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Paula Deen: Child Of Dixie, Meet The Internet Age

Will Paula Deen's admission of using a racial slur crumble her empire?
Courtesy of Food Network
Will Paula Deen's admission of using a racial slur crumble her empire?

Paula Deen may be famous for her deep-fried Southern cooking, but the Internet isn't buying her defense that she used a racial slur because of her deep Dixie roots.

News that Food Network star Deen admitted to using the N-word has set the Internet on fire, inspiring the Twitter hashtag #PaulasBestDishes. (Eater has rounded up some of the best and worst of the breed.) Among the sample fare:

  • "cobblers filled with "Strange" Fruit" (a reference to a racially loaded Billie Holiday song)
  • "Brie at last. Brie at last!"
  • "Paula Deen can teach you how to properly segregate the eggs whites from the colored yolk."
  • "We Shall Over-Crumb Cake"

Deen's admission that she used the epithet came during a deposition in a sexual and racial harassment lawsuit filed against her and her brother by a former employee. Trying to contain the controversy, Paula Deen Enterprises issued a statement Thursday that suggested Deen's use of the N-word occurred long ago -- after all, she was born in Georgia in 1947, at a time when segregation was still the law of the land in the South. The company statement read in part:


"During a deposition where she swore to tell the truth, Ms. Deen recounted having used a racial epithet in the past, speaking largely about a time in American history which was quite different than today," the statement reads. "[Paula] was born 60 years ago when America's South had schools that were segregated, different bathrooms, different restaurants and Americans rode in different parts of the bus. This is not today."

For those of you just catching up with this story, when Deen was asked by an attorney whether she had used the N-word, she responded, according to the transcript, "Yes, of course. ... But that's just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the '60s in the South."

Her attorney Bill Franklin added in a statement that, contrary to media reports, Deen does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable.

What the statements of Deen's representatives don't address, however, is the racial tone-deafness that Deen is alleged to have displayed in more recent years.

According to the lawsuit, for her brother's wedding in 2007, Deen allegedly wanted a "true Southern plantation-style wedding" -- including hiring middle-aged black men to serve as waiters in white jackets and black bow ties. As NPR's Kathy Lohr reports on All Things Considered, during her deposition, Deen said she admired the waiters' professionalism. But Deen denied a former employee's allegations that she used the N-word to describe these black waiters. That allegation probably inspired this #PaulasBestDishes tweet: "Old-timey black tuxedo cake, served by non-uppity black servants."


But is all this Paula punning and panning likely to crumble her buttery empire -- which includes not just TV shows but also cookbooks, a magazine and several restaurants?

"I think anyone in good conscience will have to pause in thinking about supporting her company in light of this," says Tyrone Forman, a sociology professor at Emory University.

"She sells food and catering but also image," Forman told Lohr.

A spokeswoman for Food Network told NPR that the network will not tolerate any form of discrimination and is monitoring the situation.

Ultimately, Deen's fate may lie in the hands of fans, many of whom profess an emotional connection with the celebrity chef. As food anthropologist Christine DuBois told The Salt back in 2011, for some fans, Deen "becomes that wonderful neighbor or that grandma who's missing in our lives." But if Grandma says something racially insensitive, do you stop inviting her over for dinner?

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