Paula Deen and the N-Word: Mixed Reaction From Corporations, Citizens

Is Deen’s poorly executed apology enough to excuse her use of offensive language?

By Manuel McDonnell Smith

Paula Deen and the N-Word: Mixed Reaction From Corporations, CitizensSome chefs are fond of the maxim “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.” After her confirmed use of racial slurs and mockery, one network has taken the motto to heart and shown celebrity chef Paula Deen the kitchen door. But will Deen’s other corporate backers, and the public, also shun the chef’s nasty casserole of hate? The response so far has been mixed.

Last week, Food Network moved quickly to announce that it would “not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month,” after she acknowledged using the N-word and considering hiring an all-Black wait staff for her brother’s 2007 wedding. The shocking revelations came from testimony Deen delivered under oath in a lawsuit in which a female former employee alleges rampant gender and sexual harassment while employed at Deen’s Georgia restaurant.

The celebrity chef had a high-profile opportunity to explain her use of the offensive language on NBC’s Today show last Friday, but she decided to duck the appearance—causing visible frustration from hosts Matt Lauer and Al Roker, who said on air, “We consider her a friend … but she really needs to address this.” Shortly after, Deen posted two apologies on YouTube. “I want to apologize to everybody, uh, for the wrong that I’ve done,” Deen utters in one of the videos. “Uh, I want to learn and grow from this.”

While some applauded the network’s quick response to Deen’s offensive behavior, the response from some of her fans and corporate sponsors has been noticeably meeker. Over the weekend, long lines were reported outside of her restaurants, filled with fans ready to forgive her actions. One Black woman, Nicole T. Green, who was first in line to enter one of the locations, told the New York Times, “I get it, believe me, but what’s hard for people to understand is that she didn’t mean it as racist. It sounds bad, but that’s not what’s in her heart. She’s just from another time.”

While the public has been vocal in both support and distaste for Deen after her comments, there’s been little to no comment from other companies involved in major endorsement deals with the cook, including Smithfield Foods, Novo Nordisk and Walmart, which carries an array of foods and household items featuring her name. In a statement, Novo Nordisk spokesperson Ken Inchausti seemed to indicate the company’s ongoing support for Deen, confirming that she is still a spokesperson for the company’s Victoza line of diabetes drugs.

As the debate over Deen’s comments continue to range online, and in offices, DiversityInc offers specific guidelines on What NOT to Say to African-American co-workers about race, either inside or outside of the office.

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  • Say what you will about Paula Dean but she has made a noticeable effort to have diversity on her cooking shows. She has had a number of Black guests and other people of color. She has had more diversity on her cooking show than any other cooking show I’ve seen, and she has been doing it for a while. That doesn’t excuse what she has said but it does show a different side of her.

    • Luke Visconti

      She regularly called a Black staff member “my little monkey.” Having “diversity” on her shows is like that old Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.” Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Phil Seeberg

        Nice reference to Twighlight Zone “To Serve Man”. I wonder how many got that beside me.

        • Luke Visconti

          Thank you. The potential for someone to understand my reference decreases with age. I thought the cookbook connection made it particularly funny. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

    • Lee, I utter the same thing. As a black women, I couldn’t even be mad at Paula Deen for something she’s done in her past. I believe she has proven time and time again her support for diversity and love for all races. People (esp. blacks) shouldn’t be so quick to judge, they do the same thing behind closed doors.

    • its not about who she had on her show, it’s what is reflected in her heart. Being so cavalier with her negative choice of words and alleged actions toward African Americans seems to reflect someone who looks upon them as being inferior.

    • Are you serious? Here behavior cannot be excused by having guests on one’s show that help to increase one’s personal success. The “different side of her” is based on her economic goals and not her personal values and beliefs. Hence, she hasn’t demonstrated a clear and consistent belief in what true diversity is meant provide. In case you don’t know what that his, read on Lee – tolerance, inclusion, respect, fairness, and representation to list a few. Being represented is one small aspect of diversity. I would argue that respect and tolerance are very important. Are you suggesting that her brand of “diversity” reflected these key aspects?

    • What people seem to be missing is that she may have told the truth about using the N word in the past, but she did not tell the truth about using it present day. If you want more information read the deposition and judge for yourself. The companies that she represented should have been a great reason for her to change her racists ways but she did not. She condoned her brothers actions and that makes her just as guilty.As a black woman, you get one chance with me in using that type of language….whether you are black or white.

