They don’t care that the celebrity cook is in hot water because she and her family are accused of spewing racially-charged language. In a court deposition leaked to the media, Deen admitted to using one racial slur “a very long time ago.” (Her 152-page deposition is now on the “Savannah News” website.)
Deen and her family are under fire in a federal lawsuit filed by a former white female worker, who spent years in Deen’s inner circle. The lawsuit says that Deen’s brother, Earl W. Hiers, exposed workers at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, which is owned by Deen, to racial slurs and inappropriate jokes about women, Jews and blacks.
Lisa T. Jackson, who filed the lawsuit, only wants revenge, say Deen and her brother. Before filing suit, she asked them for $1.2 million and threatened to go public.
The leak from Deen’s deposition has already cost her millions. Her Food Channel shows were cancelled along with numerous endorsement deals including one with Smithfield Foods.
But for many women, Deen is an iconic steel magnolia.
She pulled herself up by the bootstraps after a failed marriage in the late 1980s left her with only $200 to support her two sons. Like many single women in the poor South, she was uneducated and depended on a man to make her living. To make ends meet, she lived with her brother while she tried a variety of jobs including hanging wallpaper, working as a bank teller and selling real estate and insurance. But cooking was her salvation and cash cow, transforming her into a multi-millionaire.
Her admission to saying the “N” word years ago to police to describe the robber of the bank where she worked isn’t going to stop her fans from liking her.
“Why ever would you like that woman?” people ask Deen supporters. I can tell you why. Because, like it or not, a lot of white people in the South still use the “N” word in the 21st century even if it isn’t politically correct. And they think it’s not a big deal.
Truthfully, I can’t tell you how many times I heard the word from white Southerners while covering the 2008 presidential race between President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. And, I can’t count the times I’ve heard it since Barack Obama was re-elected. Let’s just say a lot. It’s an ugly word but, sadly, it’s still part of our culture.
Deen supporters have launched various Facebook groups, but the “We Support Paula Deen” page now has more than 400,000 supporters. The group’s administrators cite their support for the Savannah, Ga., celebrity because of “her rags to riches success, the jobs she has created in the Coastal Empire, and her work with charities. Paula goes all over the country for Second Harvest. In 2013, she created The Bag Lady Foundation to support women in need.”
John Schmitt of Indiana created the Facebook page. He told me, “I just felt that what was happening to her was wrong, and my Facebook page was a chance to say. This is wrong and I support her.”
He isn’t alone.
Stephanie Colby Dodge wrote on the page, “I cancelled all of my auto deliveries I had with Smithfield this morning, and called QVC and made it clear if they drop Paula then I am dropping my account with them (I spend an average of $300-$800 a month w/QVC). I support you Paula and keep the faith and keep your head held high and know you have more supporters then haters.”
QVC said statement it is evaluating its contract with Deen.
Joyce Dixon, one of page’s administrators who lives in Georgia, shared the Facebook demographics of the supporters with The Broad Side. Seventy percent of them are female while nearly 30 percent are male. The age group most supported of Deen are surprisingly 25- to 34-year-olds at 27 percent. But 23 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds have clicked to support the cooking diva, and 21 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are cheering on Deen.
Even author Anne Rice, a New Orleans native, has also come out swinging hard for Deen, writing on her website: “It takes really hard work and vitally important work to confront racism in ourselves and in the institutions we support and to seek to change our culture so that all enjoy equal rights and equal opportunity. That must remain our focus. It is all too easy to ‘hate’ on a witch and join in the ‘fun; of a public execution, and to feel smug and superior and righteous for doing it. And that is what we are seeing now with Paula Deen. Pure ugliness. This is the very opposite of respect for the dignity of all persons.”
Rice is right with her cautionary post. Deen may have made a mistake and she is likely to lose more contracts and money, but her detractors should beware. Southerners have a way of coming out of the fire like a phoenix. Just ask Bill Clinton.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.