Celebrity chef Paul Deen's admission last week that she had used racial epithets "a very long time ago" has turned into a nightmare public relations disaster for the 66-year-old.
Following a bungled public apology, Deen received word that the Food Network would not be renewing her contract — a network where her Southern cooking had been a fixture for more than a decade. On Monday, citing its condemnation of "the use of offensive and discriminatory language and behavior of any kind," Smithfield Foods also announced that it was dropping Deen.
"Paula Deen will survive but she will never be whole again," Howard Bragman, vice chairman of Reputation.com, told USAToday.
Maybe, maybe not. In the wake of all this bad news, many notable figures have come forward to urge focus and not blow past comments out of proportion.
“A lot of us have in the past said things we have regretted saying years ago,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters. “I think she has a lawsuit now about activities now whether it was discriminatory. And whether or not she’s engaged in things now. It’s not about her past. … She deserves what’s fair, but that’s based on what she’s engaged in now.”
Last Friday, comedian Bill Maher also chimed in saying: “If you’re 66 years old, and you were raised in Georgia, and you were a child before the civil rights movement, do you get a bit of a pass?” he asked, adding, “I also think that people shouldn’t have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad. … It’s just a word; it’s a wrong word, she’s wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?”
Despite the controversy, fans of Deen have rushed to show their support, with one Facebook group called "We Support Paula Deen" garnering more than 384,000 followers since last Saturday. Business at Deen's Lady and Son's restaurant in Savannah has also remained steady, with the NY Times quoting an African-American who showed up to support the chef.
“I get it, believe me,” Nicole Green said. “But what’s hard for people to understand is that she didn’t mean it as racist. It sounds bad, but that’s not what’s in her heart. She’s just from another time.”
Such an outpouring of support is one reason why officials for the new Paula Deen museum are still ploughing ahead with plans to open by the end of the year. The site, meant to showcase the chef's life, love of community, and, of course, cooking, will encompass part of the childhood home where Deen grew up in Albany, Ga.
"It just takes my breath away that folks back in Albany would consider doing something like this," Deen told the Albany Herald back in May. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around this incredible honor. I would want something like this to be a symbol of hope for people looking to make their lives better."
Businesswoman/restaurateur B.J. Fletcher, who is leading the museum effort, said Saturday that the project is bigger than just one person.
"Our plan to bring a Paula Deen museum here was not just about Paula; it was also about Albany. It was an opportunity to bring people who’d never been here to our community and show them what all we had. What Paula said was wrong, but it’s nothing different than what pretty much every other person in this country has said at one time or another."
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