Paula Deen is a popular chef and TV personality. She made sporadic appearances on different Food Network shows before getting a pilot in 2001. Her show aired in 2002 with the title, Paula’s Home Cooking. After the success of Paula’s Home Cooking she started a new show called Paula’s Party in 2006. In 2008 she came out with her latest show called Paula’s Best Dishes and shortly after gaining popularity with her shows Paula started a magazine called Cooking with Paula Deen. After coming out with various cookbooks, Paula published her memoirs using the title It Aint All About the Cooking. She then went on to write two more books called The Deen Family Cookbook and Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible. In 2007 Paula Deen won a Daytime Emmy Award for best outstanding lifestyle host. Recently Deen created an interactive website where people can watch old shows, access her recipes, and videos of her cooking different items.
Recently Paula Deen was involved in a scandal that involved Deen admitting to using racial slurs in her restaurants. She also stated that she wanted to throw a slavery themed wedding for her brother. She got this idea when she ate at a restaurant with an all-black staff. This led to many members of various social media websites scrutinizing her for what she said. Most of this attention came from Twitter users, who would use different hashtags to make fun of her racism. With any issue, there are always going to be mixed reactions and different opinions as to whether the issue is right or wrong. Knowing this, we think it is important to analyze both sides of the situation in regards to how people reacted to the Paula Deen incident on social media. We argue that online users should not ridicule Deen for her actions because it is only furthering unnecessary racial discourses.
The Paula Deen controversy was taken very offensively to others as the issue became more and more public. Many of those offended took to Twitter because they felt like it was necessary to get their points known. People used hashtags related to her and her dishes, they responded to her tweets, and created pictures so that the whole public could now see the hurtful ruckus that she caused. These social media posts were used to take an activist side of the situation, but some posts were too brutal, which ultimately reproduced the racism that it was meant to criticize.
For this social media outburst to begin, there had to be an outlet for people to jump to in order to tweet about Paula Deen. This outlet became known as the hashtag, #PaulasBestDishes. The hashtag went viral and became a popular way of tweeting about the Paula Deen incident. “Twitter user Pope Jeffuhz I and the Root.com editor and humorist Tracy Clayton, a.k.a BrokeyMcPoverty launched the hashtag first” according the Huffington Post. (Anderson)
A Twitter user by the name of Steph B-More, also known as @StephBMore, used the hashtag and tweeted “Paula Deen can teach you how to properly segregate the egg whites from the colored yolk. #paulasbestdishes.” Everyone who cooks or bakes knows that separating egg whites from the yolks is very routine in the cooking world, so she decided to twist words and phrase it in a way that made it sound racist. And secondly, you do not segregate the egg whites from the yolk, you separate them. Her choice of words makes it very apparent that she was targeting Deen as being a racist. There are hundreds more of these tweets such as, “Uncle Tomato Soup #paulasbestdishes” or “You guys tried her Colored Greens? #paulasbestdishes” All these separate tweets have the same intention, which is to attack Deen’s morals and how she feels about those who are of color.
Tweets are one thing, but creating graphics and pictures takes the issue to whole new level and creates a greater public issue. A twitter goer by the name of @Norali_G retweeted a picture of what looks to be a made up brand of rice with Paula Deen’s face on it on June 20, 2013. The rice suggests that the box is only for white people because the largest and most predominant phrase on the box is “Whole Grain Whites only Rice” following in smaller print, “The South will Rice again.” Both phrases are completely inappropriate, racist and portrayed to be something that Paula Deen would say. The picture is putting more racist thoughts into it’s audiences minds and ultimately didn’t do what it was intended to do.
The Paula Deen talk leaked onto the Facebook radar as well, but some people did not think that the punishment fit the crime. Some die-hard Paula Deen fans were outraged about how this culinary icon was being treated and mixed their opinions in with those of the opposite view. “What a bunch of JERKS you all are for firing Paula Deen for something she said years ago!!! No more Food Network for me, I push for a Boycott of your network!!!!!!!”
This person was not the only one with thoughts of a boycott of Food Network channel and magazine: another Facebook user was quoted saying, “add me to the many who will no longer support your magazine or shows. People make mistakes because we’re human. She apologized. When did we all become so perfect and judgmental? Please reconsider – Paula is AWESOME – she’s an evolving creative lady and has made your company a LOT of $$$ – this is not how you repay her.” This is a clear example of minimization of racism, because the supporter who made the comment is dismissing the fact that Paula was being racist simply because she made the company a lot of money.
There were clearly not enough people to start a mass boycott, but the thought of this just goes to show how controversial the topic actually was. Deen-supporters argued that it should not be okay for some people to get away with using racial slurs while others get ridiculed for it. It was also brought up several times that many African American athletes, celebrities, and rappers openly use the word frequently and there is never anything said about it. Because the people listed above are of African American decent, it is socially acceptable in our society for them to use these words; if a white person such as Paula Deen uses the same racial slurs, it is considered completely inappropriate. This is a good example of cultural racism, which is “presumed cultural practices as fixed features and uses that as the rationale for justifying racial inequalities” (4 Central Frames of Colorblind Racism). Her supporters argue that if you really want to get rid of racism, then you should just get rid of the acknowledgement of race all together.
