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Oprah Speaks up about Paula Deen’s Scandal

Oprah Speaks up about Paula Deen’s Scandal

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The TV icon — and friend of Deen — addressed the topic for the first time

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey shared her thoughts about Paula Deen's big controversy.

TV talk show star Oprah Winfrey has finally broken her silence regarding Paula Deen’s “N” word scandal. “I think Paula Deen was used as… a symbol,” she told Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell. “I think lots of people use that word inappropriately all the time.”

Deen, who is a good friend of Winfrey’s and has appeared with her on television many times, was recently embroiled in controversy after a court deposition was made public, revealing that she had admitted to using the “N” word.

Winfrey has surprisingly left the scandal mostly untouched up until now, though she did, in an interview with Parade shortly after the incident, say, “You cannot be my friend and use that word around me.”

Speaking on Entertainment Tonight, she said, “For her to… go on the air and to actually say that that was the only time she’d ever used it when your deposition says something else — I think that’s what got her into trouble.”

Winfrey doesn’t yet have any plans to sit down with her for an interview, but said that it’s a possibility “when she’s ready to talk.”

“In time, she’ll be fine,” she said, confident that the scandal will fizzle out as people start to forget about it. “For me, it all just felt kind of sad.”

Watch the clip from the interview below.

Oprah Talks Paula Deen N-Word Backlash: Southern Chef Represents “Millions of People Who Have Used That Word”

Oprah Winfrey is opening up about the Paula Deen N-word controversy.

Following the embattled Southern chef's public fall from grace, the media mogul sat down with E! News at the NYC junket for Lee Daniel's "The Butler" Monday and shared her thoughts on the criticism the former Food Network star received after admitting to past use of the racial slur.

"I think that Paula Deen represented, you know, millions of people who have used the word," the media mogul told E! News when asked if she believed the backlash was fair.

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In May, the celebrity chef's reputation was irreparably damaged after she admitted in a video deposition to using the N-word as part of a $1.2 million lawsuit filed against her by a former employee.

The controversial confession caused a number of sponsors--including the Food Network, Smithfield Foods, Sears, Caesars Entertainment Corporation and JCPenney, to name a few--to sever their ties with the 66-year-old chef.

"Unfortunately, she is a public figure," Winfrey continued. "And whatever the situation was with the hearing that she had, or had said it and then went on TV and said she had only said it one time, but Paula Deen, I thought, represented a whole lot of people. And I think for the big issue to be made about Paula Deen was what the media does."

"You and I both know a lot of people use that word," the talk show host--who visited Deen at her home in Savannah, Georgia in 2012 for a sit-down interview on her series Oprah's Next Chapter--added.

Despite Deen issuing a tearful apology on the "Today" show insisting she's not a racist, companies continued to distance themselves from the beleaguered chef. She was later dropped by Walmart, and Ballantine Books canceled publication for her cookbook Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up.

Until now, Oprah chose not to share her thoughts on the scandal, although she recently discussed the use of the N-word in an interview with Parade magazine to promote her upcoming film.

"You cannot be my friend and use that word around me," the OWN Network star said. "It shows my age, but I feel strongly about it. I always think of the millions of people who heard that as their last word as they were hanging from a tree."

Oprah Winfrey: I Reached Out to Paula Deen at Height of N-Word Scandal

Oprah Winfrey, the TV talk icon and star of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, reveals in a new interview that she reached out to Paula Deen at the height of the celebrity chef’s N-word controversy.

Talking to Entertainment Tonight, Winfrey shares, “In the very first days [after the scandal broke] I tried to reach her, and then I decided to stay out of it as I saw it blowing up.”

Adds Winfrey, “In time she will be fine. For me, it all just felt kind of sad.”

Deen’s image troubles began after the leak of a May 17 deposition given in an ongoing lawsuit from a former employee accusing Deen and her brother Earl “Bubba” Hiers of promoting a hostile work environment that condoned racist and sexist language and behavior.

In the testimony, Deen replied, “Of course,” when asked if she had ever used the derogatory term before. She also admitted to wanting to plan a Southern plantation-style wedding in which only African-American men would work as servers.

Winfrey has previously said on her Butler press tour that she won’t tolerate use of the N-word in any context, and even changed director Lee Daniels‘ view on the subject.

&ldquoI think Paula Deen was sort of used as a symbol, but I think lots of people use the [N-word] inappropriately all the time,&rdquo Winfrey tells ET’s Nancy O’Dell in Monday’s interview.

