Last month’s taped deposition in which celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted she has used the N word and hoped to have a “very southern style wedding” with an all-black waitstaff for her brother isn’t the first time the Food Network host has frankly discussed her evolving views on race with a unique mix of self-reflection and obliviousness.
In her 2006 memoir “It Ain’t All About The Cookin’,” while describing her early experiences with race, Deen wrote at length about growing up in the segregated South. Among her recollections was an incident from her youth where she hit a black girl “with a bolo bat” and the girl’s mother wound up in jail. She also wrote about a time later in her life when she attempted to make a “Sambo burger” on her TV show and had to be dissuaded by producers.Update: June 21, 2013, 6:36 PM
In the book, Deen, who was born in 1947, frankly wrote about her youth in Albany, Ga., where she “never thought” about the fact she was living “in the mix of what was fixin’ to be a huge social change.”
“It was happening right under our noses: our local African-Americans were claimin’ their right for fair and equal treatment and some white folks were inspired to rethink old ways,” wrote Deen. “Still, I hardly noticed.”
Deen described having regrets about the way she treated some of the black people she encountered as a child. The recollections are candid, but perhaps more revealing than Deen knew or intended.
In one passage, she detailed a particularly troubling experience she had at the age of 10 with a “real nice black woman” who “often babysat” her and that woman’s child:
“This one day she had brought her little girl to work, and that child had many big, fat blisters on her hand, probably from helping out her momma. Something about those blisters just attracted me and I remember hitting those little hands with a bolo bat, and it busted her blisters good. It was pretty satisfying.
I don’t know why I did it. I have a hard time thinking I did it out of meanness. But her mother–I can’t remember if she slapped me across the face or she spanked me or both–but either way, now I know I sure had it comin’.
Well, still I was heartbroken and I went running to find my Grandmother Paul and Granddaddy and my momma. And my granddaddy had the woman arrested for hitting me. The little black girl’s momma went to jail.
All this time it’s bothered me.
It was me who deserved to be sittin’ in that jail for breaking a little black girl’s blisters in 1957.”
Though she said she and her family felt like the civil rights movement “didn’t have nothin’ to do with us,” Deen said she did have some black friends as a child.
“I played with the kids of the black women who took care of me and they were my friends,” she wrote.
In her book, Deen was introspective at times, such as when she recalled seeing segregated buildings.
“Remembering now, it just shocks me,” she said of Jim Crow. “I’m plain horrified that things could have been that way and I was so blind I didn’t get that it was wrong.”
According to Deen, the senior class of her high school was “the first class in our neck of the woods to be integrated.” Though Deen said, as far as she knew, “no one harassed” the “five black girls” who entered her class, she also noted “no one was particularly tight with them either.” In the memoir, Deen described regretting that she did not do more to welcome the black women into her school:
“I felt a little sorry for them, but you know why? For all the wrong reasons. I felt their families had to have been paid or somethin’ to convince them to put their girls in such a hard position–the only black girls in our all-white school. My parents wouldn’t have put me in an all-black school. I’m so embarrassed and ashamed to admit it to y’all that I thought that. Those families were pioneers. They were so effin’ brave. … The five girls hard to be majorly lonely. … I so wish I could take back my actions then. If I could do it all over, I’d have dragged them all into cheerleadin’, I’d have shared my lunches with them, I’d have held them to my heart.”
Along with these incidents from her youth, Deen also wrote with a surprising lack of self-awareness about a situation that occurred after she began her television career when she wanted to make a recipe she called the “Sambo Burger” on her show:
“I’ll never forget the day I was doing hamburgers, and I was cookin’ what ended up being called a Beau Burger, which was topped with a fried egg. Actually I wanted to call it a Sambo Burger. It came about when this motorcycle-driving, long-haired lawyer named Sam told me about his favorite little hamburger joint owned by a guy named Beau. When Sam was out tooling along on his cycle, he’d stop off for the best burger in town, topped with a fried egg, some melted cheese, a load of grilled onions–out of this world! One day, Sam was on my set because we were doing a show about motorcycles, and we were standin’ around talking about these burgers and I told him, ‘Sam I am going to do that burger on the show. We’ll call it after you–the Sambo Burger. You know–Sam, Beau. Sounds great, doesn’t it?'”
Deen claimed her producers forced her to rename the burger.
“My producers said no–I had to find another name, because some people associated the name with an old children’s book that was insulting to black people,” wrote Deen. “So we called it a Beau.”
Since Wednesday,when the deposition Deen gave was first reported on by the National Enquirer, the celebrity chef has been under fire. She recorded the deposition as part of a discrimination suit filed by a former employee of one of the restaurants she owns. The employee, Lisa Jackson, claimed she was subjected to racist and sexist behavior by Deen’s brother, who runs the restaurant and is suing Deen, her companies, and her brother, Earl “Bubba” Hiers. Lawyers for Deen and Hiers, denied the allegations, which include black employees being forced to use separate restrooms and entrances.
On Friday, Deen released a video statement addressing the deposition.
“I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done. I want to learn and grow from this,” said Deen. “Inappropriate, hurtful language is totally totally unacceptable. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I beg you, my children, my team, my fans, my partners. I beg for your forgiveness. Please forgive me for the mistakes I’ve made.”
On Friday, Deen’s publicist and the network did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the excerpts from her book.
Late Update: The Food Network announced Friday afternoon that it “will not renew Paula Deen’s contract when it expires at the end of this month.”