By now, millions of people have heard about the so-called “down-to-earth” white Southern chef, Paula Deen, who was cited in a recent lawsuit for using the racist N-word against Black people who worked in her restaurants.
The lawsuit was filed last November in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia by Lisa T. Jackson, a white woman who worked for Deen in a management position from 2005 until 2010. Jackson characterized her experience of working with Deen and her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers, in two Savannah, Ga., restaurants as one rife with “violent, sexist and racist behavior.” (tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com, June 19)
Jackson’s lawsuit stated that in one of the restaurants, Black workers were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from white workers. When Jackson asked Deen’s opinion on what workers should wear to Hiers’ nuptials in 2007, Deen responded, “Well, what I would really like is a bunch of little n——ers to wear long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties, you know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around. Now that would be a true Southern wedding, wouldn’t it? But we can’t do that because the media would be on me about that.”
Jackson also accused Hiers of forcing her to watch pornography with him, making inappropriate sexual comments and physically assaulting Black workers.
According to Robert Patillo, an attorney for the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, both current and former Black employees said that Deen “preferred white and light-skinned blacks to work with customers” and that “darker-skinned blacks were relegated to ‘back-of-the-house operations.’” (BlackVoices, Huffington Post, June 29)
Subsequently, a number of Black chefs have accused Deen of getting superrich from Southern-based cooking. They have spoken out against the general racism and sexism they have faced within the U.S. cuisine industry. They ask a justified question about why Deen has been exalted as the most recognizable face of Southern cooking instead of them.
In a June 26 New York Times article, “A culinary birthright in dispute,” Therese Nelson, a Black New York chef and caterer, is quoted as saying of Deen: “She did not invent the hush puppy. By being Southern, of course, she has a right to represent. But there comes a point where reverence or respect for the heritage has to show. There is a glass ceiling for black chefs, an assumption that you will not get to own your own restaurant. As a black woman and a pastry chef, it’s clear to everyone I’m not threatening and also that I’m never going to be the executive chef.”
The same article reported that a Twitter message told Deen: “You got rich off the recipes of the slave women your grandfather owned.” Deen has publicly stated, ad nauseam, that her great-grandfather was so depressed he committed suicide after losing his 30 slaves. They had won their emancipation.
As a result of this lawsuit, corporations that helped create Deen’s $60 million empire — such as Smithfield Hams, Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Caesar’s Entertainment — have dropped their endorsements of her like a hot potato, now that she has been exposed. The Food Network will not renew her contract.
No one should believe for one second that any of these corporations, which are guilty of anti-union, low-wage practices and dissing Black chefs, were ignorant of Deen’s overt racist views. Deen is a modern-day Scarlett O’Hara right out of the pro-slavery book and movie, “Gone with the Wind.”
Corporate America still promotes and makes profits from racist views here and worldwide.