Winfrey adds that she still wants to sit down with Deen at some point in the future, so long as the pair could avoid a “defensive conversation.”

One way that Deen got her products out into the hands of her devoted fans was to pop into QVC and peddle her wares. While this proved extremely lucrative for "The Lady," QVC eventually dropped her because of some of the controversial woes that befell Dean in recent years.

Paula Deen really started to blossom in the late nineties. In 1996, Deen, along with her two sons, opened up The Lady and Sons eatery in Savannah, Georgia. Three years later, USA Today awarded the restaurant the coveted International Meal of the Year title.

First husband fiasco

Paula and Jimmy Deen (no relation to the sausage manufacturer) got married right out of high school when they were both just 18 years old. They were young and in love, and their religious families thought it was great that they wanted to get married and start a family. However, it turned out that Jimmy had a drinking problem, something which Paula found hard to deal with, especially after she gave birth to two sons for him.

7 Lessons on Branding from Paula Deen that Can Save Your Business from a Scandal

In case you don’t know, southern chef, Paula Deen, is at the center of a lawsuit that seems to have spun out of control.

The stories that are being told about her do not match her branding: a peach of a woman who loves to cook down home southern cuisine for family and friends.

To be fair to Ms. Deen, the details surrounding the lawsuit filed by a former employee, change faster than you can say Mac & Cheese!

What’s interesting is that Ms. Deen has been painted as a lewd and vulgar woman.

She seems so warm and personable on TV. Maybe that’s problem.

Not only does the camera add 10 pounds to your body, but it can distort you and your brand. You and your brand become out of focus.

Wouldn’t the Food Network have known something about Ms. Deen and her brother’s lawsuit?

Let’s say the stories are true.

Wouldn’t the Food Network have thought twice about giving a woman who uses derogatory language and allegedly likes to make sexual references and innuendos a multi-million dollar contract?

This kind of seems like a no brainer.

Then again, it’s just business.

Sadly, Paula Deen’s empire is crumbling faster than a batch of blue cheese.

The Food Network, Kohl’s, QVC, Random House, and countless others have dropped her like a hot potato.

Is this fair or can Paula cry “foul?”

Whatever the case may be, CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors, and artists can learn many branding lessons from Paula Deen’s debacle. I’ve outlined them below and in no means is this meant to be a comprehensive list. These are the most important lessons for you to learn NOW.

What Paula Deen’s Scandal Can Teach You about Branding?

1. Your brand is a reflection of you. Do they match?

Everyone has a story about Paula Deen. From the woman who filed a lawsuit against Paula and her brother to people who’ve attended her cooking/speaking shows at their local home and garden show.

Whose story do you believe?

Paula’s? The woman who filed the lawsuit? Or a trusted friend.

For example, would you believe your friend if she said to you, “We went to the home and garden show to see Paula’s show and were told that children were not allowed at due to strong language.”

What kind of strong language?

Could it make you blush faster than hot sauce?

Paula Deen has an image of a nice southern lady. The kind of woman that would make you a home cooked meal accompanied by a pitcher of sweet tea. Desert would be a slice of peach cobbler. Yummy!

And then there’s the fact that Paula uses the word “y’all.” and it’s enough to make your heart melt.

Respect is just as important in the online world as it is on Main Street.-Morris Rosenthal

— M3 New Media (@M3NewMedia) June 27, 2013

The bottom line is that Paula’s brand image does not match the one that’s front in center online and on TV, in addition to magazines and newspapers.

Your brand is a reflection of you. Make sure they match!

2. Shut your mouth!

If you’re an entrepreneur, author, CEO, artist, or high powered executive within a company, please SHUT your mouth!

Like it or not, you live in the technology age.

Your conversation and picture can be recorded in less than 2.5 seconds and then uploaded to YouTube just as fast.

Before you know it, you’re on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks.

The best thing to do is to shut your mouth when you’re in public.

Do not get into conversations about politics or religion. Of course, if you’re a politician or member of the church, this may be unavoidable. However, you need to choose your words wisely because you never know WHO will be listening to you.

Remember… if you can’t say anything nice, do not say anything at all.

3. Surround yourself with people who understand you and your brand.

If you’re looking for partnerships, make sure you partner with companies and people who understand you and your brand.

Don’t sign a contract for the sake of being paid a boat load of money. Make sure it’s the ‘right’ decision for you and your brand.