    • if she had to make a “noticable effort”, then there’s something wrong with that…why does it take effort to embrace diversity?


      • I agree, I am not Africa-American, but I find her very offensive. I believe she fooling the world when she says she has changed. She seems to have a dark and ugly heart. I to will not buy her products. She needs to be shown that behavior will not be tolerated.

        • If embracing diversity is necessary for maintaining employment, why has members of Congress not been fired?

          • You can fire the congress members, don’t vote for them again. That is the power we have in the United States when it comes to congressional power (we use our power to vote).

  • I think ‘forgiveness’ is always the best way to go for someone making a ‘racist’ remark even unintentionally so. It really boils down to whom reacts or responds to such divisive speech, especially in times like these.

    If the remark was ‘anti-semitic’ in nature I wonder if her dismissal from the network would stick.

    It always seems to me whenever ANY racist remark is made it will automatically sum up terrible images to the person(s) who experienced those hostile and brutal attacks from the perpetrator(s).

    Ultimately these acts whether verbal or otherwise will hurt their pocket books when punished. Maybe this is just part of a ‘hard learning’ lesson for Paula Deen. Bottom line if other companies do not drop Paula Deen it would partly be due to loss of financial gain.

  • As an employer she should know better, you have to lead by example. Plain and simple there are no excuses.

  • From what I understand the “n-word” utterance was in reference to a man who stuck a gun in her face during a hold up rather than some regular “off the cuff” commentary.

      • Luke, the biggest disappointment is you acting like you’re not racist, and you are one of the biggest racist out there. You should practice what you preach. You can never say a nice word about caucasians. Do you realize that’s being racist too? You are so bigoted that how you can put down one person when you are the same way. You are not diverse at all. You stir up trouble. I absolutely hate what Paula said.. in any way, shape or form. People need to quit all this racial stuff, and especially someone like you who is always trying to stir up racial tension. Why people listen to you is beyond me.

        • Luke Visconti

          Some of my best friends are white. And racial tension doesn’t need me—it needs people like you.

          BTW, we capture IP addresses of people who send in comments—you can put your Yahoo email address in the form, but I know where you’re sending your angry little diatribe from. How are things at your company? Did you know that I buy your product for my employees (and myself)? Now go away and don’t come back. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I applause the Food Network and say “shame on you” to the other corporate supporters who have not taken the same action. As for the patrons at her restaurant, it is evident by her comments and actions that owning an establishment or being on a television show does not allow access to the someone’s true beliefs. Both entities are profit making ventures, and “creating a sense of diverse” was advantageous for Ms. Dean. It was her actions in her personal life that revealed her true feelings. With that said, I would be remiss if I did not add that absent discussions regarding white supremacy and Black internalized inferiority make it easy for Ms. Dean and her patrons to be confused about the nature of her actions and the repercussions.

  • It is so hypocritical of all to deem this lady a racist. Many of business persons and the like call African Americans names out of the presence of African Americans and African Americans do the same to Whites. The remedy is to rid ourselves of prejudice throughout the country. It starts with each one of us, not just Mrs. Deen.

    • She is high profile, thats why it is worse that she says it. She is teaching hate.

  • Who here is willing to be fired, or ridiculed, or demonized for something that happened 6 YEARS ago? I think this is a knee-jerk, offensive reaction by a society that has become ENTIRELY too sensitive. For goodness sake. This is absolutely ridiculous.

    • Luke Visconti

      Had the explanation in the deposition and the apology been reflective and sensitive, she could have survived this. Both were ham-handed. I’m writing a column about this teachable moment. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • What is the scripture? Out of the mouth the heart speaks?

    She may be sorry, but only because she got caught. She meant what she said. It’s not like it was the first time. I agree with D. She uses diversity because in her business it is advantageous to do so, not because she thinks diversity is necessary to make the world a better place. Unfortunately for her, she did get caught and now she has to pay the piper.

    I am all in for forgiveness. I’m sorry is an easy thing to say and not so easy to prove. Time will tell. I’m not mad at her. That is how she was raised. This feeling toward African-Amereicans it is her. But I will not willingly support anyone who has those feelings toward any race of people in them. And so, while I’m sure she could care less about my forgiveness, she will most assuredly miss my support.

