Paula Deen’s Public Apology – Will Her Public Shaming Transform a Larger Racist Society?

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 5.04.48 PMIn a recent deposition for a lawsuit on charges of racial discrimination, celebrity chef Paula Deen shocked the public by admitting to using racist slurs. The ongoing controversy surrounding this revelation has starkly countered the welcoming, motherly persona she embodies on her show. Is it all a lie, one might ask? Can she really be so unconscious and insensitive as to believe her comments might be remotely acceptable?

First it’s important to understand exactly how this story unfolded, as many sensational headlines about the events might be misleading. According to CNN, Deen and her brother have been involved in a civil lawsuit in which a former employee of one of their restaurants has charged the pair with racial discrimination. In the deposition, recorded in May, Deen admits to using the “n-word,” as well as to planning for a “very southern-style plantation wedding” for her brother. You can see more of her statement in the video below:

A cascade of scandals have followed the distribution of the deposition last week, including Deen’s “no-show” on the ‘Today’ Show and the cancellation of her own Food Network show. Many of Deen’s other sponsors have also cancelled their contracts with her, and many others are bound to follow. With her life as she knows it falling apart, Deen released a public apology to account for her actions. Watch the video her and see what you think.

It’s remarkable to see one woman so publicly shamed and condemned – particularly interesting that racism is the cause of this uproar. It seems in some ways like a big step forward for so many to band together against discrimination. In another light, though, our collective anger toward Paula Deen might misdirect progressive energy that should be focused on the larger, systemic channels of racism present in our society. By joining forces to condemn Deen, we’re able to feel satisfied and confident in our own freedom from racist beliefs and in our own “goodness.” But is Deen the anomaly or rather a symptom of a larger racist system in place in our society? Deen’s lack of awareness might encourage us to examine our own beliefs and actions, and the ways we can promote thoughtfulness, love, and equality that don’t involve shame and destruction.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, though! Keep the conversation going in the comments section below.