Eight months after her fall from Southern grace, celebrity chef Paula Deen is looking to make a comeback. In People magazine’s cover story this week, Deen said that she’s “fighting to get my name back” after an admission of using the N-word brought her public shame in June. “I feel like ‘embattled’ or ‘disgraced’ will always follow my name,” Deen said (and rightly so).
However, the words that followed suggest that the new and improved Deen isn’t so new and hasn’t really improved:
“It’s like that black football player who recently came out,” she said, comparing herself to the brave Michael Sam, who, if drafted, will make history as the first openly gay professional football player in America.
“He said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player. I don’t want to be known as a gay football player.’ I know exactly what he’s saying.”
That statement has more layers than an onion, and makes my cry just as hard. Deen is comparing her hardships — how hard it is to be outed as a bigot — to outing oneself as gay. (Maybe it’s comforting to know that in certain pockets of America, intolerance faces just as much intolerance as homosexuality does?). Also, Michael Sam is just “that black football player,” now?
But it’s not like Deen, who can grill a delicious Sambo burger, has learned nothing from all of this: She now knows that you can think racist things, just don’t say them out loud. “I think twice about a joke,” she said.
She follows her husband’s advice: “‘You’ve learned how badly words can hurt and how powerful they are.’ I have been hurt by them, and I unintentionally hurt others. But I don’t want that to define who I am.”