Saying that she wants to “learn and grow” from the accusation, revealed in a deposition, that she used the term “nigger” and reminisced about plantation images of black people serving white guests, Paula Deen today issued a 45-second video apology in which she acknowledged “I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way,” without acknowledging the truth of any specific allegations, and implored viewers to extend their forgiveness to her:
As I wrote yesterday, what was striking both about some of the accusations she faced, and her sworn testimony in the deposition, was that Deen seemed more afraid of getting caught out being racist or being accused of having caused offense than of the idea that she might have caused someone else pain. To indulge in a bit of Southern nostalgia myself (though from the perspective of a character who saw the South for the hypocritical slave economy that it was), Deen is engaging in the same sort of self-justifying behavior Rhett Butler saw in Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind: “You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail.”
Deen’s desperate to be forgiven, which in this context means not facing a boycott or loss of business. But this apology gets at the problem with the kinds of requests for forgiveness celebrities issue whenever they’re caught saying something they shouldn’t. Deen may want to “learn and grow,” but you’d think in the past couple of days she could have come up with some concrete actions she’ll take as evidence of that growth, money she’ll donate (much as Kickstarter did in the wake of their pickup-artist controversy), or a sensitivity training she might sign herself up for. One of the reasons Brett Ratner earned so much credibility in the wake of some stupidly homophobic comments he made was that he went out and donated his time to shoot an ad campaign for GLAAD. He and Kickstarter both made contributions that outweighed the harm they’d done in the first place. And that kind of substantive action really ought to be the standard for forgiveness when wealthy people with enormous platforms cause harm to people like their employees or collaborators who have much less power than they do. Deen may want to be forgiven, but there’s no reason anyone should gratify her until she demonstrates that she’s making real efforts to become a different person and to establish a different environment in her businesses. Paula Deen isn’t entitled to our goodwill just because she wants it. Or as Rhett told Scarlett, “You think that by saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ all the past can be corrected.” That would be convenient for people like Deen. But it’s not how the world works.
Deen’s apparently removed the video and replaced it with this one:
And it continues the kind of self-pitying insistence that she’s a victim of the media’s prejudices. Deen says, “I want people to understand that my family and I are not the kind of people that the press is wanting to say we are. I’ve spent the best of 24 years to help myself and others.” If anything, this video should make everyone less interested in accepting Deen’s apology until her actions, as well as her words, “come from the deepest part of my heart.”