The Paula Deen scandal: Lessons on achieving MLK’s dream, confronting bigotry, corporate benchmarks on bigotry, and the unblinking camera

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Jul 11, 2013 The Paula Deen scandal: Lessons on achieving MLK’s dream, confronting bigotry, corporate benchmarks on bigotry, and the unblinking camera

Paula Deen is not the first nor, unfortunately, last person to use the N-word. She has not been the most virulent bigot. The number of times she has said the N-word depends on who is believed.

Had Paula Deen not been a celebrity, the public relations and personal financial fallout surrounding the employment discrimination lawsuit against her, and the quotes from her deposition would not have made news. A price of fame, though, is having one’s scandals reach the news, even though, unfortunately, such gossip outlets as National Enquirer salivate and thrive on scandal.

A good thing about the press coverage of Ms. Deen’s deposition and huge financial hit that followed is that it can breed important discussion on such items as the following:

– American society continues improving in achieving racial justice, but still has a vastly long way to go to achieve Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.

– We must expose, confront and eliminate bigotry and not let it hide in the shadows. If someone says something bigoted in your presence, do not let silence be the voice of complicity. The most effective response depends on the situation, including but not limited to confronting the speaker tactfully and firmly at that time, raising the matter later person-to-person, and walking away from the speaker.

– A slew of big corporations doing business with Deen have ended their business relationships with her. How much do their decisions arise purely from wanting to do what they see as the right thing, versus being concerned about financial backlash to do otherwise? How may of these corporations will set the same benchmark for all their future dealings and for all their relationships with employees?

– The camera never blinks, and the deposition transcript never stops. How much did Deen’s lawyers and public relations people foresee that her deposition would be publicized and that the fallout from that would be great? Ms. Deen has tried hard post-deposition to minimize the number of times she has said the N-word (to one time, I believe), but if that is so, why would she have testified that "of course" she used the N-word in the past? Nevertheless, her lawyers should have — and maybe did — warn Ms. Deen in advance to anticipate that her entire deposition would be made public, and to take pains all the more to avoid such editorializing in her deposition as saying "of course."

– Lawyers take heed: The camera never blinks, as we know from Paula Deen’s situation. It watches and often exposes everything that lawyers and their clients do, starting with mugshots. When lawyers assist their clients in turning themselves in on arrest warrants, they should advise their clients to groom themselves and dress as they would feel sufficient if their mugshot got published, which they often do.

Ms. Deen’s past actions should not be minimized, nor should she be viewed as the most virulent of bigots. Her scandal provides further discussion on what we need to do to achieve racial justice.

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