  • How does your product/service align with my product/service?
  • Does your audience match mine? How?
  • How does your company handle customer complaints?
  • Why should I partner with you?
  • What is the risk? (ask yourself this)
  • What happens if we suffer a PR nightmare? How will it be handled?

Gather as much information as you can before your say Yes!

Also, you may have to weed out family and friends.

This can be tough to do, especially when people have been in your lives 20+ years however, you need to be surrounded by trustworthy people.

You don’t want to be surrounded by people who’ll sell you out to the highest bidder. It’s unfortunate that this could and does happen, but you need to prepare yourself. Some people won’t be able to appreciate your success and be happy for you.

4. Put your message where your mouth is.

If you message is “XYZ,” it better match the words that come out of your mouth.

One of the most important aspects about branding is your message.

Let’s take Paula Deen for example.

Her message is/was one of warmth and family. When she melted butter on her Food Network cooking show, you couldn’t help but feel warm inside.

Also, Paula could have reminded you of your grandmother. You know how grandmas are. One way they show love is through their delicious cooking. And if Paula looked/looks anything like your grandma, you would have been hooked immediately.

Your brand’s message better match yours. For example, if you say your brand is “X,” but you’re “Y,” this will cause a disconnection between you and your audience.

Most people are skeptical by nature, and some don’t trust easily. If your message is way off from who you are, you’ll find yourself in a heap of trouble.

5. If you screw up, in one way or another, your brand can suffer.

Like it or not, you live in a society where it’s kind of persecute now, find out the truth later.

I don’t agree with this because I believe in “innocent until proven guilty.” But the fact is most people want swift justice without knowing the facts. This alone causes trouble, especially in the form of lawsuits.

Should you screw up by saying or doing something that doesn’t match your brand, be prepared to take a hit. Even if your branding is strong, you’ll feel the sting.

The good news is that you have a choice in how you deal with a branding nightmare. You can either, a) deny everything, b) run and hide, or c) take the high road and admit that you’re human and made a terrible, terrible mistake. I recommend choosing option C.

Admitting your screw up humanizes you. Let’s face it NO ONE is perfect!

Everyone says or does something stupid at one point or another.

Learn from your mistakes. Empathize with your audience. Understand their point-of-view. For example, look at companies such as Tylenol and Nike. Both of these companies have faced their fair share of missteps. However, their branding has never been stronger. Why? In the case of Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, makers of Tylenol, put consumers first and product second.

If you or someone in your company screws up, deal with it from the start. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Admit any wrong doing and your brand should weather the storm.

6. Having a branding crisis strategy in place is good PR.

What’s your branding crisis strategy? Do you even have one?

Even though you may not want to focus on the negative side of business, such as a crisis, it’s important to be prepared.

If your branding is strong, you may or may not bounce back in record breaking time. This is why you need a crisis strategy and team in place.

Your marketing and PR and legal teams should have created a strategy in case your company has to navigate the murky waters of a scandal.

If you’re a solopreneur, it’s not a bad idea to create a branding crisis strategy. You want to protect you, your brand, and customers.

Strong branding is important.

I know what you’re thinking, “Didn’t Paula have a strong brand and branding?”

If Paula Deen has been projecting an image that doesn’t match who she truly is (who knows for sure), it makes sense that perhaps, her brand was built upon a faulty foundation that is now cracking. It’s in crisis mode.

Of course, the best way to avoid having to use a branding crisis strategy is to avoid having a crisis.

7. Be authentic.

This seems like a no brainer but CEOs, authors, entrepreneurs, artists, and executives are HUMAN. Sometimes, you wear a mask to cover up who you are.

Because you’re ashamed of you are for a number of reasons.

The best thing to do is to get clear about WHO you are.

If you’re a geeky artist, embrace your geekitude. Don’t change for anyone.

If you’re a CEO who drives a Mustang GT instead of a Mercedes, own it.

Clients and customers can see through B.S. If you’re not being authentic, it will show. If you’re trying to manipulate people, you’ll give off a strong odor.

Embrace who you are. There is no right or wrong answer.

You are who you are. Quirks and all.

Will the Paula Deen Brand Bounce Back?

It’s too early to tell, but I will say this…

I don’t know what to believe about Paula Deen because the story changes daily. Plus, I never met the woman.

What I do know is that it’s important for the media to sensationalize news and stories.

Ratings and magazines and newspaper subscriptions are important to those in radio and TV and publishing.

The higher the ratings and subscriptions the more money for organizations who employ thousands of people.

If Paula bounces back from this, it will be one expensive brand and branding lesson to learn.