  • I was not moved by her “sincere apology ” . I have spent time in Atlanta and other Southern States- The “N” word is used in so many isolated conversations among non minority peeps. I don’t seem Latino to so many and have witness these slurs in more ways than one.. Makes me sick to my stomach .. My reccomendations to Paula Dean is serious diversity training like so many living in the South and abroad. She is talented and Im sure is a good person – so not judging her ..

  • I am not surprised and I do not understand how any of you all are either. After all, this is a person who thought it was okay to steal the cooking style that Black women have created in the south during the past 400 plus years and sell it as her own. Never once has she ever given credit to the originators of that style of cooking. As far as diversity – really? Southern whites hiring Black people is not a progressive thing – it’s an old thing. God bless her is all I can say.

  • I am very pleased that there is actual ‘testimony’. Thanks, Luke for the link. I am surprised by Paula Deen’s behavior, actually. However, negative energy comes from negative words, and as leaders and people with a public view, they are to be held to a higher standard of accountability–not less.

    So away with her public sponsored/supported wealth. Of course, she may rebuild. It is good for people to learn from behavior. Her speech was not a ‘mistake.’ Even those people who share support recognize it is really how she felt in the situation.

    I am not certain what would come out of my mouth in a like scenario, but I know that bad behavior is not the right response. And I would expect to be held accountable.

  • Well, to put it another way, I’ve been watching cooking shows for years. They are dominated by whites. Now, maybe they are not racist except for Paula but very few of them ever have guests of Color. Paula is the only one who has done it regularly. Now, maybe it was just PR, just a front, but, still, it was nice to see her so warmly (even if it was fake) embrace and cook with those who don’t look like her. That doesn’t excuse her racism but it would be nice to see other cooking shows make more of an effort to show diversity.

  • The fact that she has black guests on her show is irrelevant. The producers of the show determine who’s going to be on. Using that to support her is like the old “but some of my best friends are black” routine.

    Is this statement not the very defintion of ignorance????

    Deen says jokes often target minority groups and “I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”


    Is the thought that she wanted only black servers at her brother’s wedding not the very definition of ignorance???
    She wanted to harken back to the old days when everything was as it should be in her mind.

    Look, she is who she is. She can cover up her ignorance with all the butter biscuits and “Y’all’s” she wants. She is an ignorant woman and she has been served her just “desserts”.

    • You don’t understand what I’ve written but I won’t say you’re displaying ignorance.

      • I fully understand what you’ve written, I just don’t agree with it, which is a far cry from

        “I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”

        If Deen can’t understand referring to a black person with the “n” word or as a “little monkey” is offensive then she is ignorant.

        If she knowingly used the language to offend then she is a bigot. I don’t if she is or not, but she is ignorant.

        Defintion of Ignorant: Lack of knowledge, information or education.

        • What do you not agree with what I wrote? I wrote she has shown more diversity on her show than other cooking shows but that does not excuse her racism and it would be nice if other cooking shows had more diversity.

          • Lee,
            Unless you can back up your claim with data then this is nothing more than your opinion. Again, whether she has had Black guests on her show is irrelevant to the depth and breadth of her ignorance.

            If I read “Y’all” two statements correctly, “Y’all” basically limited the comparison of diverse guests to
            “Black guests and other people of color”.
            I watch cooking shows as well and see people of all different races, backgrounds and experiences,cooking styles and techniques. Some are of slight build some are heavier. Some are young and some are old. Male, female. Heck, Anthony Bourdain’s show alone shoots down whatever point you were trying to make.

  • Words matter. Whether anyone hears them or not, we will eat the fruit of our words.

  • It’s unfortunate that we continue to re-visit this issue whether by way of a so-called high profile individual or not. Interestingly, she uses the past to explain this away but continued with displaying a lack of sensitivity while very much living in the present or indicating being a catalyst for change in the future….perhaps a diverse wait staff at Bubba’s Birthday Party….geez, 2007, really?!!! Change happens by demonstrating you’ve changed.

  • Paula does not deserve a pass.
    ESPECIALLY since she is a public figure.
    There are wonderful, kind people in all groups, and there are your jerks.
    I have worked many places, traveled the world and have interacted with every race imaginable.
    There are things that I find in each group that I adore. However, I have noticed that each race has their idiosyncrasies that irritate me to no end. I have learned to not focus on the negative and concentrate on what I like about the group. I do not lump each race together and spew hatred toward the entire group.
    Paula does not deserve a pass. On a side note, she has also fallen out of favor with corporations and the public because of the diabetes fiasco.

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