Celebrity chef Paula Deen released a video statement Friday afternoon apologizing for racist remarks she made, and begging her fans and colleagues to forgive her. Deen, 66, earned outrage from critics for comments she made during a recent deposition in which she confessed to using the N-word and suggesting that black employees dress up as slaves for a plantation-themed wedding she was organizing for her brother.
“I wanna apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done,” Deen told viewers. “I want to learn and grow from this.”
When Deen’s company released a statement Thursday seemingly apologizing for her remarks but also blaming them on her Southern upbringing, critics uniformly lashed out at the chef. Time magazine writer James Poniewozik wrote that Deen’s nonchalant attitude “insulted the present-day South and the decent people in it,” as well as insulted “the home-and-hospitality culture she purports to stand up for.”
“Where to begin with what’s wrong with this?” Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams asked. “No doubt she has been exposed to a very romantic view of that ‘certain era’ in history -- you know, the one where you could still buy and sell human beings. But should a person be truly interested in making amends… she shouldn’t be sloughing off her accountability by blaming her times or her geography.”
After two days of public outcry including an explosive Twitter trend devoted to riffing racist meal ideas (hashtag: #PaulasBestDishes), Deen released a second apology, this time asking only for the public’s forgiveness.
“Inappropriate hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable,” the chef said. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners, I beg for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for the mistakes that I have made.”
Part of the leaked deposition testimony, which was published by the Huffington Post, included Deen’s explanation of why the idea of a “plantation” wedding appealed to her. Deen told lawyers she had gotten the idea from a restaurant that had featured an exclusively black wait staff wearing “beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie.”
“The restaurant represented a certain era in America,” Deen said. When a lawyer pressed her on what era that was, she answered, “Well, I don’t know. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War.” She also replied affirmatively to a lawyer’s follow-up question that the waiters had reminded her of slaves.
Although Deen’s YouTube video was made private, BuzzFeed published it on its website. The video statement came less than 24 hours after Deen failed to show up at a scheduled appearance on the “Today” show, prompting host Matt Lauer to tell viewers that Deen had pulled out at the last minute.
The Food Network, which has continued to air “Paula’s Best Dishes” along with older shows featuring the Southern cook, released a statement saying that they were monitoring the situation and did not tolerate any form of discrimination.