I recommend Paula hire an HR firm (if she doesn’t have one already) to screen all applicants who apply for positions within her restaurant. She could hire a life coach and/or counselor to help her process this ordeal Paula could hire a business coach too.

I also recommend that Paula thinks before she speaks and chooses her words wisely.

Words are powerful and can go viral in no time.

Over to you. What are some branding lessons you can learn from Paula Deen? Share them in the comments below.

Paula Deen’s Diabetes Scandal, Your Thoughts ?

Newspapers, Tv, and social media are ablaze with the news of Paula Deen’s diabetes. If you haven’t heard the news, Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years ago and kept it from the public all this time. I believe that public personas have just as much right as anyone else to keep their medical issues private. But when said public personas are promoting an unhealthy lifestyle that could very well lead to a disease, or even worse have seen the results firsthand of such a lifestyle, all while profiting is just morally wrong.

Admittedly I have been pretty neutral on Paula Deen. I don’t watch her show, read her site or buy her products. Her recipes are not ones that appeal to me or ones I would cook for my loved ones, too unhealthy for me. I wouldn’t call myself a fan but I do admire her story, accomplishments and charm. She seems like a nice enough person.

However, I do have to question her motives for not coming forward with this information sooner. The highly profitable empire Paula has built for herself is no secret. Such an empire and wealth could be tough to sacrifice or let slip right out of your hands. (especially when you have built if from poverty) Right? At the same time how can one live with such hypocrisy? Let alone the knowledge that the very thing you are promoting, indulging in, all with a huge smile is leading to bad health for an already unhealthy society. Could it all really be about the most obvious reason, money? Money can make people do funny things.

Let’s address those obvious reasons. Coming out and telling people, Hey y’all, you know that unhealthy food I have been showing you how to cook? Well, turns out it is really bad for you. And guess what?, I now have Type 2 Diabetes because of my unhealthy lifestyle. That could lead to a drop in ratings, drop in product sales and the tarnish of the Paula Deen name brand. All equating to drop in profits and not a good thing for any business person. So perhaps keeping it a secret is best, huh?

On Paula Deen’s website is a letter to her fans addressing the Diabetes issue. Her attitude of not letting the disease control her life is great. But honestly the short message was not enough. Instead it was used to promote her new “Diabetes in a New Light” website, where she will be adding “a little bit of a lighter touch” to some of her recipes. Once you land on her new website you get greeted with a video message from Paula. The video is disappointing. Instead of really addressing the issue she is promoting her new joint venture with a pharmaceutical company.

So let’s get this straight, for three years she continued to promote that horribly unhealthy lifestyle all while making sure people bought her products and watched her on television. Had she come out with this news three years ago it would have meant three years of lost profits. So conveniently three years after the diagnosis she has a whole new website, line of recipes and teamed up with a very profitable healthcare corporation. Which did I mention is one of the drug companies that makes Diabetes drugs? Go to the drug’s website and there she is, Paula, helping promote the drug. But of course Paula isn’t going to work for free, you better believe that joint venture is bringing in a whole lot of money for the Paula Deen brand.

Paula recently told the Today show and PEOPLE the following, “I could’ve walked out and said, ‘Hey y’all, I have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes,’ and walked away,” “But having given myself time to work with my family, talk with my family, now I feel like I have something to bring to the table.” Yeah. Money. And lots of it.

On her Today show appearance she was also joined by a Dr. whom said the following, “…being overweight in particular is probably the most define risk factor for Diabetes?” Last time I checked Paula is known for her fatty, high caloric recipes, which lead to weight gain. When asked if she would change the way she cooks and eats, she didn’t give a clear cut answer. She instead stated that she has always said to “eat in moderation…I’ve always eaten in moderation.” But even for people suffering from certain diseases moderation can lead to bad results in the end. Besides promoting things such as “Everything’s Better with Bacon” and “Everything’s Better with Butter” is not moderation. Perhaps the constant promotion of her new venture, which will lead to new profits, should have been in moderation.

Keeping health risks and results, of the unhealthy food she promotes, from her fans and other people while profiting is wrong. It is a message of , it is okay to profit as much as possible and if you’re irresponsible along the way, well that’s just fine. Uhm, hello! Normal everyday people look to and up to public personas to guide them or inspire their lives. Teaming up with a Diabetes drug and not coming out, straightforwardly, telling people that it isn’t just a matter of taking your pill and “moderation” is the wrong message. Moderation and pill popping does not equal a cure. (Diabetes runs in my family so I understand “moderation” and pills are not the solution.) It is much more complicated and individually based than that.

