Paula Deen Damns Herself By Excusing Her Racism By Claiming She’s Old

Paula Deen on Food Network

By now I’m guessing you’ve all heard about Food Network personality, Paula Deen’s, giant P.R. problem. When the transcript of a video deposition revealed she’s used racist slurs, including the n-bomb, her TV I.Q. went into the toilet and her Southern fried racism became an internet meme.

In response, Deen’s lawyer released statement of apology. I’ll spare you the details. Basically the apology revealed an ignorance so intense it almost served as an excuse. When it comes to race, the lights are out and no one is at home at Deen manor. But there’s one thing about the apology that goes beyond ignorance. Her lawyer boils down Deen by saying that it’s okay that she’s kinda racist because she’s old.

Here’s a taste of what Deen, Inc. laid down,

…[Deen] 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…

So, the suggestion is, while those old days of overt racism aren’t the same as today, it stank so bad that a bit of that stink still lingers on Paula Deen. Say what?

That’s no kind of excuse. I mean, sure, Paula Deen is old. She was born in 1947. That means she was 16 years old when segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace famously stood at the door of Foster Auditorium to block attempts to integrate the University of Alabama. That’s an elder for sure. She was also 16 when Birmingham, Alabama Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor horrified every decent human being in the United States by turning fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful civil rights demonstrators, including children. She was 8 when racists in Mississippi brutalized and murdered African American 14 year old Emmett Till for daring to speak up to a white woman.

Paula Deen was a witness to this history, some of which happened just beyond her back fence. She was 17, on the cusp of adulthood, when Fannie Lou Hamer, on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, went up against Lyndon Johnson at the Democratic National Convention, famously demanding to be seated by saying,

All of this is on account we want to register [sic], to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings – in America?

And Paul Deen was 16 when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historic I Have A Dream speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and 21 years old when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in the name of white supremacy.

In the decades since then, Paula Deen has become a culinary icon. She is the ambassador of a major brand and owner of a successful restaurant business. She has, I imagine, met people from all walks of life. As a lifelong Southerner, I’m guessing Ms. Deen has some black friends and acquaintances and has employed black people in her businesses many times over.

All of these experiences are the benefits of age. They are advantages younger white people don’t have. Younger generations grew up in a time of backlash, not of progress. They must rely on history books to know that there was a time when racial slurs were commonplace, and lynchings and church bombings, terrorism and cross burnings were part of the regular news cycle. Not so for Paula. She was there.

So using age as an excuse for one’s racism, especially in the case of a white Southerner, is really just a way of saying that in spite of having been a witness to history and having first hand knowledge of black people, and of the damage that racism has done to black lives, not to mention having seen the mammoth struggle of black people to overcome racism right in her own backyard, she remains unable to see black folk as just folk. And if she slips and uses the “n” word now and then, why, we ought to just give her a pass.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

12 replies on “Paula Deen Damns Herself By Excusing Her Racism By Claiming She’s Old”

hell no! I choose to be inarticulate about miss lady. I have deadlines looming. Just writing to thank you for being on it.

I’m glad you have deadlines cuz that means good work is happening!

Posted this on FB just now
This could win Paua a lot of fans and make her even more money What seems to be a PR nightmare could be a back door way to even greater profits. Gotta be careful not to play into it.
The beast has many faces, tactics, and doesn’t concede without the savvy and full-on loving and sustained challenge of a multi-dimensional, multi-generational, multi-identity movement.
This is the love that Grace Lee Boggs and Scott Kurashige describe in their Next American Revolution. It’s the love described by bell hooks. It’s the love described by Ai Jen Poo in her work with organizing domestic workers.
BTW, Grace Lee Boggs is on Tavis Smiley today. Happy summer!

Paula didn’t damn herself, your headline did. I’m not excusing or pardoning her racism. I’m from the south, a small little town in East Texas. Segregation is still very much alive and well in this part of the country. Point of fact, she IS an older person who grew up when the rules were very different and while the times, they’re always a changin’, things you were taught as a child that formed you’re belief structure, aren’t so quick to adapt.My grandpa still drops “N-bombs” which I find offensive. Yes, he too, grew up in a different time. There’s still quite a bit of that down below the mason-dixon line just clinging for dear life. Paula is a public figure. That means she’s held to higher standards than everyone else, but guess what… She’s human just like the rest of us and she isn’t perfect. We are all fallible. It’s what makes us human. I choose grace, compassion, and forgiveness for everyone.

Thanks for your comment, Miles. Hopefully that grace, compassion, and forgiveness will finally defeat persistent poverty among people of color and the continuing power of racism to distort our politics and thwart democratic potential in the U.S.

– said the white man, now and forever unaffected by racism.

If you honestly think that her using the N-word and dreaming up an antebellum south themed party, complete with slave waiters, was just a slip-up, and not some reflection of deeply ingrained beliefs, then you’re grievously naive.

There are other white Southerners her age who do not use the n-word. Who had the strength of character to stand up to bigotry they were subjected to. She made a choice to believe it & perpetuate it. And she’s trying to paint all older white southerners with the same brush of intellectual laziness that she has. Don’t let her get away with it.

“Her fried chicken has come home to roost”.

-Michaela Angela Davis on CNN

Best line I’ve heard so far on this whole affair.

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