I’ve never paid much attention to Paula Deen, but there’s something strange and very ugly about the attack on her and the rapid withdrawal of her business investors. She seems like a scapegoat, someone who’s being sacrificed to indicate the public’s bold intolerance for racism. But, the attack on her is not so bold as it is mean, and way out of proportion. One news panel discussing celebrities who “came back” from a fall in public opinion put her in the company of Mel Gibson and Michael Vick. Whoa! The slant of “came back” allowed the comparison but that was tainting (if not condemning) her by rhetorical association. Gibson’s anti semitic slurs have been in the news for years; Vick pleaded guilty to financing a dogfighting ring, a felony. The main charge against Deen is that she uttered a racial epithet 30 years ago; two other possible slurs have surfaced, yet the interpretation of them has been mixed–slur or not?
Deen’s current actions and comments about the charge may be condemning her more than any former action. Her apology on the Today show was an embarrassment. The apology was too abject for the offense, if the offense was as she described it. The apology suggested Deen plays to the situation, and is not insightful enough to recognize subtle indications of racism–or of dignity or of character. She has certainly made mistakes, as we all have. But if she used that ugly word just once and owned up to it, and is sorry, and isn’t racist in her business and personal life, then she’s being too harshly treated. In that case, bravo to all those supporters who are purchasing Deen’s cookbook even though the publication has been cancelled.
I suspect something else has prompted the abandonment by Deen’s investors, and it will surface eventually. If not, then it appears that a very successful woman who uttered a terrible racial slur years and years ago deserves to lose her standing in our business community for that word. Sad, at best. (This is a repost of a post to rmkinder.com, July 2, 2013).