The fallout from Paula Deen’s deposition and the lawsuit itself is a reminder of the ways that race and gender operate within the restaurant industry. It’s bigger than Paula Deen. Yet, as you read media reports, as you listen to various commentaries, you would think this is a story about an older white woman wedded to America’s racist past. Yes, this is a story about Paula Deen, and her crumbing empire. But that is the beginning, not the end. This is bigger than one individual, her reported prejudices, or the lawsuit at hand. This is about a restaurant industry mired by discrimination and systemic inequalities.
Racism pervades the entire industry, as evident in the daily treatment faced by workers, the segregation within the industry, differential wage scale, and its hiring practices. According to Jennifer Lee, “Racial Bias Seen in Hiring of Waiters:”
Expensive restaurants in New York discriminate based on race when hiring waiters, a new study has concluded. The study was based on experiments in which pairs of applicants with similar résumés were sent to ask about jobs. The pairs were matched for gender and appearance, said Marc Bendick Jr., the economist who conducted the study. The only difference was race, he said.
White job applicants were more likely to receive followup interviews at the restaurants, be offered jobs, and given information about jobs, and their work histories were less likely to be investigated in detail, he said Tuesday. He spoke at a news conference releasing the report in a Manhattan restaurant.
There really should not be a lot of difference in how the two of them are treated,” Mr. Bendick said. He was hired by advocacy groups for restaurant workers as part of a larger report called “The Great Service Divide: Occupational Segregation and Equality in the New York City Restaurant Industry.” He has made a career of studying discrimination, ranging from racism in the advertising industry to sexism in firefighting.
Mr. Bendick said that in industries, such experiments typically found discrimination 20 to 25 percent of the time. In New York restaurants, it was found 31 percent of the time.
A recent report from the ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Center) found that Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Capital Grille, among others) was responsible for creating a racially hostile environment.
Paula Deen apology, Pt. 2: In which a nation is offended by poor stagecraft and messaging from what has to be the worst PR counsel known to humankind.
So, for those of you not paying attention to the implosion of Southern cooking doyenne Paula Deen’s empire, here’s a timeline of the week an angry public drove Old Dixie down. (Don’t you love a good Confederacy carol?):
In 2012, Lisa Jackson, a white woman, files suit against Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers and their various enterprises. The former employee of Uncle Bubba’s Seafood and Oyster House, part of the Deen family of businesses and operated by Hiers, alleges routine assault and gender and racial discrimination within the workplace. According to Talking Points Memo:
The complaint alleged “racially discriminatory attitudes pervade” Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House where Jackson claimed African-American employees were required to use separate bathrooms and entrances from white staffers. Jackson also said African-Americans were held to “different, more stringent, standards” than whites at the restaurant and that Hiers regularly made offensive racial remarks.
Jackson also says that Hiers exposed employees to pornography and that women were routinely denigrated. Deen herself, when giving Jackson a promotion, is alleged to have been loathe to “give a woman a man’s job.”
In May 2013, as part of proceedings, Paula Deen was deposed. The National Enquirer broke the story that the recently filed videotaped deposition included damning content. The deposition was made public last week. Revelations included:
When asked if she had ever used the word “nigger,” Deen replied, “Yes, of course.” She admitted to using the word in reaction to an armed robbery by a black man in the 1980s and probably more recently when recounting conversations between black people or when telling jokes.
Deen thinks that racial slurs in the workplace are okay if part of one’s “sense of humor.” She proclaimed that “Most — most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. Most jokes target — I don’t know. I didn’t make up the jokes, I don’t know. They usually target, though, a group. Gays or straights, black, redneck, you know, I just don’t know — I just don’t know what to say. I can’t, myself, determine what offends another person.”
She also opined on the elegance of a traditional “before the Civil War” Southern wedding with only middle-aged black men and women as servers. Deen hoped to stage a similar wedding for her brother, but didn’t because, she said, the media wouldn’t understand.
In response to public backlash, Deen scheduled and then canceled an interview with Matt Lauer on “The Today Show.” Instead, she issues two, po-faced, half-assed apologies that demonstrate little understanding of what she did wrong. (The appearance has been rescheduled for Wednesday.)
The Food Network sticks a fork in Deen’s show, allowing her contract to expire at the end of the month. I am no network honcho, but I do know it is imprudent to have someone who has been publicly revealed as a racist and sexist, and who abets similar behaviors in the workplace, as a very high-profile face of your brand.
Meanwhile, African American employees of Deen’s businesses are coming forward with more allegations of mistreatment, so maybe this isn’t all about “bad words,” but, y’know, fucking workplace discrimination–what happens when people who think there are good uses of “the N word,” that women can’t be in positions of authority, and that the South was best in its antebellum days, have money and power.
And while all this was going on, Black Twitter (and friends) made my heart sing by marshaling its collective wit and sense of justice into putting Paula Deen on blast, most notably with #PaulasBestDishes, launched by the incomparable @BrokeyMcPoverty. (Joseph shared his favorites with y’all last week.)
Interestingly, at least one media outlet, Variety, called the hashtag “a showcase for racist jokes,” as if folks were fighting racism with, well, more racism. Now, I’ve written a lot about racism and sexism in comedy and about how criticism of comedy is often met with cries of “free speech,” “no topic is off limits,” “political correctness,” blah de blah. But…
The idea that the movement toward fewer “isms” in our speech and deeds is anathema; that “political correctness” is a blow against free speech; that the power structure has flipped; that the strictures of “political correctness” are everywhere, and that real bias barely exists anymore; has wormed its way into our social fabric, including entertainment. In comedy, that means that dusty racist, sexist, or homophobic tropes that are as old as time are positioned as refreshing and edgy.
#PaulasBestDishes wasn’t just typical cheerleading for the status quo masquerading as comedy. The hashtag unleashed comedy that was truly edgy in that it spoke truth to power. The target of the running gag was not the marginalized but the marginalizer. The message wasn’t “Black people sure are funny,” but that racism and racists are awful. It was laughing at a serious subject done right. And it was funny as hell.
I love my peeps, we find out that you are a raging racist, and we will use humor to let you know how we feel. #paulasbestdishes
Paula Deen is in deep. Her southern charm is was infectious and her recipes are used to be filled with butter, so what’s not to love? Apparently, not a lot. From Radar Online:
[W]hen asked if she wanted black men to play the role of slaves at a wedding she explained she got the idea from a restaurant her husband and her had dined at saying, “The whole entire waiter staff was middle-aged black men, and they had on beautiful white jackets with a black bow tie.
“I mean, it was really impressive. That restaurant represented a certain era in America…after the Civil War, during the Civil War, before the Civil War…It was not only black men, it was black women…I would say they were slaves.”
Paula. Seriously. Obviously, this didn’t take too well online (or anywhere), and some hilarity bloomed out of all of this mess. From Salon:
Salon has their own list, including the tweet above, but this hashtag is just so doggone funny I had to compile a list of my own, because its always a good thing to highlight a glorious time where the internet rises up again (confederate reference intended.) The tweet’s are under the cut, because — racist irony & slurs. This article, thus, comes with a TRIGGER WARNING. To start us off, here’s my extremely PG entry (in comparison):