I haven’t had a face to face conversation with Paula Deen, and only she knows the wholehearted truth of why the revelation of her diagnosis has been handled the way it has been. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes, but people should also be held responsible for their actions. Paula isn’t herself putting sticks of butter into people’s mouths. Nor is she personally responsible for people’s food choices. It is not my business or concern that Paula or any other human being chooses to eat fatty or what I may consider unhealthy foods. The choice is theirs and theirs alone. The problem with this whole scandal is profit. For three years Paula was well aware that her “product” caused her Diabetes, and instead of being honest with people she chose profit. In her video message she also states that she will be there for her fans suffering from Diabetes. Well, where was she the past 3 years? Oh yeah, cashing those checks. It isn’t a matter of so called food elitists “out to bash” Paula for eating loads of butter and sugar it is a matter of those three years of profit.

Call me cynical but it is pretty hard to ignore how this whole perfectly orchestrated campaign has transpired. Only time will tell if Paula, all while rolling in her money, will actually do something good to bring awareness to a healthier lifestyle and a growing Diabetes epidemic. Here’s hoping she does.

* What are your thoughts or opinion on this whole fiasco? *

**UPDATE: After some of your feedback I feel that perhaps my point hasn’t gotten across. This is the analogy I used in one of my comments reply:

“It isn’t about what Paula Deen, or others, choose to eat. That isn’t my or anybody else’s concern. Maybe the easiest way to illustrate my point is to make an analogy.

Imagine you have a famous person who promotes cigarette smoking. Every time you see them they are telling people how wonderful and tasty their brand of cigarettes are, and encouraging others to just smoke up, earning lots of profits along the way.

Then a few years on, this person suddenly announces:

“Hey y’all. Just wanted to share with you that I’d been diagnosed with lung cancer 3 years ago. Sorry I hid that from you. But hey, look, now I’m partnering with a pharmaceutical company that has wonderful new cancer drugs and I highly recommend their products to you — just click the banner to the right!”

This celebrity’s lung cancer may or may not have been caused by smoking. Same with Paula’s Diabetes. But in either case there is no medical question that the lifestyle each promoted increased the chances of such a condition developing – and the idea of profiting from first promoting such a lifestyle, and then again from treatment of a condition possibly caused by that lifestyle, while all along hiding the fact from your audience that you had such a condition yourself is… at the very least, immoral and unethical.”

5. She feels called to help other children.

Despite not having any of her own, Parton has a soft spot for children. The &ldquoJolene&rdquo singer created the Imagination Library, a non-profit that provides free books to preschoolers.

&ldquoI didn&rsquot have children because I believed that God didn&rsquot mean for me to have kids so everybody&rsquos kids could be mine, so I could do things like Imagination Library because if I hadn&rsquot had the freedom to work, I wouldn&rsquot have done all the things I&rsquove done,&rdquo Parton said on Today. &ldquoI wouldn&rsquot be in a position to do all of the things I&rsquom doing now.&rdquo

Parton also told People that she feels connected to kids. &ldquoI think kids relate to me because they think of me like a Mother Goose or a Fairy Godmother,&rdquo she told People. &ldquoI&rsquom like a cartoon character&mdashmy voice is little and I&rsquom an excitable little person like them! I&rsquom very childlike in that way, in my nature.&rdquo

Parton also released a children&rsquos album in 2017 called I Believe in You, which features songs specifically created for children, including titles like &ldquoMakin&rsquo Fun Ain&rsquot Funny,&rdquo &ldquoBrave Little Soldier,&rdquo and &ldquoCoat of Many Colors.&rdquo

WATCH: Paula Deen’s Statement On Racism Scandal (UPDATED With Three Videos)

After a transcript of Paula Deen making racially charged statements in a deposition leaked to the media, and she refused to address it on the Today Show by simply not showing up this morning, and the entire freaking world turned on her (the exception being Oprah, who’s off in a post-racial fairyland and refuses to comment), Deen announced via Twitter that she would release a video commenting on her statements.

UPDATE: Nearly three hours later, Paula’s team managed to splice together this forty-five-second-long apology (yes, as in, it took multiple takes to cut together less than a minute of material), presumably shot in that New York City hotel room she’s hiding out in. You can now check out the video below, followed by a full transcript of her statements.

UPDATE AGAIN: Looks like Team Paula has removed the video. Take a read at her half-assed apology while we seek out another copy.

