Paula Deen has lost a lot of friends lately. One partner company after another has jumped ship as she fights an ongoing battle against charges of racism. Endorsement deals with diabetic medications went south. Huge retailers abandoned her. Book publishers scratched her upcoming projects, including a book that was the hottest pre-seller on Amazon. And the biggest blow of all came when Food Network sacked her. It’s been a bad week to be Paula Deen.
But Paula has not gone quietly. Much of her effort to convince people that she is not a racist has backfired. Two different videos she released did little to convince people that the accusations were untrue. And a Today show appearance drew more jeers than sympathy.
The whole thing stems from a civil suit brought against Deen and her brother, co-owners in a restaurant, by a former manager at that restaurant, one Lisa Jackson. Jackson charged Deen and her brother with making racist remarks, among other things. She says she has standing to charge such things because she is “African-American adjacent”, saying that her nieces are mixed race, with a black father.
Her charges seem to be mostly about Deen’s brother, but also include accusations that Deen planned a “plantation-themed” wedding for her brother that included waiters dressed as house slaves.
Deen has retorted that Jackson is a disgruntled former employee who was fired from their restaurant, and that her niece is Hispanic, not black. She has admitted to using racial epithets, but not in a discriminatory situation, only rarely and privately with her family. NAACP officials have said that Deen should be forgiven that transgression and people should move on.
But now Deen is getting some reinforcements from African-Americans who know and work with her. Inside Edition reports that a singer at the aforementioned wedding has spoken out. Kim Michael Polote says she has know Paula Deen for 16 years.
“It wasn’t a plantation wedding. It was a beautiful wedding and it was right in the backyard of Paula’s home,” Polote said. “This woman is not a racist. I’ve been around her enough to know that she cares about people. She cares about people and she loves them.”
O’Neal Bailey has worked as Deen’s personal photographer for 8 years. He says, “She’s a joker but as far as being a racist, I’ve never seen that. I have never, ever heard her use the N-word to describe anybody in my presence.”
Deen has been seen on video footage, talking about and embracing African-American employees, including her bodyguard, Hollis Johnson, and two cooks who have worked with her since her early days in Savannah.
“I couldn’t do without these two women. They are like some of my chosen family. I just love them to death,” said Deen.
Given the backdrop that the Deen scandal is against – the Trayvon Martin case – volleys from both sides will probably go on for a while.