Paula Deen Scandal: Critics Slam Chef’s Defense Of Southern Upbringing For Racist Remarks

 @jiillx on June 21 2013 12:00 PM

UPDATE: Deen announced in a Twitter post around noon that she would be making a video announcement.

Embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen continues to face heat from critics after she defended racial slurs she made to a former employee in a statement released Thursday, describing them as a result of her Southern upbringing. Deen, who in a court deposition admitted to using a racial epithet in 1986 in front of a general manager at a restaurant she co-owned, said in a statement released by her company that her comments reflected the time and culture she was raised in and that she does not condone racism.

In a statement issued to TMZ, Deen’s PR team wrote, "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. She 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."

“To be clear, Ms. Deen does not find acceptable the use of this term under any circumstance by anyone nor condone any form of racism or discrimination,” the statement concluded.

But Deen’s would-be apology appears to have backfired. Time magazine writer James Poniewozik wrote that the cooking personality’s nonchalant attitude about her remarks “insulted the present-day South and the decent people in it,” as well as “the home-and-hospitality culture she purports to stand up for.”  The Daily Beast concurred that Deen's apology had left “a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”

Salon weighed in as well. “Where to begin with what’s wrong with this?” asked Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams. “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.”

“And then for the kicker, to come up with, in the face of very serious evidence of an incredibly callous attitude and dehumanizing behavior, the mealymouthed statement that you don’t “condone racism”? Are you kidding me?” Williams wrote.

Deen’s most recent remarks came to light earlier this week when remarks she made during a deposition were leaked. Deen and her brother Bubba Hiers, who co-own Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House in Savannah, Ga., are being sued by Lisa Jackson, a former employee who claims that she faced racism and sexual harassment decades ago when she was a general manager.

In her deposition testimony, published by the Huffington Post, Deen, 66, admitted to having occasionally used the N-word during her lifetime but denied that she would have ever said it in the presence of her employee. She did, however, admit to telling racist and anti-Semitic jokes and to telling her employees that she wanted to throw her brother a “fabulous” Southern plantation-style wedding and black employees could dress as slaves.

When Deen was asked to explain the impetus for the plantation-style wedding idea, she said she got the idea from a restaurant she went to in the South that only employed oly lack waiters. “The whole entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie,” Deen remembered.

When an attorney asked Deen what exactly about a “plantation” experience appealed to her, Deen answered, “Well, it –-- to me, of course I’m old, but I ain’t that old, I didn’t live back in those days, but I’ve seen the pictures, and the pictures that I’ve seen, that restaurant represented a certain era in America.”

“What era in America are you referring to?” the attorney asked Deen. “Well, I don’t know. After the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War,” she answered.

When the attorney confirmed that Deen was referring to slaves, she added, “But I did not mean anything derogatory by saying that I loved their look and their professionalism.”

Despite her apology, Deen’s remarks have escalated into a PR disaster for the polarizing Southern chef. On Wednesday, Twitter users responded to the initial media reports by riffing racist dish names under the hashtag #PaulasBestDishes. On Friday, Deen failed to show up at an exclusive “Today” show appearance she had reportedly agreed to the day before.

The Food Network has not stopped airing episodes of Deen’s cooking programs, but released a statement saying that they were monitoring the situation.

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