Paula Deen is back in the news. Yes, that Paula Deen. And she’s trying to make a comeback in a big way.
As you might remember, Deen, 67, the celebrity chef and Food Network star from Savannah, found herself in a heap of trouble last year when she admitted in a deposition that she had used the n word, and wanted to use black waiters dressed up as slaves for a wedding party she was planning. As a result of these revelations, Deen lost her Food Network spot and a number of sponsors.
In other words, she had built a multi-million-dollar empire and it all came crashing down on her.
But now, her new company, Paula Deen Ventures, has received a $75-100 million investment from Najafi Companies, a private investment firm. And she is opening a new Southern cooking restaurant in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It looks like the once reigning “Miss Butter Queen” is moving on up, or at least is in the process of moving back up, as it were.
So, what should we make of that?
Someone once told me that when you have hit hard times—perhaps the toughest experience of your life — and you are able to stare those demons in the face and win, you’ve found your calling. You’ve found your destiny.
Paula Deen has found herself in the rare position of losing it all due to a racial slur and an offensive joke, then potentially bouncing back from it and moving on. She apologized for what she had said, but did she really mean it? I haven’t the faintest idea, as I cannot read her thoughts. I do know that there is a free market, and the market decided, or at least the Food network decided at the time, there would be a price to pay for making racially offensive statements. After all, no one has a right to a cooking show or a food empire, and the n-word is bad for business.
“Things have changed since the ’60s in the South,” Deen said. “And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior.” Paula Deen is right to some extent when she says the South has changed. The South is home to the fastest growing Latino population in America, and a reverse migration of African-Americans that has led to thriving communities in cities such as Atlanta.
At the same time, the South is home to voter ID laws, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and “stand your ground” in states such as Florida, and a resurgence in Southern “pride” in Georgia and elsewhere that invokes 150-year-old wars and memories of enslavement. This represents a nightmare for people of color and white folks alike who have fought for change since the civil rights movement, and are arguably far more harmful than the offensive remarks made by a celebrity chef.
Times have changed, to be sure, but clearly not enough. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, people are fighting for civil rights. Just look at the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina, a majority white, multiracial, multi-issue social justice movement led by a black preacher that is becoming a model for activism throughout the South. But then again, with majority-white NAACP chapters springing up in Appalachia, maybe things are changing.
If there’s hope for the South, perhaps there is hope for Paula Deen? I don’t know, perhaps it doesn’t even matter, but we shall see. I suppose everyone is capable of redemption, and Paula Deen has a new chance to come up with some new recipes, hopefully learning from the past and not offending anyone this time around.