Celebrity chef Paula Deen was among the earliest targets of the current “cancel culture” that seeks to ostracize individuals for potentially offensive statements and behavior.
Nevertheless, the Fox Broadcasting Company is bringing her back nearly a decade after admissions she made during a lawsuit deposition cost her lucrative jobs including a Food Network contract while relegating her to outcast status.
“Things have changed”
Deen is set to appear as a mentor and judge in an upcoming episode of MasterChef: Legends along with Joe Bastianich and Aaron Sanchez. She will be the third such “legend” on the show after Emeril Lagasse and Curtis Stone.
Lisa Jackson, a former general manager of Deen’s restaurant, sued her in part for alleged racial discrimination. Although the case was ultimately dismissed in court, the chef’s downfall had already been cemented in her earlier deposition.
Specifically, she admitted to using a racial slur decades earlier and subsequently hosting a Civil War-themed wedding reception during which Black servers portrayed “slaves.”
As for her prior use of the n-word, Deen said at the time of the deposition: “That’s just not a word that we use as time has gone on. Things have changed since the ’60s in the south. And my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do.”
A short time after the damning revelations surfaced in the media, a Deen representative insisted that she “does not condone or find the use of racial epithets acceptable.”
“A woman of compassion and kindness”
Following a judge’s decision to dismiss the case and a settlement between the parties involved, even Jackson acknowledged that her former employer was not ultimately at fault for creating a hostile workplace.
“I assumed that all of my complaints about the workplace environment were getting back to Paula Deen, but I learned during this matter that this was not the case,” she explained in a statement. “The Paula Deen I have known for more than eight years is a woman of compassion and kindness and will never tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind toward anyone. I now know that the workplace environment issues that I raised are being reviewed and will in the future no longer be at issue.”
Of course, the damage was already done. Deen saw her Food Network show canceled and she was effectively shunned from the public eye for years to come.
If she is successful in staging a comeback at this point, however, it might be seen as a signal that it is possible for some other celebrities to return to prominence after facing similar ostracism.
It is unlikely that cancel culture advocates would want to be judged solely on their worst behaviors without any chance for redemption despite their eagerness to deny others an opportunity to evolve and change for the better.