“I want to apologize to everybody for the wrong that I’ve done. I want to learn and grow from this. 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 that I’ve made.”

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Paula Deen’s replaced that video with a 1:27 minute long video below explaining her non-appearance on the TODAY Show:

Transcription below:

Hello, y’all, I’m Paula Deen. I was invited this morning to speak with Matt Lauer about a subject that has been very hurtful for a lot of people. And Matt, I have to say I was physically not able this morning. The pain that is tremendous that I have caused to myself and to others, and so I’m taking this opportunity to, now that I’ve pulled myself together, and am able to speak, to offer an apology to those that I have hurt.

I want people to understand that, uh, my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are. I spent the best of 24 years to help myself and others. Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter to me, but it’s what’s in the heart. And my family and I try to live by that. And I am here to say that I am so sorry. I was wrong, yes. I’ve worked hard and I’ve made mistakes. But that is no excuse.

And I offer my sincere apology to those that I have hurt, and I hope that you forgive me. Because this comes from the deepest part of my heart. And I will continue to work, and continue to do good things, for good people. Thank you for listening.

AND A THIRD VIDEO APPEARS: CNN broke the existence of yet another video where Deen apologizes repeatedly to Matt Lauer for not appearing on the TODAY Show, repeating claims that she was too physically ill to appear:

Paula Deen: The South gets over-simplified, says chef Edward Lee

I had vowed that I would not write another word about the whole sorry Paula Deen mess. There has been more than enough said already. But then I read a Facebook post by Edward Lee, and he made me realize something that had really been bothering me through the whole ugly episode.

You may remember Lee from “Top Chef” Season 9 — the Texas one. You missed that? Mazel tov! But in his Facebook post, Lee, who lives and cooks in Louisville, Ky., very eloquently sums up what I’ve hated about so much of what has been written about l’affaire Deen.

After making it clear that he’s not in any way excusing what Deen said (and, of course, neither am I), Lee writes: “… what I was most dismayed about this week were the provocations by a number of outspoken people who over-simplified this vast swath of symbolic land called ‘The South.’ Racist rants, dumb jokes about Southern culture and, at times, a particularly mean-spirited skewering (sorry for the pun) of Mrs. Deen herself. To say things like, ‘that’s just the way it’s always been’ is not only inaccurate, but far worse, it is lazy.

“The South that I live and travel in is one that is buoyed by diversity, acceptance, generosity and love — the people and kitchens of the American South have enriched my life with culture and respect. Does the antediluvian stain of racism exist here too? Of course it does. Just like any place where Old World values collide with progressive change, where tradition is asked to bend to modern society. So basically any place in America. But the South that I choose to live in does not happen by chance, or by wishful thinking. It happens because people choose to participate. They choose to gather and question and communicate and include and shake hands. It takes work to build a community.”

Amen, brother Lee (who, if the photo wasn’t clear enough, is anything but the stereotypical Southerner — he is pretty definitely not a descendant of the General). As someone who was raised for a good part of my life in the South (Montgomery, Ala., 1963-68 Virginia 1970-73), some of the comments that have been made about Deen and her fans have been way beyond “dismaying.”

Certain words are forbidden in decent society not because they contain any power in and of themselves — saying them doesn’t summon some demon from the depths — but because they unfairly condemn an entire group of people simply by virtue of what they look like.

Now, let’s consider some of the more than 100 comments that followed my colleague Rene Lynch’s Sunday morning blog post about Paula Deen’s future (unfortunately, although our commenting protocol requires signing in, it still allows anonymity and, by the way, this is not exclusive to our blog -- my Facebook feed was, if anything, worse):

“Racism is absolutely ingrained in Southerners,” posted billpeet, presumably the same guy who had already posted, “since most conservatives are already old, fat, wheelchair-bound, with diabetes, they’ll especially appreciate her recipes.”

“Is it such a surprise that old white women from the South are racist?” posted Just Add Water.

“Southern Comfort= Racism,” posted the ironically named mikegoodness.

Or, as Lee much more eloquently puts it: “Every so often, scandals like these erupt in entertainment, fashion, politics, wherever people and cultures meet. It reminds us of the work that still needs to be done. But the first step is simply to want it. I didn’t hear a lot of that this week. To me, it’s just as easy to build bridges as it is to tear them down. It starts with a choice.”

By the way, Lee’s got a new cookbook out, “Smoke & Pickles.” I’ve got a review copy on my desk, but I’m going to order another just to help a brother out.