The support for Deen gained enough momentum to result in the creation of a Facebook page called “We Support Paula Deen.” The description for the page below reads: “A Page for fans to Support Paula Deen. Suggest this page to a friend, y’all! No explicit or offensive language is permitted.” This page, unlike most of social media, supports Deen and the work that she has done throughout her career. They emphasize her involvement with charities and other organizations that she has been largely contributing to for her entire career. The page keeps all of her supporters up to date on her progress in reviving her career, and her fans can comment and leave positive messages on it. Sites like these and comments like those above go to show that many people still support her. They see her as a wonderful person that has done so much for her fans and community, and does not deserve the treatment she is receiving. People on these sites are doing their best to help others see the big picture and revive her positive image. They understand what she did was wrong, but they believe that it is a forgivable, one time incident.
This incident involving Paula Deen is a clear example of the kind of racism that is still going on in our country today, but it also demonstrates the many different types of racism and the different impacts that they all have. As expected, Deen had an excuse as to why she wanted black servers at the wedding, and why she thinks it isn’t a big deal to use the N-word. She claimed that since she was raised in a different time, it is just part of the way she grew up and she doesn’t think much about it. Deen also claimed that it wasn’t racist to have black servers at the wedding, it was merely “traditional” and it honored an older time when that was the norm. When Deen said that having black servers in the wedding was only a way to honor old traditions, she is minimizing the fact that what she is “honoring” is still very offensive and hurtful to many people, especially minorities.
Paula Deen acted as though her actions didn’t affect or offend anyone else. She was acting like what she did was not racist because she had a good enough excuse for it. When asked about the allegations against her, Paula said that the blacks in the kitchen often use that type of language when speaking to one another, making it okay for her to do so as well. This is a good example of minimization of racism. Minimization of racism refers to the idea that many whites believe that race and racism no longer affect minorities’ lives today and allows them to disregard racial motivations for various actions. Deen was being offensive by using the N-word and failing to admit that she was wrong for doing so.
Paula Deen gave us a clear flashback as to what racism used to be like years ago in comparison to the type of racism that is common nowadays. This incident was such a big deal because in today’s society everyone should know that using the N-word is clearly racist. As much as we would like to believe that racism no longer exists in our country, there are still many different ways whites use racism today.
Instead of admitting to racism as Paula Deen did, whites today typically hide behind “color blindness.” “Color blindness is a sociological term referring to the disregard of racial characteristics when selecting which individuals will participate in some activity or receive some service.” (Burrows, A Look at Color-Blindness) Basically, it is a way to be racist without coming off as being a racist. Paula Deen said that she was raised in a different time where people were open about their opinions on other races, no matter how offensive they may be. Although this is no excuse for her actions, it gives a clear example of how our country has changed when it comes to racism.
What Paula Deen said and did was completely wrong and very racist, but the outrage on social media and in the news made it seem like racism was a thing of the past. They acted as if Paula Deen was the only one still guilty of racism, when in reality it is still very prominent in our country due to the idea of systematic racism. Continuing to blame her for what she did and acting out in public forums will get us nowhere. She is not the only one to have ever said such a rude, hurtful comment, but since she is in the public eye, the incident got much more publicity. Two wrongs do not make a right; therefore, just because she was in the public spotlight does not mean we should jump to social media sites to answer back.
When the internet first came out a lot of people thought it would be helpful in ending racism. As you have read, this is not always the case. As social media has gotten more popular it makes it easier for racist comments and actions to reach more people. In this specific case, the hashtag, #PaulasBestDishes, encouraged social media users to join in on the ridiculing of Deen for her actions. When there is a way for thousands of people to ban together to discuss a controversial topic, it usually results in one person being victimized by users around the world. Before social media, an issue like this would not have gotten this much attention. The combination of her in the public eye and the ease of joining a Twitter and Facebook trend proved to be detrimental to both Paula Deen’s career and personal life. Systematic racism built into our societies, and the ease at which we can share our thoughts with a large audience online, makes it easier to talk about racial issues. The easier it is to talk about these racial issues, the more unproductive and unnecessary racial discourses take place.
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Burrows, Phillip. “A Look at Color-Blindness.” A Look at Color-Blindness. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.
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“We Support Paula Deen.” Web log post. Facebook. N.p., n.d. Web. <https://www.facebook.com/WeSupportPaulaDeen>.
Wilk, Daniel L. “Paula Deen’s Racist Wedding Fantasy Was Once Reality.” BloombergView.com. N.p., 5 June 2014. Web. 05 Oct. 2014.