Butter lovers everywhere were stunned Wednesday when a transcript leaked of Paula Deen admitting to using the n-word. An all-you-can-eat buffet of outrage followed, so naturally a statement of apology was released on her behalf. And it’s pretty baffling, y’all.
Basically, the statement, issued by Paula Deen Enterprises, says it’s OK that Deen uses that word because she’s old and from the South.
Here’s the statement, which was issued to TMZ:
"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…
…[Paula] 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. "
A quick recap: Deen was deposed in connection with a sexual harassment lawsuit that was filed against her and her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers, by a former employee who claims, among other things, that her employers used language in her presence that could be deemed racist. In her testimony, the 133-page transcript of which was released Wednesday (read our summary of the highlights here), Deen admitted to using the n-word in the past. (She also defends an outlandish-sounding desire to stage a wedding “Southern plantation style” with black waiters acting as slaves.)
Asked if she used the controversial word, she said “yes, of course.” She says she hasn’t used it in a “very long time,” but recalls a specific incident that she said it, after she was held up at a gunpoint by a black man while working at a bank. She said she used the word while recounting the traumatic incident to her husband.
The incident she was referring to was in 1986.
In her apology statement, Deen—or at least the PR people speaking on her behalf—justified her use of the n-word by saying she used it a long, long time ago, a time when, apparently, using it was not quite so frowned upon. In her deposition, however, Deen admits to using it in 1986, a time when, definitely, using it was frowned upon. Immensely frowned upon, even. And when asked in her deposition if she’s used the word since that incident, Deen said, “I’m sure I have.” We can confirm that, since 1986, it’s been considered bad to use the n-word.
James Poniewozik at Time has the best take on why Deen, a very famous and very rich celebrity chef whose bread and butter (lots of butter, y’all) is tied to her Southern-ness, using the word is a story worth getting angry about.
“Deen made a pile of money off a certain idea of old-school Southern culture,” he writes. “In return, she had an obligation to that culture–an obligation not to embody its worst, most shameful history and attitudes. Instead, in one swoop, fairly or not, she single-handedly affirmed people’s worst suspicions of people who talk and eat like her–along with glibly insulting minorities, she slurred many of the very fans who made her successful. She made it that much harder to say that Confederate Bean Soup is just a recipe.”
It’s understandable that Deen’s camp would want to remedy the situation by issuing an apology. If only the apology they issued didn’t leave such a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.