I haven’t been a fan of Paula Deen for a long time. When she came out of the closet about her Type 2 diabetes and began touting a pharmaceutical product that would allow the user to eat whatever they wanted, I grew incensed. Deen has grown a food empire; restaurants, cookbooks, television programs, endorsed brands, product lines — she has been, by all counts, a financial success.
I hope she banked a lot of it, because I believe her payroll just ran out.
Food Network dismissed her after, in a deposition, she admitted using a racial slur. Smithfield Foods dropped her as a spokesperson. It’s not looking good for Deen, even though some fans still support and defend the on-air personality.
I’m neither working for Paula Deen or any of her employers, nor am I defending her in any way. But were she to ask, “What do I do now, y’all?” I would say this:
- It’s time to put your succession plan into place. Your sons are untainted (thus far) and as adults, it’s time they took over the family business. Get the heck out of the spotlight and start transferring ownership to them.
- Stop making terrible apology videos.
- Disappear from the spotlight and begin to think about the next stage of your career. Writing is a good place to start, and your fans will still buy your cookbooks.
- Enroll in sensitivity training and let people know you’d like to learn from your mistakes, and pass along to your children and grandchildren a greater understanding of how important it is to be thoughtful about language. Share what you learn from that experience. But please, not on YouTube. Write it, and run it through an editor first.
- Take trusted counsel from your attorneys and PR firm. Not from friends. Not from Al Sharpton. Not even from fans.
Many have empathy for Deen, either because they, too were raised in a generation or geography where racial slurs were commonplace and even accepted, or because being human means we all make mistakes. Others will throw the book at her, tired of the practice of letting people (especially entitled white people) off the hook for being inappropriate. If you’re a die-hard fan, buy up the cookbooks and DVDs; I think it’s going to be awhile before we see any kind of meaningful comeback from the southern butter pusher.