we can get along. Yes, racism still exists in all parts of America, including the South, but most of us – black and white – just want be able to work and live together, break bread together, and move beyond the parts of our country’s distant past that so divided our nation.

Was Deen’s crack about plantation weddings a type of “joke” she and her black employees/colleagues typically engaged? We’ll never know, and at this point, it doesn’t matter considering the backlash faced over what we do know. Even Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are saying people need to back off and to allow Deen time to redeem herself. Of course, their purposes for doing so are largely self-centered, because they know they’ve made careers out of being “respected racists” (I address societal double standards on this issue here), but there is an element of truth in what they’re saying that shouldn’t be ignored.

In time, I suspect (and hope) that Deen will be able to bounce back. She has been the face of Southern cooking and style and mannerisms for decades, and is beloved by millions. But like Tiger Woods and other celebrities, she crafted an image for herself that may or may not be at odds with who she really is, and she will have to continue to answer for herself and work hard at earning back the respect and trust of disillusioned supporters. We’ve all said and done things we regret, but should we be judged and punished our entire lives for them? I say no, not if we realize the error of our ways and seek to correct our wrongs, while striving to be better people and staying on the right path. Because if America loses its ability to forgive people for their transgressions, we might as well cease to exist … because no one, not even the loudest of condemners, is perfect.

Paula Deen
Backlash: How much is too much?

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